Thursday, July 03, 2008

Zapatero Needs A Friend

The Spanish Prime Minister was in parliament yesterday explaining his government’s assessment of Spain’s economic difficulties. All this seems quite normal, but the reality is that Zapatero’s appearance wasn’t entirely voluntary. Instead it was the product of the new realities of parliamentary life in his second term of office. The PSOE were boasting quite loudly back in March about how proudly they were going to govern in minority without any formal understandings with other parties. Turning necessity into a virtue, they talked of how much stronger their position was compared to the previous parliament. Well it’s only taken a couple of months for the frailty of the government’s position to be exposed.

Zapatero’s appearance yesterday was the result of a combined opposition vote to force him to appear instead of Economy Minister Pedro Solbes. In order to avoid the appearance of defeat the PSOE decided to add their votes to those of the opposition. This is not the first time that this has happened recently, and the catalyst of this new situation has been the changing attitude of the Partido Popular. In the last parliament the PP were proud of their total isolation and didn’t even try to reach understandings with other parties. That has now changed, the new model PP has realised they can make life difficult for the government by putting forward propositions that other parties can support.

All of this leaves the government looking very exposed and in danger of losing key votes. Their list of potential allies is no longer as big as it was back in March. The government is going head to head with the Basque nationalists of the PNV over the proposed “consultation” which the Basque government wants to carry out. Their allies in the last parliament, Esquerra Republicana and Izquierda Unida, have a much reduced presence this time around and in any case are unlikely to sign up for a policy which costs them even more votes. This leaves the Catalan nationalists of Convergencia i Unio as the prime candidates, sitting there waiting for the phone to ring. The big problem is the political price that Zapatero will have to pay to get support from CiU, especially as there is little money in the kitty and the Catalan wing of the PSOE will be very unhappy about any concessions to their main opponent.

Meanwhile Zapatero has proved himself a true master of the euphemism when it comes to avoiding the use of the word crisis to describe the economic situation. Yesterday he produced one of his best yet; “Las cosas van claramente menos bien”.

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