No, it is not the latest hot, porn movie or a march for equality, but the rather impressive line-up of cabinet members announced by the new Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez. Politics aside, it is a cabinet composition that has stretched the imaginations of Spanish media headline writers, as well as briefly silencing opposition parties for just long enough for them to get their breath back following an exceptionally long and exhausting week in Spanish politics. It was a week when Spanish politics was turned upon its confused head. At the time of writing, apart from astonishment, criticism of the new line up has been unusually muted. No doubt the usual vitriol from both sides will flow again shortly.
It is not unusual for expats to lose interest or distance themselves from the politics of their home country when starting a new life in a country of their choice. That is, until the European Union referendum sparked the debate for British expats. Expats who had stubbornly refused to have anything to do with British politics suddenly became unwillingly entrenched in the debate, and often having to explain what was going on in the UK to mystified Spanish, German and Scandinavian neighbours and friends. “Were the Brits crazy?” many asked. Suddenly, expats began to wonder about their sanity, and worry about their pensions, health entitlement, as well as family and friends who are still living in the UK. Those who had previously ignored their right to vote under the fifteen-year rule suddenly became motivated with a demand that votes for expats should be for life. After all, didn’t they always have a stake in their home country?
It is under this backdrop of divisive events in the UK that many expats also became interested in political events in Spain. For many expats, an interest in the politics of their host country is a healthy one even though they cannot vote in national elections, being mostly restricted to voting in local and European elections. ‘Know your neighbour’ is a well-known adage, and where better to start than the politics of a country?
The new Spanish cabinet has been described by some commentators as “feminist, progressive, pro-European, pro-economy and pro-business”; it is one that prefers logic and reason over religion and belief. Accordingly, there were no crosses or bibles at the swearing-in ceremonies with the Catholic church kept at a polite and dignified arm’s length, at least for the moment. It is also the first cabinet in Europe that has a female-majority, as well as one that includes an astronaut, an aeronautical engineer, a doctor, teachers, two judges, a public prosecutor and economists. Even a new Ministry has been established; the Ecological Transition Ministry, which has been formed to deal with some of Spain’s (and the world’s) most pressing environmental problems, particularly related to climate change.
It is now widely thought that the new Prime Minister means to govern, as well as to prepare for early elections. As well as appointing 11 capable, experienced women to his cabinet, including the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also Equality Minister. Another woman, Teresa Ribera, is Spain's new Ecological Transition Minister who will be expected to lead the debate on climate change. Interestingly, the Prime Minister has appointed a non-separatist Catalan as Spain’s new Foreign Secretary; an imaginative move that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago.
In response to the Catalan crisis, the new Spanish Government has already lifted financial controls on Catalonia and the new government has pledged to “try to move forward” with the constitutional situation that has so far blighted attempts of reconciliation. In the end, all parties will have to talk, and so the sooner that these talks begin, the better.
I recall the words of a professor of politics who made the statement that there should be no political parties or political party whips within a legitimate democratic process, in favour of a parliament of independents voting with only with their conscience. When challenged that nothing would get done, his response was just one word: “precisely”.
The silence and implied goodwill from normally vociferous observers that followed the fall of the previous government last week is probably no more than a brief pause for breath. Still, for expats, it does make a very pleasant change from listening to all those endless and argumentative Brexit debates that seem to go nowhere.© Barrie Mahoney ￼