Spain’s new prime minister makes waves
2018-06-15 14:24:32 -
Opinion
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By Michael McGowan

Pedro Sánchez, the new prime minister of Spain, has made history by appointing a cabinet with a majority of women which sets the country apart from the rest of Europe and is unique in the world.

Sánchez’s majority female cabinet represents a remarkable achievement for Spain where until 1975, under the Franco dictatorship, Spanish women could not get a job, own property, open a bank account or even apply for a passport without their husband’s permission.

 

The new cabinet has the highest number of female ministers in any government in Europe, with 11 of the 17 ministries led by women. The contrast with statistics for the world as a whole is remarkable.

 

According to a United Nations report in June 2016, women made up a meagre 22.8 per cent of seats in national parliaments globally. And in January 2017, only 18.3 per cent of government minister positions were held by women.

 

It is interesting to note that female representation in government in Europe does not depend on having a female prime minister. In fact, as chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel appointed a cabinet fewer than half of whom were women, while Theresa May’s cabinet in Westminster comprises only 26 per cent women.

 

There is no doubt that Sánchez has pulled off an amazing feat, and not only in giving women better representation. He leveraged a no-confidence vote to persuade parliament to oust a sitting government for the first time in Spain’s democratic history.

Sánchez’s political fortunes have changed dramatically in a very short period of time. Defeated in the last two elections, ousted by his own party two years ago and faltering in the polls, his prospects of becoming Spain’s prime minister looked remote in the extreme.

 

But when 180 MPs in the 350-seat parliament supported him in the vote of confidence held in the wake of a corruption scandal engulfing Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party, Sánchez was rocketed into the post of prime minister, which he has described as an opportunity for Spain to “recover the dignity of its institutions”.

 

When Sánchez took office on Saturday 2 June, he swore his oath on the Spanish Constitution instead of the Bible. He is an atheist, and no crucifix was on display for the first time in modern Spanish history. For many this will be symbolic of a new era for politics in Spain.

 

Strong European credentials

 

Sánchez turned down the offer of a coalition government and settled for a Socialist minority administration. As such, he will need political skill and good luck to hold on to office.

 

The Sánchez government features a number of high-profile appointments including astronaut Pedro Duque as Spain’s new science minister. He is one of the best known faces in Spanish science as one of only two Spaniards to have travelled into space.

 

The new cabinet of 11 women and six men also includes Carmen Calvo, a former culture minister, and now Sánchez’s deputy prime minister and equality minister. And the appointment of Dolores Delgado as justice minister has been welcomed by many of Spain’s judge and attorney associations.

 

The new prime minister is determined to tackle the austerity programme of the Rajoy government and its ham-fisted handling of devolution demands from both Catalonia and the Basque country.

 

Pedro Sánchez also has strong European credentials. He studied in Brussels and Madrid, worked as a political assistant in the European Parliament, and speaks fluent English and French. Moreover, he says his programme in office will be modern, socialist and anchored in the principles of the European Union.

 

Spain and Ireland have substantial historic links which go back centuries. Both countries are strongly committed to the European project and together they have the potential to help launch a new and modern European leadership which we so desperately need.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.


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