End-of-year deadlines

Spain's coalition government has to please the ERC and the CEOE by 31 December

MARK NAYLER

As end-of-year deadlines approach, Spain's coalition government is coming under heavy pressure from two quarters - the leftist, pro-independence Catalan party ERC and Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations (CEOE). Somehow, it has to make sure everyone's happy by 31 December.

The ERC is threatening to withhold support for the 2022 budget in the Senate - the Spanish parliament's Upper House, equivalent to the UK's House of Lords - if streaming platforms such as Netflix and HBO don't make a quota of original content in Basque, Catalan and Galician. It thus highlights the coalition's double-level insecurity: in the 265-seat Senate, the Socialist-Podemos partnership sits on 115 seats, whereas the Conservative-led opposition occupies 116. The ERC - always noisy, always unavoidable - sits on 13, meaning its support in the upper chamber is just as pivotal as it is in the fraught crucible beneath.

The government claims that it can only influence domestic content and that everything else is within the EU's remit. But if the Senate blocks the 2022 budget, Sánchez is back to square one, just four weeks before the spending plan is supposed to be activated. Why, then, did he agree to ERC's apparently irrelevant demands to begin with?

"We cannot mix one thing with another" said economy minister Nadia Calviño this week, in reference to the glaring disconnect between budgetary issues and Netflix content. Unfortunately, her government has already mixed the two and seemed to have no choice in doing so. As has happened before, the ERC is setting the agenda when it comes to all-important legislation, not (or at least not just) the coalition.

Brussels, meanwhile, is causing Spain headaches in a closely related sphere - reforms to the labour market. This week, in an interview with the Financial Times, CEOE chief Antonio Garamendi implied that the 31 December deadline specified by the EU for accord between the labour unions, his own organisation and the Spanish government, was too tight; but Brussels says that if Spain is to receive the next tranche of Covid recovery funds, worth fourteen billion euros and due in the first quarter of 2022, it has to be met.

In both situations, the difficulties faced by the Socialist-led coalition are owed to its insubstantiality. There's a certain asymmetry to the situation: in the first case, a crucially-important satellite party is requiring that Sánchez do something that's essentially up to the EU (or so the government claims) in order to secure its votes; and in the second case, the coalition's attempts to meet EU-imposed deadlines are hampered by its own internal tensions and dissent from other Spanish bodies (mainly the CEOE). Ultimately, it's all down to the fact that Spain's seats of power are multi-coloured rather than monochrome.