/European Parliament leaders in Spanish spat

European Parliament leaders in Spanish spat

A spat over Spanish politics between the two main leaders in the European Parliament escalated Friday as the socialist, Iratxe García, fired back at her conservative rival, Manfred Weber, calling him “obsessed” with the Spanish government and “influenced” by the “partisan impulses” of Spain’s conservative opposition.

García, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second largest group in the European Parliament, responded to comments made by Weber, the leader of the conservative European People’s Party, in Friday’s POLITICO Brussels Playbook, in which he said that his group would support the European Commission’s coronavirus recovery fund but was “not prepared, to put it in concrete terms, to give money to the Spanish government for it to finance Podemos’ campaign promises.”

The left-wing Unidas Podemos (UP), which has advocated for universal basic income and “cutting the tax privileges of banks, large corporations and large fortunes,” is a partner in the governing coalition led by the Socialist Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. García is also a member of the PSOE.

“That is not going to happen,” Weber said, referring to allowing EU recovery funds to flow to the UP’s anti-austerity agenda. Weber insisted that Spain should instead use the funds to rebuild its economy. “We want, to use that as an example, for Spain to use the money to build 5G and hydrogen networks, and other infrastructure.”

Sánchez and his government have been outspoken advocates of creating an EU-wide economic recovery plan that would focus on the bloc taking on a large amount of joint debt in order to finance grants for the countries that need assistance. Spain was one of the EU nations hit hardest by the pandemic, and is likely to get a large share of the €500 billion in grants proposed by the Commission — if EU leaders reach a deal on the overall package.

“I think Mr. Weber should not let himself be influenced by the partisan impulses of the Spanish PP” — MEP Iratxe García

Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP) is an arch-rival of Sánchez and his socialists, and conservative leaders in recent weeks have unleashed fierce criticism over the Sánchez government’s management of the crisis. But the PP harbors particular venom for the anti-austerity UP, which has accused the PP and its former leader, ex-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, of severely damaging the country’s health care system with cuts carried out in response to the last financial crisis.

Pablo Casado, the PP leader, has derided the Sánchez government as “the Titanic” and added tartly, “but don’t expect us to be your orchestra.”

Criticism against Sánchez and his deputy, UP leader Pablo Iglesias, also intensified in Spain and among the PP delegation in the European Parliament. MEPs slammed the government over initial shortages of face masks and other protective equipment, for not moving faster to impose confinement measures and for generally failing to consult before taking major decisions.

The Commission’s roughly €1.8 trillion budget-and-recovery package is now subject to fierce negotiations among EU national leaders, with the so-called Frugal Four — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — putting up strong resistance to the idea of joint borrowing to finance recovery grants. Sánchez is a major proponent of the grants concept and the Spanish government at one point put forward its own €1.5 trillion recovery plan focused entirely on grants, rather than the mix of grants and loans envisioned by the Commission.

Weber’s remarks to POLITICO further inflamed the debate, prompting García to hit back, accusing the EPP of not demonstrating sufficient EU solidarity.

“I think Mr. Weber should not let himself be influenced by the partisan impulses of the Spanish PP, a party that has a hard time to understand that this is the moment to be united, to work together to overcome the pandemic and its aftermath instead of using the crisis for its own political agenda,” García wrote.

García added that the EPP “seems to be obsessed” with a “progressive government” elected by Spanish citizens, which “perfectly understands” the current challenges inside the EU and “has taken the stand of many other European governments, including the German one.”

She cited German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s public support for Nadia Calviño, the Spanish finance minister who is currently the socialist candidate in a tight race for president of the Eurogroup.

García also noted that the EPP and her S&D group recently agreed on a resolution on the current long-term EU budget and recovery fund — and that the conservatives now seemed to fear the consequences of a deal.

“Now the PP are afraid they could lose their chance to engage in opposition politics to the Spanish government from Brussels, using the European institutions and the EPP group,” she said.