Paula De las Heras / Fergal MacErlean
Madrid / Malaga
Wednesday, 15 November 2023, 16:40
Pedro Sánchez began his investiture speech at noon this Wednesday (15 November) at the Congress of Deputies in Madrid by referencing the multi-day street protests against his PSOE party held across Spain. "Demonstration in the streets is one of the ways of exercising democracy that the constitution recognises. These days we have heard thousands of people express themselves freely and legitimately in demonstrations promoted by the PP and Vox. To those who have exercised that right in a peaceful manner, my respect and recognition".
The politician then argued that it is the same constitution that protects and gives legitimacy to his re-election. The acting prime minister addressed the Congress to ask for its confidence in a climate of enormous tension due to the controversial granting of an amnesty to Catalan nationalists in a 'procés' that he himself rejected and branded unconstitutional until he signed pacts with Junts and ERC. More than 1,500 police officers were in position outside the government building to guarantee security which has been tested in recent nights by violent hooligans and other extremists who fought riot police and who had flocked to protests organised by the far-right and in which banned Franco-era flags were displayed.
Sánchez did not even refer to the impunity law or the agreements that will undoubtedly condition the future of the legislature until well into his hour-and-40-minute-long speech. His was more of a defensive speech in which he justified his decisions with a fundamental argument: that it is necessary to confront the "retrograde right-wingers" who are advancing throughout the world while riding on the back of the uncertainty generated by the great global challenges (the climate emergency, migratory movements, Artificial Intelligence, globalisation) and who, he argued, threaten to "undermine the very foundations of democracy".
Spain's acting prime minister caused consternation when he said that the PP, winner of the last general election with a 16-seat lead over his party, had been "parasitised" by Vox, and must therefore also be cut off. "If in our country these movements have not gone further in the dismantling of constitutional and democratic values, it has not been for lack of will, much less because of political or moral limits. Nor, unfortunately, because the conservative right has demanded that they desist. The only effective wall against the policies of the ultra-right in communities and town halls has been the Spanish Government," Sánchez railed.
It took 45 minutes for Sánchez to set out some of the measures that his coalition government with Sumar intends to deploy throughout the term of office that will begin this Thursday, once he has (almost certainly) obtained the support of the absolute majority in congress, the 179 seats that have said they will back him. These include 121 PSOE lawmakers, 31 from Sumar, Junts (7), ERC (7), Bildu (6), PNV (5), BNG (1) and Coalición Canaria (1). These measures include the extension until June of next year of the reduction to 0% IVA, the Spanish sales tax, for certain foods, or to 5% in the case of oil; an extension of relief for mortgaged households; and free public transport for all children, young people, and the unemployed as of 1 January.
Sánchez set out eight priorities for his government (employment and the green economy; strengthening the welfare state; housing; ecological transition; feminism; territorial cohesion). He referred to the amnesty, which he justified with arguments very similar to those he had already used on 28 October before his party's federal committee as being an instrument "not only to win a legislature of progress. But to bet on a future of reconciliation and social peace.
“The circumstances are what they are and it is time to make a virtue out of necessity, for two reasons of general interest. Firstly, to consolidate the progress achieved in recent years and to continue along the path of coexistence and progress. Secondly, because this measure of grace can help us to overcome the fracture that opened up on 1 October, to continue bringing positions closer together, and to persuade many Catalans that Spain is a good country for them," Sánchez said.
The PSOE leader scorned the reproaches of the right wing, which he accused of having led Spain to the "disaster" of the "greatest territorial crisis of our democracy", and even claimed that the PP does not really have any reason to oppose the amnesty. He also cited the pardons granted by PP governments in the past –some 1,500 in a single year were signed off by the former justice Minister Ángel Acebes.
From 3.30pm it was the turn of the parliamentary groups, with a speaking time of 30 minutes. First was PP, followed by Vox, Sumar, ERC, Junts, EH Bildu, PNV, and the Mixed Group (which includes BNG, Coalición Canaria and UPN, which will share the 30 minutes). The order is structured according to the number of deputies of each group, with the exception of the PSOE, which, as the candidate's party, closes the debate.
Feijóo told the assembled deputies: Feijóo: "Mr Sánchez is not allowing Spaniards to express themselves in new elections. He has lost what little credit he had left". And the PP leader accused Sánchez of "political corruption". He said that this legislature "is born of fraud".
Feijóo added: "What he brings to the house [congress] was not voted on at the polls."
The PNV spokesman in Congress, Aitor Esteban, said, separately to the main speeches, that the PSOE only registered the amnesty bill with his signature because there was "a tug-of-war" between ERC and Junts in the run-up to the Catalan elections.
Vox's spokesperson in Congress, Pepa Millán, said that Sánchez’s words were those “of a liar and a coup leader”. “We are facing a Chávez apprentice: long speeches, criminalising the opposition and disguising his own coup as legal".
The president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno, said he predicted a national legislature of "lies and impunity" because Sánchez, has "swallowed everything imposed" by the leader of Junts, Carles Puigdemont.
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