Spain’s new government brings mix of hope and disillusion

Will he keep his promises? Low-earning Spanish voters hope their new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will address Spain's "social emergency" but disillusion is high in a country stricken by unemployment.

Spain's new government brings mix of hope and disillusion
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez smiles as he chairs his first cabinet meeting at La Moncloa. Photo: Javier Soriano / AFP

Wearing a white pastry chef's hat, Sonia Lopez smokes a cigarette at the service door of the luxury hotel in Madrid where she works.   

It is just a few steps away from the parliament where veteran conservative leader Mariano Rajoy was ousted last Friday over a corruption scandal in his party.

Meanwhile, in a palace just outside Madrid, Sanchez's new ministers were taking their oath of office in the presence of King Felipe VI.   

“Quite honestly, I'm not expecting anything from the new government nor from anyone,” says Sonia, 40.

“Before, the government only looked after bosses. This one says it will look after workers. But if it does, it's because it's already competing for election next time round.”

Sanchez has promised to hold elections “in several months.”   


With a touch of irony, Sonia says she is lucky to be paid €1,100 ($1,300) a month, plus two months' extra pay per year, for normal working hours, five days a week.

“That's not bad these days,” she says. More than a quarter of contracts in Spain are temporary — the highest such rate in the European Union, according to the bloc's statistics body Eurostat.

'Ridiculous' minimum wage

As soon as he took power from Rajoy after a no-confidence vote on Friday, Sanchez promised to help pensioners, the unemployed and those with insecure jobs, and to “fight against child poverty.”

That brought hope to the likes of Angela Quero, 76, a retiree who hopes he will raise pensions substantially.

Going down a road in the working-class district of Embajadores in central Madrid, she grips her walking stick with one hand and with the other holds a shopping trolley full of supplies donated by the charity Caritas.   

She says she shares the food with her niece who is trained as a nursing assistant but works part-time as a cleaning lady in offices.   

“She only earns 400-and-a-bit euros and has to pay 250 euros for rent.”   

Quero herself only gets several hundred euros a month from her pension, but owns her flat.   

Walking up the road to meet her, her niece Carmen Millan, 49, is cautiously hopeful about the return to power of Spain's Socialists after six years of conservative rule.

“But not hugely either,” she adds   

“We're disillusioned, suspicious of politics.”   

Millan is a supporter of Podemos, the far-left party born from the Indignados protest movement.

Seven years ago, the Indignados filled city squares to protest the “dictatorship of the markets” and European austerity measures.   

Millan is disappointed that Sanchez has refused to form a coalition government with Podemos.

For her, the priority is to “raise the minimum wage” which she believes is “ridiculous” at €858 a month.

'Politicians steal'

According to a recent Oxfam Intermon report, “the lowest salaries fell 15 percent between 2008 and 2016” in Spain.   

Spain is recovering from the economic crisis with growth of more than three percent over the past three years. But unemployment remains extremely high at 16.7 percent.

According to a monthly poll by the Sociological Research Centre published Tuesday, unemployment is Spaniards' number one concern, with corruption second.   

“Many people profited from the crisis in our country,” says Raquel Teles, 29, heading to her job as a waitress on Madrid's Gran Via avenue.   

“All politicians steal, some more, some less.”   

She earns just over €1,000 a month in Spain for working “10 hours a day, six days a week,” and spends €450 on rent.

“I have no hope” with the new government, she says.   

She describes herself as neither a left- nor a right-wing voter.   

Instead, she votes for an animal rights party.   

Young people like her, she believes, “will not have a retirement pension and will have to work until they're 80.”

By AFP's  Laurence Boutreux 

AS IT HAPPENED: Pedro Sanchez is Spain's new PM