Spain's health minister steps down over master's scandal

Carmen Montón's resignation continues ongoing controversy over authenticity of Spanish politicians' qualifications

Former Spanish health minister Carmen Montón with spokeswoman Isabel Celáa (by ACN)
Former Spanish health minister Carmen Montón with spokeswoman Isabel Celáa (by ACN) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

September 12, 2018 11:54 AM

A new episode has begun in the ongoing scandal about the authenticity of the qualifications of some Spanish politicians, with Carmen Montón stepping down as Spain's health minister over perceived irregularities with her master's degree.

Montón announced her resignation on Tuesday after the media reported that the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, where she got her degree in gender studies, had admitted that her results had been tampered with and said it had begun an investigation.

Despite receiving the backing of Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, who praised Montón for her "extraordinary work," the final blow came when Spanish television reported that she had plagiarized a large part of her final thesis, and so Montón chose to go.

Just over 100 days in the job

Appointed health minister by Sánchez when Spain's Socialist party replaced the Mariano Rajoy People's party (PP) executive in June, Montón had spent just over a 100 days in the job. She has been replaced by María Luisa Carcedo.

However, in her public appearance to announce her resignation on Tuesday evening, Montón insisted she had done nothing wrong, and at all times had been "transparent and honest" and that her "conscience was clear."

In Tuesday's press conference, where no questions were allowed, Montón said she had decided to resign so as not to "influence" the Sánchez government. She is the second Socialist minister to resign after former culture minister, Màxim Huerta, stepped down over alleged tax fraud.

The controversy comes after doubts have emerged about the authenticity of the qualifications of other Spanish politicians. In March, former head of the Madrid region, Cristina Cifuentes, was alleged to have fraudulently obtained her master's degree from the same university.

In fact, the Cifuentes affair led to reports emerging about alleged irregularities with the master's degree of the new head of the PP, Pablo Casado, whose qualifications are now subject to an investigation by the Rey Juan Carlos University.

PP: "The innocent never have to resign"

Yet, the PP secretary general, Teodoro Garcia, sprung to Casado's defense and insisted that the two cases were different: "The innocent never have to resign and Casado is the hope this country has for rediscovering its way forward," he said.

Garcia was also very critical of Sánchez's handling of the Montón situation, calling the Socialist government "the weakest in history," and pointing out that "never before have two ministers had to resign after just 100 days."

Resignation shows "exemplary" behavior, says Sánchez

Yet on Wednesday, Sánchez continued to praise Montón's work before the Spanish Congress, and described her behavior in resigning as "exemplary." It is an example, said Sánchez, of how his party "accepts our political responsibility," a path "others find more difficult to take," in reference to the issue of Casado's degree.

The Spanish president also had to answer an attack from the leader of the Ciutadans party, Albert Rivera, who said there were “reasonable doubts” over Sánchez's doctorate and that he should publish it. Sánchez responded that it was already available to see on the Teseo network, the database of doctoral theses.

Yet there was also pressure on Casado to publish the work from his master's degree, with the head of the left-wing Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, saying "the ball is now in the PP leader's court." Iglesias also regretted Montón's resignation but said "we had no choice but to demand it."