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November 3, 2020

Europe

SPAIN: The political logic of delaying a second lockdown

BY Antonio Barroso

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With the seven-day rolling average of Covid-19 cases above 20,000 and 55,000 new cases registered over the weekend, Spain remains one of the few countries in Western Europe not to have introduced some sort of nationwide lockdown. Given the existing political constraints, the government’s strategy seems to be to build a very strong case in favor of a lockdown before potentially imposing it.

Last week, the Congress of Deputies validated the decree establishing a six-month extension of the state of emergency by a large majority. Under the legal framework established by the approved decree, regional authorities can adopt a wide range of measures to control the virus. But they are not legally allowed to impose hard lockdowns to keep people at home.

However, the worsening situation has led some regions (e.g., Asturias and the Autonomous City of Melilla) to ask the central government to impose a hard lockdown on their territory. But Health Minister Salvador Illa and Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo have both rejected such a possibility. They argue it is better to wait until 9 November to see whether the measures applied over the last week (e.g., curfews and the closure of regional borders) have been effective.

Building the case

The logic behind such a strategy probably has to do with the government’s need to build the case for a lockdown, especially in the context of increasing protests. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s first lockdown was attacked from two political flanks. First, the opposition used successive votes on the 15-day extensions of the state of emergency to underline the government’s parliamentary weakness. This time, Sanchez has managed to secure the approval of a six-month extension decree that does not require further votes. Were a modification of the decree to be needed, he would probably try to obtain a similar solution. Moreover, any new lockdown would probably be less restrictive than the first one (e.g., schools would remain open).

Secondly, several regions lambasted Sanchez for the prolonged state of emergency, which deprived them of the competences to handle the pandemic. Therefore, Sanchez has an incentive to let the measures recently adopted by the regions run their course before potentially imposing harsher restrictions. Moreover, a lockdown is likely to look more legitimate in the eyes of the public the higher the number of regions pushing for it. Such a strategy would also help Sanchez defuse any criticism from the Madrid regional government, which seems to be keen on deflecting any responsibility for imposing harsher measures.

Crunch time for the budget

On 12 November, the Congress of Deputies will hold a first vote on the government’s draft budget, which includes tax increases for corporations and high-income earners (e.g., a three-percentage point increase for capital gains of EUR 200,000 and above, and a two-percentage-point rise for salary income above EUR 300,000). The budget will also entail a significant increase in public investment. The ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE)-Unidas Podemos coalition is likely to secure enough support in the vote, which will determine whether the budget can continue to be discussed in parliament. Smaller parties such as the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) or Ciudadanos will probably back the government so that they can continue negotiating amendments to the budget in the coming weeks.

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