Support for state of alarm extension in Spain not guaranteed

Catalonia's governing parties demand easing of lockdown be carried out by health regions and not provinces

Spanish president Pedro Sánchez gives a media briefing on April 18, 2020 (by Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)
Spanish president Pedro Sánchez gives a media briefing on April 18, 2020 (by Pool Moncloa/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 5, 2020 10:09 PM

Despite not having a majority in Congress, Spain's governing parties have managed to persuade a majority of MPs to extend the state of alarm three times for two weeks at a time.

Now the fourth extension that began on March 14 will end on May 9, this Saturday, and Spanish president Pedro Sánchez will ask lawmakers for a yet another two weeks on Wednesday.

Yet, unlike the three previous occasions, Sánchez's success is far from being secured only days before the vote, with the Catalan pro-independence parties possibly playing a key role in the outcome. And also unlike the other three times, this time an extension is being requested while lockdown is already being de-escalated.

Unionist People's Party and Ciudadanos backed the first three extensions, providing Sánchez with the majority he needed.

Yet, on Monday, the conservatives said they would not back it – they could either abstain or vote against the move.

"Sánchez is taking all Spaniards hostage to extend the state of alarm, seeking a Stockholm syndrome so people forgive his negligence," said Pablo Casado, the head of the People's Party. "It is inconsistent to advise people to go out for vermouth while asking for exceptional powers because they are not capable of carrying out mass testing and creating a prevalence map."

Agreement reached with Ciudadanos

After some uncertainty and negotiations, Ciudadanos announced late on Tuesday evening that they would vote 'yes' in exchange for "weekly contact" with the Spanish government to "discuss and, where appropriate, agree on, measures" for the de-escalation process following the lockdown.

With the ten extra votes from Ciudadanos in favour of the state of alarm extension, Sánchez will be feeling more optimistic about the extension being approved.

Meanwhile, the ruling Basque party, PNB, have cast some doubts on maintaining their support and asked for a mechanism to ensure that regions can negotiate de-escalation with Madrid.

Catalan parties to vote 'no'

Catalonia's governing parties have both declared that they will be voting against the proposal to extend the state of alarm. Junts per Catalunya, the party of the Catalan president, Quim Torra, already rejected the previous extension, and Torra himself said last weekend that if lockdown relaxation was to go ahead as planned, he would not back the extension.

On Tuesday the party spokesperson Laura Borràs confirmed that they would again vote 'no' and renewed calls for the Spanish government to return powers to the Catalan executive. 

As for the other governing party, Esquerra Republicana, they too have said that they will vote against the extension, saying "we cannot allow the same mistakes to be repeated". Esquerra abstained on the three previous votes.

Both parties continue to urge Spain to devolve the powers to manage all issues related to the health crisis to Catalan authorities – these were taken over by the central government on March 14 when the state of alarm was declared.

They also call on Sánchez to let Catalonia manage the end of confinement according to health regions or basic health areas and not by provinces. On Sunday evening, Spain's cabinet denied having allowed Catalonia to use health regions for lockdown de-escalation, as suggested by the Catalan health ministry.

Provinces v. health region controversy

After Spanish president Pedro Sánchez announced a 4-phase plan to loosen lockdown in the country last Tuesday, he received criticism from the Catalan government, who did not agree with relaxing rules per province as they can be quite large and diverse and are not used as units by the Catalan health system.

In Catalonia, for example, the province of Barcelona includes both the populous Catalan capital as well as small Pyrenean towns, for which the Catalan executive argued that assessing pandemic progression per province before allowing them to move into the next de-escalation phase would be unfair.

If eventually granted the Spanish government's approval, Catalonia would be able to de-escalate confinement regulations according to measured progress in the nine health regions: Terres de l'Ebre, Tarragona, the city of Barcelona, the northern metropolitan area, the southern metropolitan area, central Catalonia, Lleida, Alt Pirineu and Aran, and Girona.