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POLITICS

Politics in Spain: Seven predictions for 2022

A return to the fore for the Catalan independence push? Far-right Vox to continue growing in popularity? Perhaps even early general elections? Seville-based political journalist Conor Faulkner talks us through some of the potential outcomes to expect from Spanish politics in 2022.

Top left: Spain's socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, top right: Madrid's right-wing regional leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso, bottom left: far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal, bottom right: Catalonia's regional leader Pere Aragonès. Photos: AFP
Top left: Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, top right: Madrid's right-wing regional leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso, bottom left: far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal, bottom right: Catalonia's regional leader Pere Aragonès. Photos: AFP

The Catalan issue back on the table

With the last couple of years of government business taken up by the COVID-19 pandemic, look for the Catalan issue to rear its head in national politics as Spain emerges from the pandemic.

There were two major points of contention in 2021: President Sánchez’s decision to pardon the nine Catalan leaders of the 2017 independence bid, and the long-running but reignited language issue of Catalan vs. Spanish in Catalonia’s schools.

The president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, said recently in his Christmas address that he will seek “alternatives” if dialogue with the Sánchez  government “runs aground” and fails to deliver “tangible results” in 2022.

It was Aragonès’ first Christmas address as head of the regional government, and it included subtle political nods: he recorded the speech outside the Palau de la Generalitat and, instead of broadcasting it on December 30th, as is customary, it was released on the 26th, the day of Sant Esteve – an important cultural holiday in Catalonia.

Looking ahead to 2022, the Sánchez government will not only face political pressure on the Catalan issue from the left, but also from the Spanish right.

Leaders of both Partido Popular, Pablo Casado, and far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, have ran with the issue as a soundbite in order to score political points throughout the last year, framing Sánchez ’s electoral mandate as dependent on unpatriotic separatists and he and his government more sympathetic to Catalonia than to other regions of Spain.

Far-right Vox continue to grow

Far-right party Vox looks set to continue its rise in 2022.

​​With the government preoccupied by pandemic response and centre-right PP mired in internal infighting, the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam Vox party has utilised social media at a time when a turbulent period in history – both political and in terms of public health – have kept millions of Spaniards at home on the internet.

After initially gaining a foothold in Spanish politics in the 2014 European elections, Vox burst onto the national scene in 2019 when they took a majority in the Murcia legislature and placed representatives in Spain’s lower house, El Congreso de los diputados.

The rise has continued since then: according to a recent survey carried out by IMOP Insights for El Confidencial. If Spaniards were polled today Vox could take as many as 64 seats, up from the 52 it currently holds, and bag 18.2 percent of the vote – a significant enough figure that would allow them a route into a PP fronted government, whether led by Casado or Ayuso.

Keep an eye on Macarena Olona in Andalucia too, in 2022.

An Alicante native, Olona is Vox’s General Secretary in the Congress, represents the Granada province in Spain’s lower house, and has been a constant and vocal thorn in the side of the government – Pedro Sánchez and Yolanda Díaz in particular. Some pollsters are expecting an ‘Olona effect’ to boost Vox at the regional level and perhaps even make a run for the Senate.

Brand Ayuso continues to build – stocks in Casado fall

Pablo Casado is the leader of Partido Popular (PP), but if you were to judge by international press coverage you might think it was Isabel Ayuso, leader of the Madrid autonomous community. 

Political magazine Politico included her in a list of the 28 most influential people of 2022. In the The Washington Post, she was described as a “conservative heroine,” and “the new Thatcher or Reagan.” The Times of London put it simply: “the Iron Lady from Madrid.”

When Anglo-American columnists and commentators write about the Spanish right, they are no longer writing about its national leader but its boss in Madrid. Even in Latin America she has overshadowed Casado, a region Casado has tried to foster political links with and make anti-communist coalitions. But the conservative contact in Spain for the conservative forces of Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Venezuela and Uruguay demand a nod of the “heroine” made in Madrid.

Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso is stealing the limelight from PP leader Pablo Casado. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)
Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso has stolen the limelight from PP leader Pablo Casado in 2021. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)
 

Ayuso is a populist: she won Madrid under the slogan “Communism or freedom” and was the first Madrid leader to have her majority propped up by the far-right.

There has been tension and infighting between Ayuso and Casado, with many in the latter’s camp feeling Ayuso is planning to use both her media profile and base in Madrid as a springboard for party leadership.

Look for Casado to face political pressure from team Ayuso in 2022, as well as being outflanked on cultural issues by Abascal and Vox.

A few untimely gaffes – including ‘accidentally’ attending a Franco memorial mass in Granada last month – have weakened Casado’s appeal and hold on the party – look for more erratic politics as he tries to make up for lost ground.

Fractures in the coalition government to emerge

When Spain’s Interior Ministry deployed a military tank against striking shipyard workers in Cadiz last month, the issue shone light on political fractures between the two governing coalition parties: Pedro Sánchez ’s centre-left PSOE, and the far-left Podemos.

Many in Podemos were critical – both privately and publicly – of the decision, and felt it highlighted the differences between the two government bedfellows. 

The recently released labour reform may present an opportunity, if successful, for the government to coalesse around an issue and present a united front, but the reforms are, arguably, the first real substantive policy to come from the Sánchez government and it was led by Podemos Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz .

In the days following, Sánchez’s team and other PSOE cabinet members have distanced themselves from the ‘Díaz  effect’ and attempted to portray the agreement between government, employers and unions as a government, not Podemos, success.

But those fissures are already there: PSOE, and Sánchez  in particular, maintain the status quo economically and offer a conformist neoliberal outlook with smatterings of pro-worker and civil liberty rhetoric.

Spanish Minister of Labor and Social Economy Yolanda Díaz. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP
Spanish Minister of Labor and Social Economy Yolanda Díaz. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP
 

Podemos, on the other hand, frame themselves as more transformational and will attempt to harness the socioeconomic upheaval of the pandemic to try and affect significant change on the Spanish economy. It is believed the first political battle of 2022 could be internal tension between PSOE and Podemos over raising the minimum wage, something Sánchez has previously attempted to delay.

Similarly, it is already being reported that Sánchez is reticent to follow through on some of Podemos’ key proposals including animal wellbeing and a trans law.

With little besides very recent Podemos-led labour reform to show for his time in office, Sánchez  will surely have an eye on the next election – political maneuvering is already happening, attempts to distance Díaz  from the labour reform being just one example – and seek concrete policies to campaign on in order to avoid being remembered as the ‘el guapo’ pandemic president.

But tribalism will inevitably reemerge as elections loom, and if the ideological fractures already present in the coalition worsen during 2022, or seventh and eight waves of the pandemic further stymie the government, it could head into the next election divided and presenting an open goal to the right.

Ciudadanos disappear off the political map

After emerging in the mid-2000’s as a ‘post-nationalist’ social-democratic party in Catalonia, Ciudadanos have taken quite the turn rightward in recent years.

Fighting since 2017 with both PP and Vox for electoral space on the right, Ciudadanos refused to even consider coalition with PSOE, and since then have struggled to define what they stand for, win many voters, and even less elections at any level, regional or national.

They have haemorrhaged members and money, and with elections in ​​Castilla León slated for early 2022, another poor showing could be the final nail in the coffin for Ciudadanos and leave them both politically and economically bankrupt. Recent polls put them at just 3 percent in national voting intention. 2022 could be the end.

An early election?

Rumour has it that sources close to Pedro Sánchez are briefing that he would favour a general election in November 2022, not sometime by the end of 2023, as reported by Vozpópuli.

It is believed that Sánchez may prefer to hold the election sometime in 2022, when there could be political and economic goodwill following the end of the pandemic (we hope) and an injection of European funds filter into the Spanish economy.

If the historical unpredictability of Spain’s electoral cycle is anything to go by – Sánchez could surprise us.

Dissatisfaction leads to extremes – and electoral pacts?

Spaniards have a very negative view of politics and politicians in their country. 61.4 percent of those surveyed consider the political situation “bad” or “very bad” while only 13.2 percent view it as “very good or good.” And politicians don’t fare much better: Pedro Sánchez and Yolanda Díaz lead ratings, both with a measly 3.6 out of 10. They are followed by Pablo Casado (3.1), Íñigo Errejón (2.9), Inés Arrimadas (2.8) and Santiago Abascal (2.6).

With such a low threshold for approval, look for Spanish politics to veer further to the extremes – left and right – in order to try and bypass this lack of trust. While it may mean seperatist or progressive (‘communist’ according to some in Spain) rhetoric on the left, on the right it could well mean PP enter into some kind of informal pact with Vox not dissimilar to how the Conservatives in the UK subsumed votes from both the Brexit Party and its previous incarnation UKIP.

Casado will struggle to keep pace with Abascal and Vox on cultural issues, and has shifted rightward in recent years in an attempt to do so, but knowing this and that PP could, according to polls, win an absolute majority with Vox’s support – PP and Vox may just decide it’s in both their interests to team up and give the far-right a route to La Moncloa.

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ENERGY

Air-con, ties and lights: How Europe plans to save energy and get through winter without blackouts

In the face of possible energy shortages due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, countries around Europe are taking action to cut their energy use and ensure that the lights remain on this winter. Here's a look at some of the rules and recommendations that governments are introducing.

Air-con, ties and lights: How Europe plans to save energy and get through winter without blackouts

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ensuing sanctions has seen energy prices soar, while the Russian leader is also threatening to cut off gas supplies to the west in retaliation for the sanctions.

All this means that countries around Europe face a difficult winter and the prospect of energy shortages – so many are already taking action to stockpile gas and cut energy usage.

Here’s a roundup of what actions are being taken. 

Germany

Heavily dependant on Russian gas, Germany is already feeling the effects of the energy squeeze, with many households and businesses turning down the thermostat or dimming the lights as gas storage facilities are being filled at a slower pace.

RulesEarly in July, Germany’s lower house of parliament or Bundestag passed a plan to turn off the hot water in its offices and keep the air temperature no higher than 20C in the winter. This limit is merely recommended for households.

However homeowners will not be allowed to heat private pools with gas “this winter”, according to government plans, while a regulation requiring minimum temperatures in rented homes is expected to be suspended “so that tenants who want to save energy and turn down the heating are allowed to do so”.

As well as national rules, many German cities have also adopted their own energy-savings plans.

The Bavarian city of Augsburg, for example, has turned off its fountains, dimmed the facades of public buildings at night and is debating switching off some under-used traffic lights – and a housing cooperative in Dresden made national headlines when it announced it would limit hot water to certain times of day.

With certain exceptions, public buildings in Berlin will not have heating from April to the end of September each year, with room temperatures limited to a maximum of 20C for the rest of the year. In areas such as warehouses, technical rooms, corridors, the maximum will range from 10 to 15C.

Private enterprise has been getting in on the act too – Vonovia, Germany’s largest property group, plans to limit the temperature in its 350,000 homes to a maximum of 17C at night.

The head of consumer chemicals group Henkel has said that work-from-home practices may be reintroduced, while chemicals giant BASF has raised the possibility of putting its employees on furlough.

Recommendations – Economy Minister Robert Habeck has made headlines for extolling the virtues of shorter, colder showers.

France

France has an ambitious plan to cut its energy usage by 10 percent within two years and a government plan for sobriété énergétique (energy sobriety) is expected by September.

In the meantime, some rules have already been put in place while there are also some official recommendations. The general principle is that changes will be obligatory for government buildings and businesses, but voluntary for private households. 

Rules – In 2013, a law obliging businesses to switch off outside lights by 1am came into force. That deadline may be brought forward and towns and villages may have to switch off streetlights earlier – some areas have already taken this decision.

Shops that have air conditioning may not leave their doors open, so that less energy is lost.

Limits have been suggested for heating and air conditioning – keep heating to a maximum of 19C and air con to a minimum of 26C at the height of summer. The Prime Minister says she ‘expects’ government buildings to show an example and adhere to these, but they are voluntary for households.

Meanwhile, the heads of large supermarket chains in France have made a voluntary agreement for all stores to employ energy-saving techniques, such as turning off electric signs at closing times, reducing light usage, and managing store temperatures, from October 15th this year. They will also cut lighting by half before opening time, and by 30 percent during “critical consumption periods”.

Additionally, they will “cut off air renewal at night” and “lower the temperature in outlets to 17C this autumn and winter, if requested by a regulatory authority”.

Recommendations – The government has urged individuals to adopt energy-saving practices – by switching off wifi routers when on holiday, turning off lights, unplugging electric appliances when not in use, and lowering the air-con.

France’s energy transition minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher has urged people to keep heating to a maximum of 19C and air con to a minimum of 26C at the height of summer.

Spain

Spain has introduced perhaps the most wide-ranging set of rules in its new energy-saving bill, which comes into force on August 10th.

Public buildings as well as shops, restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, transport hubs and cultural spaces must:

  • Set heating and cooling temperatures to limits of 19C and 27C respectively;
  • Install doors that automatically close by September 30th to prevent energy waste, as can happen with regular doors that are left open;
  • Lights in shop windows must be turned off by 10pm;
  • Posters must be put up to explain the energy saving measures in every building or establishment, and thermometers must be displayed to show the temperature and humidity of the room.

READ ALSO: Is it realistic for Spain to set the air con limit at 27C during summer?

Recommendations – the above rules do not apply to private homes, but it is recommended to follow the heating and cooling limits.

Meanwhile, working from home is recommended for large companies and public administration buildings to help “save on the displacement and thermal consumption of buildings”, Spain’s Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said.

And have you thought about your outfit? Here’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez explaining why he’s ditching his tie to stay a little bit cooler.

Italy

Back in April the Italian government approved limits on the use of air conditioning in public offices and schools from May 1st, to save energy and wean itself off reliance on Russian gas imports.

At the time Ministers said that Italy would be able to end its reliance on Russian gas within 18 months, after previously giving a timeframe of at least two years.

Rules – In public buildings, energy use will be measured in individual rooms of each building – the temperature must not exceed 19C in winter and cannot be any lower than 27C in summer, with a margin of tolerance of two degrees – meaning the lowest allowed temperature is actually 25C.

Fines for non-compliance with the rules are said to range from €500 to €3,000. The measure does not currently apply to clinics, hospitals and nursing homes.

Italy has long had rules in place limiting the usage of heating in homes and public buildings during winter. Northern and mountainous areas are allowed to switch on the heat in October, while some parts of the south can’t turn up the dial until December.

Even then, there are limits on how long you’re allowed to keep the central heating on each day, ranging from six hours in the warmest parts of the country to 14 hours in chillier regions.

And there are rules on maximum temperatures – private homes, offices and schools should not be heated to more than 20C, with a 2C tolerance. Meanwhile factories and workshops should generally be kept at 18C.

Austria

The Austrian government has said it will work on measures to encourage energy saving among households and businesses while putting a cap on electricity prices.

The aim is to “support the Austrian population to ensure unaffordable energy supply for a certain basic need”, according to a government statement. 

The government didn’t give details on the price cap but said that conditions would be developed by the end of August.

Sweden

Sweden has announced no new measures in response to the energy crisis, but already has certain limits in place. 

Many Swedish apartment buildings and housing cooperatives have a strict maximum heating limit of 21C indoors and in some buildings radiators have a limiter on them so they cannot be turned too high.

In Denmark, too, the government has introduced no specific new measures.

Switzerland

In common with other countries, Switzerland is at risk of a gas shortage this winter and the government has warned that restrictions on consumption during the coldest months cannot be excluded.

Nearly half of its annual supply is of Russian origin. “We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland,” Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said at the end of June. “In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us.”

The possibility that Swiss households will have to turn down the thermostat this winter is very real. 

In the event of an actual shortage, “consumption restrictions may be ordered, for example restrictions on the heating of unoccupied buildings. The switching to biofuel could be imposed by ordinance”, Economy Minister Guy Parmelin has said.

If shortages persist, a quota system would be implemented – with households and essential services, such as hospitals, among the last to be affected.

But Parmelin insisted, “the role of the State is to guarantee a good supply of gas and electricity to the country. We want at all costs to avoid a disruption in supply, which would have a strong impact on businesses and  would then lead to an economic crisis”.

UK

Less reliant on Russian gas because of its own gas reserves, the UK is currently less worried about supply than price – soaring utility bills may force many households into poverty this winter, campaigners have warned.

Households in the UK will start receiving a discount worth a total £400 (€478) off their energy bills from October, the British government has said, with the support package rises to £1,200 (€1,430) for the poorest households.

A recent report by National Grid said there was little chance of the lights going out in the UK this winter – though experts have warned that a severe cold spell could prompt action, such as shutdowns of non-critical factory operations, to ensure homes can be heated.

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