Spain’s science minister latest to come under fire

Spain's science minister was forced Thursday to defend himself against allegations he avoided taxes, the latest member of the new Socialist government to come under fire.

Spain's science minister latest to come under fire
Pedro Duque photographed arriving at Moncloa on his first day as minister. Photo: AFP

Pedro Duque called a press briefing to deny any irregularities after online newspaper alleged the popular former astronaut had avoided paying some taxes by creating a company for his two homes.

Duque said he had been advised to set up the firm when he bought a house in the coastal eastern town of Javea, before the housing bubble burst in 2008.   

Since he and his wife travelled extensively, having a company manage that property and also their home in Madrid was seen as more convenient, he said.   

“I'm not worried, the only thing that the company invoiced was when we were both away from Spain for several years and we rented the house to someone,” he told reporters.

Duque is the latest minister of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's cabinet to face accusations of wrongdoing.

READ MORE: Rocket man: Spain's first astronaut appointed science minister

Culture and sports minister Maxim Huerta stepped down in June after it emerged he had been fined for tax offences in the early days of the Socialist administration.

And health minister Carmen Monton quit earlier this month after reports of alleged irregularities in her educational qualifications.   

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Dolores Delgado defied calls to resign over leaked recordings of her conversations with a former police chief under probe for corruption, and received support from Sanchez.

READ MORE: Face of the week: Justice Minister Dolores Delgado

The Socialists toppled the previous conservative administration in a no-confidence vote prompted partly by corruption allegations.   

Duque insisted he had never funnelled personal revenues through the company. 

“I don't think there have been any real savings on taxes at all through having the company,” he added.

Duque said he had spoken to Sanchez, who is currently in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, who had given him “all his support”.


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