Spain passes biggest budget in its history

Spain’s chamber of deputies has approved the biggest budget in the country’s history after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez won the support of a Catalan pro-independence party in return for a deal setting a quota for regional languages on digital platforms such as Netflix.

The budget, which includes €27bn in EU recovery funds, was backed by an ample majority of 188 votes in the chamber on Thursday and now heads to the country’s Senate. It consolidates Sánchez’s hold on power at the same time as highlighting Spain’s fragmented politics.

The agreement between the minority coalition government and the Catalan Republican Left, which also contained a promise not to renovate a police headquarters in Barcelona, was only part of a patchwork of budget deals with smaller parties.

Other commitments included provisions for children’s television in the Basque language, help for victims of asbestos, incentives for employers offering a shorter working week and greater regulation of artificial intelligence.

Máriam Martínez-Bascuñán, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Madrid, said the budget had become a “bazaar”, where “everything is up for auction, rather than a negotiation based on the economic crisis caused by Covid or how to manage the [EU] funds”.

But she added that it was a success for Sánchez, “given the fragmentation in parliament” where the coalition commands only 155 of 350 seats.

She said that even if the government lacked the votes for a budget in the future, it could extend the 2022 budget for another year and therefore reach the end of its mandate in late 2023.

The Catalan Left, whose 13 deputies provide crucial support for the government despite the party’s pro-independence stance, hailed the deal to make companies such as Netflix offer at least 6 per cent of their programming in the Catalan, Basque or Galician languages.

An EU directive already obliges such platforms to provide a “30 per cent share of European content in their catalogues”.

Gabriel Rufián, a leading Catalan Left MP, also praised the government’s commitment not to renovate a police headquarters in central Barcelona, which he said should become a museum commemorating its role as a “centre of torture” during the fascist rule of Francisco Franco who died in 1975.

The budget was also backed by EH Bildu, a far-left Basque secessionist party led by Arnaldo Otegi, a former member of the disbanded terrorist group Eta.

Pablo Casado, leader of the main opposition People’s party, said the deal with Bildu would “freeze the blood” of Eta victims and showed that Spain’s ruling Socialists had “lost their democratic soul”.

“With the exception of the right, which always says no to everything . . . the rest of the parties in the chamber have made an effort to further understanding,” said María Jesús Montero, Spain’s budget minister.

The use of EU funds in next year’s budget is at the heart of the Socialist-led government’s economic and political strategy after a year in which its use of the resources has fallen below expectations, with Spain lagging behind the rest of the bloc in recovering from the pandemic.

According to a government budget outline, €3.2bn of the EU funds will go to industrial policy next year, €2.8bn to energy efficiency for buildings, €2.2bn to green transport systems and €2.1bn in aid for small and medium enterprises.

The government said it would be carrying out more than €40bn in investments overall — the biggest in Spanish history — out of a total central government budget of €196bn. When social security and transfers to regional authorities are included, government spending rises to €459bn.

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