COVID-19 has surrendered the world within a few months. Spain was by no means an exception; furthermore, along with Italy, the country has been experiencing one of the worst cases of the coronavirus outbreak within the borders of Europe. While Spain so far has endured some of the world’s most stringent lockdown measures – with no outings permitted which aren’t for food, medicine or hospital visits, the Spaniards expect to go back to normal by the end of June through a four-phase, 8-week plan announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Restrictions have been eased slightly since April 28, however the rest of the 2020 seems to be a great challenge for both Spanish politics and its economy.
Regarding the economy, 2020 is yet another gloomy and alarming year for Spain. For a country that suffered so severely from the 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent eurozone crisis, there doesn’t appear a light at the end of the tunnel. Spain’s economy has been battered by the impact of the virus, according to a recent report by the IMF, economic contractions of 7.5% are expected in the euro zone’s 19 countries, and the estimate is -8% for Spain. Furthermore, the Bank of Spain forecasted that the economic shock could push the unemployment rate to as high as 21.7% this year. This figure implies that the economic recovery achieved after 2008 crisis will be undone. Even though Madrid helped convince EU leaders into agreeing a 1 trillion-euro emergency fund, it is almost certain that another major crisis awaits the Spanish economy.
Furthermore, the political scene is also disconcerting: Prime Minister Sánchez from the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and his coalition government backed by Unidas Podemos are in a precarious position since the formation of their minority government in January. The Madrid government was first accused of taking sluggish and reckless action by allowing large gatherings such as football games or 120,000-people Women’s March to proceed against the advice of health bodies. Such instances were interpreted as the government’s measure for not to offend Spanish people by taking major action, as the declaration of a nationwide State of Alarm only came on the 13th of March. Although solidarity around the lockdown was in place after the State of Alarm, now that the focus is turning to easing restrictions and economic recuperation, Sánchez is struggling to find the broad support he needs. Political division and polarization between parties appear to be deepening. Instead of uniting with the coalition government, opposition parties, namely the main opposition People’s Party and the far-right Vox Party has been using the lockdown debate as a political instrument to lambast the government. The leader of the People’s Party, Pablo Casado even initially threatened to vote against the extension of the lockdown. In the meantime, the unresolved rift between the national government and the Catalan separatist movement is resurfacing as the pro-independence administration of Catalonia on an almost daily basis criticizes the government of being incompetent. Catalan politicians further put forward that there would have been fewer deaths if the crisis had been managed by an independent Catalonia.
What is worrisome for Spain is that, the lack of unity and solidarity in
the political arena can be quite unsettling in times of economic slowdown. Although
Spain is currently one of the most robust democracies in the world, it is not immune from political
stalemate. After all, the former government of Mariano Rajoy (People’s Party)
was ousted from power by a motion of no confidence submitted by Sánchez’s Socialist
Workers’ Party in 2018. The motion which was
registered following a major corruption case related to the incumbent People’s
Party, marked the end of Rajoy’s government. Now that Spain’s politicization of
the coronavirus crisis is one of the most intense cases in Europe, there is a
very high chance that the Sánchez government will go through difficult times in
the form of party weakness coupled with economic shocks. How Madrid is going to
manage the anger and confusion of the public following the return to normal
will be crucial in determining the fate of Spain as well as its democracy.
Mismanagement in the upcoming days may certainly bring about mass upheaval and
protests from the public. Not only for Spain but for all countries, the
outcomes of the current pandemic are yet to come, but nevertheless they are
definitely going to change the world we live in tremendously.