Even the casual observer of contemporary political upheavals is liable to walk away with the distinct impression that elected leaders get their marching orders from persons other than their voters.
Europe, and with her, much of the world, seems to now be involuntarily immersed in a process of economic restructuring, whereby wealth is set to be transferred into large international funding initiatives, with the purchasing power of the working and middle classes to be drastically reduced.
The Spanish socialist-led government provides a grotesque caricature of this phenomenon. Its generally liberticidal orientation recently manifested in a series of back-door changes to the country’s legal system, the most obvious consequence of which would be to turn Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez into a the de facto dictator.
The first step in this process was to bring Sanchez to power in the first place. The socialist party (PSOE) was suffering from a loss of political capital following Rodriguez Zapatero’s disastrous administration, and Sanchez was fingered as the man to turn public perception around. In 2014, he won the socialist primaries, promising ‘good sense,’ while wrapping himself in the Spanish flag.
All the same, the party would go on to suffer two clear electoral defeats in 2015 and 2016. Consequent discontent among the socialists led Sanchez to resign as leader, whereupon he travelled to the U.S., apparently to follow that country’s elections up close, expressing his support for Hillary Clinton as the best guarantor of Obama’s legacy. After returning to Spain, he was reinstated to his old position. This led some commentators to wonder whether the American Democratic Party effectively called the shots on the Spanish Left.
Sanchez now led a Vote of No Confidence against the centre-right prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, in 2018. He counted on the support of the ‘woke’-Left party Podemos, separatist parties, and the Basque Nationalist Party.
The basis for bringing forward this Vote of No Confidence was provided by an activist judge, José Ricardo De Prada, who found Prime Minister Rajoy guilty of corruption. This decision was later corrected by the Supreme Court, finding that the ruling had been fraudulent, but the political consequences could not be reversed.
Thus had Sanchez been delivered into the annals of power.
However, national elections were scheduled for the very next year. He did not have long to convince the electorate, including the centre-Left, of his bona fides, especially after having received support from separatist parties.
To this end, he invented a series of ‘red lines,’ explicitly declaring that “we are not going to pact with Bildu”—Bildu essentially being the political wing of the terrorist ETA—“if you want I can say it five times, or twenty.” Indeed, he had been promising not to work with the philo-terrorists at least since 2015. These particular words were pronounced during an interview on Navarran regional television. Today, Bildu governs in that region, with the support of the socialists.
Before those first elections, Sanchez’s red lines also included allying with Catalan separatists, “in no case can they be our allies,” he said, and “clearly the crime of rebellion has taken place in Catalonia.” In this context, he pointed to his predecessor, Rajoy, as not having done enough to stop separatism (this much was undoubtedly true), and of therefore being responsible for having given wings to pro-independence parties.
He promised that the Executive would “never again issue pardons for political reasons,” and considered it essential to reform the penal code such as to stop “referendums that seek to break Spain.”
Sanchez even discarded forming a coalition government with Podemos, arguing that, since such a “coalition would include a minister from Podemos … like 95% of Spaniards, as Head of Government, I would not be able to sleep at night.” Neither was this a one-off comment. Sanchez went so far as to describe the possibility of the then-leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, becoming vice-president as a “danger for Spain.”
After winning the elections, however, it took him eight days to retract his statement. The electoral results were not as expected and, in order to govern, the socialists would in fact need the votes of the same people who had allowed him to win the Vote of No Confidence a year earlier, Podemos among them. Indeed, the latter party became his preferred partner, and Iglesias was made vice president.
Taking the institutions
Once in power, the government began its assault on the country’s institutions, including certain private entities able to exert influence on public opinion. The Centre of Sociological Investigation, for example, whose function is to conduct research on Spanish society, including opinion surveys, became a permanently government-aligned entity under the leadership of sociologist José Félix Tezanos, consistently predicting incorrect outcomes favourable to the socialist party (as in the regional elections for Madrid, Andalusia, Castile and Leon, etc.). The government also dismissed the director of the National Intelligence Service and National Statistics Institute apparently for not towing its line.
National radio and television network RTVE was likewise instrumentalized. The government appointed Rosa Maria Mateo as its provisional administrator—remaining in this position for several years until the courts found that her appointment had been unconstitutional. She was replaced by José Manuel Pérez Tornero, who was quickly found to be too politically neutral in some regards (despite quite clearly supporting the government), and replaced by the more ideologically committed Elena Sanchez.
Concerning the State Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General became blatantly aligned with the government. Dolores Delgado, a deputy for the Socialist party, went from being Minister of Justice to Attorney General. Worryingly, the political occupation of an office whose very essence relies on scrupulous neutrality seems to have perpetuated itself, to the detriment of established, official, mechanisms for selecting personnel: Delgado has now been replaced by Alvaro Garcia Ortiz, who was appointed without the mandatory suitability examination, after serving as Delgado’s second-in-command prior to her resignation.
The Court of Auditors has also been subject to political interference, coming under the authority of Enriqueta Chicano, who was seemingly appointed with the mandate of stopping any and all investigations into illegal activity related to leftist and separatist parties, including to do with illegal financing sources (as well as potential irregularities in procurement contracts related to the COVID-19 crisis).
Taking the Law
Recently The European Conservative reported,
The government has proposed changes for electing judges to the country’s constitutional court … [that would] weaken the court’s political independence … The new norms are [being] slipped in as amendments to other proposed changes to the penal code that would eliminate the crime of sedition and lower the legal consequences for misappropriating public funds.
These last points concerning eliminating the crime of sedition and misappropriating public funds are specifically aimed at absolving Catalan separatist politicians. This puts Spain outside the legislative mainstream, as most major western countries prohibit endangering the existence of the state. Consider, for example, Article 21 of the German Basic Law:
Political parties … that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to … endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional.
Members of the Spanish Constitutional Court described the government’s changes “as an institutional coup,” adding:
This is legislating with a hammer. There is a clear desire for the collapse of the Judiciary because it seems that they are interested in weakening it … Non-political institutions are bleeding, they are on their way to becoming subordinate powers to the politician.
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and MEP J.M. Garcia-Margallo has summarised the situation as follows:
We have to be honest here. The [legislative changes around] embezzlement have been carried out to resolve the Catalan issue … It’s of a piece with the permanent political occupation of the state’s institutions: from the Prosecutor’s Office, the Superior Council for Scientific Investigation (CSIC), the National Commission of Value Markets (CNMV), Indra (the company charged with counting votes during Spanish elections), the Court of Auditors, the National Bank.
The centre-right opposition party, the People’s Party (PP), has called for the government to “immediately cease from harassing and intervening in the State’s institutions,” describing the above initiatives as a “shameless, gradual assault and colonisation of all institutions and organisations in which the Government, in one way or another, has the possibility of intervening or proposing candidates.” VOX has likewise made these recent changes a casus belli, calling for a Vote of No Confidence.
It now remains to be seen whether there will be a substantive enough political reaction and, more importantly, a social one, to the profoundly transformative changes currently coming to a head in Spain.