Spain’s new foreign minister raises hackles in Catalonia

New PM Pedro Sánchez sets the Catalan crisis and gender parity in cabinet as his key goals

Likely new foreign minister Josep Borrell has been outspoken on Spain’s territorial issue. Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

Likely new foreign minister Josep Borrell has been outspoken on Spain’s territorial issue. Photograph: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

 

The first cabinet appointments of Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, suggest that the Catalan crisis and gender parity will be priorities for his government.

Mr Sánchez, a Socialist, took office on Saturday after unseating his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, with a no-confidence vote triggered by a corruption scandal.

Although Mr Sánchez is not expected to announce his cabinet formally until Wednesday, the names of several ministers have been leaked. According to reports, Josep Borrell, a Socialist veteran, will be foreign minister. Mr Borrell was president of the European Parliament, guaranteeing the new government a degree of visibility on the international stage.

He has also been outspoken on Spain’s territorial issue, campaigning to highlight what he sees as the nonviability of an independent Catalonia.

Many see this bold appointment as a masterstroke, ensuring the Spanish government has a heavyweight voice in Europe to counter Catalan secessionists’ efforts to advertise their cause abroad. But it also risks alienating the same Catalan nationalists whose votes Mr Sánchez needed in order to win last week’s vote.

Before becoming prime minister, Mr Sánchez had compared the new, pro-independence Catalan president, Quim Torra, to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Mr Borrell, meanwhile, said that such a comparison was “unfair” on Ms Le Pen.

Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sanchez. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters
Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sanchez. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is in exile in Germany and whose Catalan Democratic Party voted for Mr Sánchez’s motion, warned on Twitter that Mr Borrell had contributed to the “escalation of hate”. He added: “Is this the gesture that they had in mind in order to send us a message of fraternal de-escalation?”

Six women

Of the eight ministers Mr Sánchez had reportedly decided on by Tuesday evening, six were women, including his choice as deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, following up on his promise to have gender parity in his cabinet. The prime minister has also, so far, resisted calls from the leftist Podemos party, which supported him in the confidence vote, to give it government posts.

Also on Tuesday, Mr Rajoy announced his resignation as leader of the Popular Party (PP). In an emotional farewell, he said the party would choose a new leader at an upcoming conference. He also lashed out at the parties that unseated him last week, claiming that his government “was attacked by a motley group of political organisations”.

The PP appears intent on maintaining a hostile relationship with the Socialists as they take power, and the 2018 budget could be a battleground.

The budget Bill drawn up by Mr Rajoy’s government must now go to the senate. However, the PP has warned it will make amendments to its own Bill, in what is widely seen as a likely reprisal against those who voted against it last week. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), for example, managed to gain substantial budgetary concessions from the Rajoy government for the Basque region. But given that its crucial votes in congress essentially sealed the ousting of the former prime minister, the PP now looks determined to strip away much of that funding in the senate.

Basque president Iñigo Urkullu said that if the PP did take such an approach, it would be “an exercise in revenge”.