King Felipe swears in new cabinet with record number of women

King Felipe VI on Thursday swore in Spain's new pro-EU government with a record 11 women members including in key posts such as defence and economy, and six male ministers.

King Felipe swears in new cabinet with record number of women
Spanish minister of terrirorial administration Meritxell Batet (C) takes oath of office in presence of Spain's King Felipe VI at La Zarzuela palace in Madrid. Photo: AFP

The new executive composed by the 46-year-old Pedro Sanchez, who ousted conservative veteran Mariano Rajoy as prime minister last Friday in a no-confidence vote, includes astronaut Pedro Duque as science minister.   

EU budget manager Nadia Calvino will become economy minister and former European parliament president Josep Borrell foreign minister.   

Sanchez said his executive was “a reflection of the best in society” — a society he described as composed of women and men, old and young, rooted in the European Union.

But it is also a minority government, as the Socialists only have 84 lawmakers in the 350-seat parliament.   

As such, the government will have a tough time governing Spain, relying as it will on the votes of far-left party Podemos as well as Basque and Catalan nationalist lawmakers who supported his no-confidence motion.   

READ MORE: This is Spain's new cabinet

Former judges, prosecutors

The new executive includes two veteran Socialists — Carmen Calvo, vice-president, and Borrell.

Calvo, who was culture minister from 2004 to 2007, will also be in charge of equality, a priority for Sanchez's government in a country where women staged an unprecedented strike to defend their rights on March 8th.

Anti-terror prosecutor Dolores Delgado will be justice minister, former Supreme Court judge Margarita Robles defence minister, and other women have been put in charge of education, employment or health.   

Fernando Grande-Marlaska, a former judge at Spain's top-level National Court, where he took on cases against Basque separatist group ETA, will head up the interior ministry.

Women will also lead the economic team of Sanchez's government, whose “main priority” will be to respect Madrid's deficit reduction commitments to the EU, the new prime minister has said.

Spain has promised to reduce its deficit to 2.2 percent of GDP in 2018, thus finally going under the three percent limit set by Brussels.   

The new economy minister will be Nadia Calvino, who is director general for budget at the European Commission and has a 12-year experience in high-level postings in Brussels.

Maria Jesus Montero, meanwhile, will become budget minister after playing a similar role at a regional level in southern Andalusia.   

In the name of maintaining “stability,” Sanchez has also promised to implement the 2018 budget crafted by the previous conservative government.   

Among the budget's key measures are a one to three percent rise in the lowest pensions and a salary increase for civil servants, ahead of municipal, regional and European elections next year.

Catalans, astronaut, author

Sanchez's new team, which the Socialist leader presented to King Felipe VI earlier Wednesday, also includes a minister in charge of science, innovation and universities.

And the man to take that role is Spain's first astronaut Pedro Duque.   

Rocket man: Spain's first astronaut appointed science minister

As Brexit gathers pace, and with Italy now led by a eurosceptic, populist government, Spain's new executive is distinctly pro-EU.  

Apart from Calvino's appointment as economy minister — a move welcome by the EU Commission — Borrell was European parliament president between 2004 and 2007.

A Catalan who is fiercely against the independence movement in his home region, he will be tasked with defending his government's commitment to Spanish unity abroad.

Borrell has said the previous conservative government was “very bad” when it came to public relations abroad on the Catalan separatist issue.   

On a day-to-day basis, Meritxell Batet, another Catalan, has been put in charge of relations with Spain's regions.   

As such, she will have the prickly task of trying to ease the situation in her own deeply divided home region.   

Finally, Maxim Huerta, an award-winning author, will become culture minister.

READ MORE:  Podemos left out of new PM's government


At last! Spain passes budget in boost for minority government

Spain's Senate is poised to approve Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's budget for 2021 later Tuesday, boosting his minority Socialist-led government after years of political instability.

At last! Spain passes budget in boost for minority government
File image of a debate in Spain's parliament. Photo: AFP

Spain's Senate approved Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's budget for 2021 on Tuesday, boosting his minority Socialist-led government after years of political instability.

The spending plan, which channels billions of euros in European Union pandemic recovery funds into the economy, was approved by the lower house on December 3 before receiving the Senate's backing.

Its passage increases the chances that Sanchez will hold on to power until the next general election set for 2023.
   It became the first budget to be approved since 2018.   

The rise of new parties such as far-left Podemos and market-friendly Ciudadanos has fractured parliament, making it difficult to pass legislation.    

This has led to a cycle of political instability that has taken Spain, the euro zone's fourth largest economy, to four elections between 2015 and 2019.    

“This is a very, very important stage because it allows Pedro Sanchez to gain time and stability,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

'Sanchez never admits defeat'

Sanchez came to power in June 2018 but was forced to call fresh elections early last year after Catalan separatist parties voted down his draft budget.   

The budget vote came on the heels of the start of a high-profile trial of Catalan separatist leaders over Catalonia's failed 2017 bid to break away from Spain.

“Sanchez has shown throughout his career that he never admits defeat,” said Paloma Roman, politics professor at Madrid's Complutense University.    

After two inconclusive general elections in 2019, Sanchez in January 2020 formed a minority coalition government with Podemos.   

He initially tried to win support for his 2021 budget from Ciudadanos.    

But after that failed, he controversially turned to several smaller regional nationalist parties, including Bildu, the heirs of the former political wing of armed Basque separatist group ETA.

Sanchez took office in 2018 with the backing of these parties, but the pact with Bildu sparked an outcry from the right and even criticism from within his Socialist party.

Given the make-up of parliament, “there was no other possible majority” to help pass the budget, said Bartomeus.

'Not be easy'

In exchange for the support of these parties for his budget, Sanchez agreed a series of measures, including a moratorium on evictions for poor families which cabinet is set to approve on Tuesday.

While approval of the budget ensures Sanchez's government will last, he still faces “years of permanent negotiations within his government and in parliament” to approve laws, said Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza.

The Socialists and Podemos, their junior coalition partners, are divided over many issues such as migration, the future of the monarchy and the need to raise the minimum wage.

Sanchez's ties with Catalan ally ERC also risk becoming more tense as Catalonia's regional elections on February 14 nears.   

“It will not be easy for the government to resist these tensions, but neither of the two (coalition partners) has any real interest in separating” and bringing down the government, said Bartomeus.

Monge said Podemos is falling in the polls and the Socialists do not have enough support to govern alone so the “price they would pay” if they split would be “too high”.

By AFP's Mathieu Gorse