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Volodomir Zelensky and Pedro Sánchez AFP
Up in arms
The Euro Zone opinion

Up in arms

The loophole PM Sánchez used in signing the arms deal with Volodomir Zelensky in Madrid was by presenting Spain's latest commitment to Ukraine as a Memorandum of Understanding rather than an International Treaty, writes Mark Nayler

Mark Nayler

Malaga

Friday, 31 May 2024, 15:55

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This week saw the latest demonstration of Pedro Sánchez's preferred method of governance - exclusive and secretive, eschewing collaboration with his coalition partner Sumar as well as parliamentary debate. The Socialist leader's decision to send over a billion euros' worth of defence equipment to Ukraine this year, and five billion euros' worth more until 2027, was a nasty surprise to some members of his administration, who claim that it was made with 'total opacity'. That Sánchez loves governing-by-announcement, though, shouldn't be news to anybody.

The loophole Sánchez used in signing the arms deal with Volodomir Zelensky in Madrid on Monday was, surprisingly, not the Royal Decree - usually his go-to method of ratifying laws without the arduous business of seeking cross-party approval. Instead, he presented Spain's latest commitment to Ukraine as a Memorandum of Understanding rather than an International Treaty - i.e. a less formal, non legally-binding agreement that does not require the approval of Congress.

Are we therefore to assume that, because the nature of this agreement allows Spain to renege on its promise to Ukraine any time it likes, Sánchez didn't deem it necessary to seek parliamentary support? If so, that's hardly encouraging for Zelensky, who has already had to deal with some flip-flopping from Spain on this issue (shortly after the conflict began in February 2022, Sánchez said that he would not be sending weapons to Ukraine).

To take Sánchez at his word (always risky), we must believe that he is committed to his latest agreement with Zelensky and won't back out. But then we're left with the same troubling conclusion as before - namely that the PSOE leader saw no problem in signing away several billion euros' worth of military aid to Ukraine without even consulting his coalition partner, let alone the rest of parliament.

We have to ask why, if Sánchez is so committed to Ukraine's defence, he didn't present his latest pledge of military support as an International Treaty from the outset? He probably would have secured parliamentary approval, because the centre-right opposition has always been in favour of sending weapons to Ukraine (unlike Podemos and Sumar). Or did Sánchez never intend to put his promise to Zelensky before parliament, knowing that if he subsequently presented it as a Memorandum rather than a Treaty, he could claim that doing so hadn't been necessary?

The whole issue is reminiscent of Sánchez's U-turn on Western Sahara in 2022 - a major reversal of foreign policy that baffled and angered his coalition partners. Then, as now, the prime minister's further-left allies said that they were excluded from the decision-making process. In that respect, they have more in common with the rest of Spain's parliament than they do with the prime minister and his closest advisors.

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