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SPANISH POLITICS

Spain passes 2023 budget with record social spending

Spain's parliament on Thursday approved the left-wing government's budget for 2023 which includes record levels of welfare spending to help households grapple with soaring inflation.

Spain passes 2023 budget with record social spending
Spain's Minister of Budget Maria Jesus Montero speaks to media as she arrives prior the Parliamentary vote on 2023 draft budget at the Congress in Madrid in Noviembre 24, 2022. (Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP)

Lawmakers voted through the plan with 187 votes in favour and 156 against in what will be the last budget presented by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government before a general election, which is due by the end of next year.

It was backed by Sánchez’s Socialists and hard-left junior coalition partner Podemos with the support of smaller regional parties including the Catalan separatist ERC in exchange for greater regional investment.

“This is the third budget we have approved with a large majority, a budget with historic levels of welfare spending,” Sánchez tweeted after the vote.

The budget still needs to be rubber-stamped by the Senate within the next month but its passage there is guaranteed given the support it has won from the government’s allies.

It outlines plans for a record spend of €198 billion ($206 billion) in 2023 that will mean higher pensions and public worker salaries, as well as increased funding for higher education and health.

It also extends free travel on commuter and medium-distance trains and some long-distance buses into 2023.

READ MORE:

The travel scheme was introduced on September 1st, with hundreds of thousands of people signing up for a measure initially slated to run until the year’s end in a bid to ease soaring costs.

Budget Minister María Jesús Montero said six out of every €10 in the budget will go towards social spending, the highest proportion allocated for that purpose in Spain’s history.

The budget will be partly financed by tax increases for high earners and cash from the European Union’s Covid-19 pandemic recovery fund.

Spain is due to receive €140 billion from the fund over six years, making it one of the main recipients.

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SPANISH POLITICS

Right leads mass protest against Spanish government in Madrid

Thousands of people protested in Madrid on Saturday against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftist government in a rally held in a key election year that was backed by far-right party Vox.

Right leads mass protest against Spanish government in Madrid

Participants waved red and yellow Spanish flags and called on Sanchez to resign. Some held up signs with a photo of the Socialist premier calling him a “traitor”.

Around 30,000 people gathered in Madrid’s Cibeles Square for the rally, according to the central government’s delegation in the Spanish capital. Organisers said some 700,000 people had taken part.

The protest was called by dozens of right-leaning civil society groups and backed by conservative parties including the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) and Vox.

The right is angered by the government’s decision to abolish the crime of sedition, of which nine separatist leaders were convicted over their role in the Catalonia region’s abortive secession bid in 2017. It was replaced with an offence carrying a lower prison sentence.

READ MORE: Spain drops sedition charge against ex-Catalan leader

Conservatives are also angered by a flagship law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes. This has set some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Speaking to reporters at the start of the rally, Vox leader Santiago Abascal denounced “the worst government in history” which “has divided Spaniards and freed rapists and coup leaders”.

“We need a permanent and massive mobilisation until the autocrat Pedro Sanchez is expelled from power,” he added.

Conservative poll edge 

Retired accountant Antonio Orduna, 67, told AFP said he was upset the government was “letting those who want to break up Spain off the hook.”

He cited the abolishment of the crime of sedition and Sanchez’s 2021 decision to pardon the Catalan separatists initially sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in the failed secession bid.

Madrid protests

A protestor holds a Spanish national flag as they gather during the anti-government demonstration on the Plaza de Cibeles square in Madrid, on January 21st, 2023. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

Catalonia’s attempt to become an independent state sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, with then-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others fleeing abroad to escape prosecution.

PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, who has tried to push the party to the centre since becoming its leader in April, was not at the rally but encouraged members for the formation to attend.

Most polls suggest the PP would win a general election expected at the end of the year but would need the support of Vox to govern. Before that, Spain will vote in May in regional and local elections.

One of the main dilemmas facing Feijoo is whether to continue pursuing political alliances with Vox as it has in some region or to freeze them out to try to widen the PP’s base.

Vox splintered off from the PP in 2013 and is now the third-largest force in parliament.

‘Before the abyss’

Lacking a parliamentary majority, Sanchez’s government has been forced since its formation to negotiate with Basque and Catalan separatists to pass bills, which has angered many on the right.

Conservatives accuse Sanchez of having eliminated the crime of sedition to assure the continued support of Catalan pro-independence party ERC in tight parliamentary votes.

“All he cares about is remaining in power,” said Rosa Torosio, a 44-year-old housewife at the rally.

Spain protest

Protesters wave Spanish national flags during the anti-government demonstration on the Plaza de Cibeles square in Madrid, on January 21st, 2023. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP

The government argues sedition is an antiquated offence that needed to be replaced with one better aligned to European norms.

Sanchez defended his record, telling a Socialist party rally in the northern city of Valladolid on Saturday his government had to take steps to defuse the conflict in Catalonia.

The separatist bid which happened under the watch of the previous PP government had left Spain standing “before the abyss,” he added.

Sanchez also recalled that his government has ramped up social spending to help Spaniards deal with high inflation, for example by increasing pensions and civil servant salaries.

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