New Spanish leader lifts direct control of Catalan finances

Eleven out of 18 ministers in Pedro Sánchez’s cabinet are women

 Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez (centre) with his cabinet after their first  meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid. The cabinet has the highest number of female ministers in the country’s history with 11 women and six  men. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez (centre) with his cabinet after their first meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid. The cabinet has the highest number of female ministers in the country’s history with 11 women and six men. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

 

At its first cabinet meeting, Spain’s new female-dominated government has lifted direct control of Catalonia’s finances and promised to engage in dialogue with the region’s pro-independence leaders.

The move follows nearly nine months during which Catalan public entities required prior approval from the central government in order to carry out financial transactions.

The suspension of that measure, which is seen as a conciliatory move by new Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez, follows the automatic lifting of direct rule in Catalonia last week after the formation of a new regional government.

“The main problem right now is territorial unity,” said Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaá. “The government has the great aim of restoring the country’s institutional normality and to do that we need to open ourselves up to dialogue.”

Mr Sánchez (46) took office on June 2nd after presenting a successful no-confidence motion against his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, and he has promised a “progressive, modernising and pro-European” government. A self-declared feminist, 11 of his 18 ministers are women, including deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo, who also heads up a new equality ministry.

“The battle against all discrimination, particularly that which women still suffer in our country, should be a transversal goal in the political actions of all government departments,” Mr Sánchez wrote in a letter to his ministers ahead of Friday’s cabinet meeting.

Among his appointments are an astronaut, Pedro Duque, as minister of science, innovation and universities, and Fernando Grande-Marlaska, a right-leaning judge, as interior minister.

Flexible approach

The new prime minister’s decision to lift the financial restriction in Catalonia and his stated willingness to meet with the region’s president, Quim Torra, suggest he will take a more flexible approach to the territorial crisis than the previous administration. However, Ms Celaá said the issue of Catalan self-determination is “absolutely” off the table.

Mr Sánchez’s Socialist Party, which has less than a quarter of seats in Congress, needed the votes of Catalan nationalist parties, among others, to win last week’s confidence vote. Ahead of Friday’s cabinet meeting, Marta Pascal, leader of the Catalan Democratic Party (PDeCat), said that “Sánchez’s discourse sounds good, but we want to see actions”.

But the unionist Ciudadanos warned that Mr Sánchez was now “paying the price for his pact with the separatists” by loosening controls in Catalonia.

The prime minister also received criticism from Podemos, the leftist party, which was the most vocal supporter of last week’s confidence motion. Mr Sánchez has resisted calls by Podemos for it to have a presence in the new government.

“It’s taken him 24 hours to forget who made him prime minister,” Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said.

One of the more controversial appointments in the new cabinet was that of Máxim Huerta, a journalist and writer, as minister of culture and sport. A tweet posted by Mr Huerta in 2010 said: “I shit on the damned Catalan separatist”. In another, he said: “I hate sport”, which critics have said is proof that he is unqualified for his new job.