Cutting electricity bills, increasing pensions and the minimum wage, limiting presidential terms of office, reducing waiting lists for care allowances and scrapping the harsh Public Safety Reform, known as the gagging law’, are among Pedro Sánchez’s ambitious plans for his 18 months as Spain’s leader before his job is up for vote again in the next general elections.
State pensions, thanks to a reform that has meant annual rises never exceeded the legal minimum of 0.25% since January 2012, have become one of Spanish society’s greatest concerns, and Sánchez has pledged to ensure they increase in line with inflation at the very least.
Sánchez’s party, the PSOE (socialists) have been insisting for years that the minimum wage needs to increase – at €735.90 per month, it is half that of France and, at €24.53 per day, works out at just €3 per hour.
This is based upon workers getting 14 payslips a year – a double one in August and at Christmas – meaning the minimum annual wage is €10,302.60, or €858.55 a month with 12 payslips, and below the minimum taxpaying threshold of €12,000 per annum.
Increasing this, and setting up a complex package of measures to help young people – defined as the under-35s – into the job market in equal conditions, and a reform of the Formación Profesional (FP) system, Spain’s answer to BTECs, are on Sánchez’s agenda and he will seek support from left-wing party Podemos in doing so.
Also on family finances, Sánchez wants to address the issue of tenants being priced out of the rental market with ever-increasing costs, which experts fear could lead to a new housing ‘bubble’ if unchecked.
Minimum rental contract periods for non-holiday lets, and a cap on deposits, as well as regulating private holiday accommodation offered through schemes such as Airbnb are in the new president’s in-tray.
Electricity prices, constantly fluctuating but always at least double those of 10 years ago, with bills comprising around 65% taxes and standing charges due to a government energy supplier debt, a three-month energy auction system that creates instability for bill-payers, taxes and regulations that make it uneconomically viable for homeowners to ditch the utility giants and use solar panels, and a general failure to take full advantage of renewable energy sources have been among the main features of the PP government’s power policies and subject to heavy criticism for the last six-and-a-half years.
Pressure from the left-wing opposition means the government has finally addressed the issue of low-income residents forced to live with no power as they could not afford to pay their bills, with utility boards now not allowed to cut off supply due to non-payment without several warnings over several months and checking with the social services whether the customer is classed as ‘vulnerable’.
Also, electricity boards now offer a fixed monthly payment system, with the balance adjusted over the following 12 months and reviewed every six, and a ‘social power scheme’ where those whose monthly take-home pay does not reach four figures are given heavy discounts, up to 100%.
Sánchez will have a huge task on his hands reforming energy legislation alone, without taking into account other aspects of the economy such as crippling IVA rates on certain essentials such as school textbooks and on the arts and entertainment industry, ongoing pressure from the European Union to slash the national deficit whilst also finding funds to restore Spain’s health service to its place as second-best on the continent.
Sánchez has mentioned new policies and funding for student grants and for carers’ benefits – the latter having been introduced by the last socialist government in 2007, but with waiting lists for funds still running into months or years – and also signing off a ground-breaking deal to invest record sums in the fight against domestic violence, which is ready to go but remains in the pile.
A new equality law to prevent discrimination against any person on any grounds, particularly gender, sexuality and disability, could see public and private sector companies and government institutions obliged to ensure fair splits between men and women in top roles.
Limiting presidents’ terms of office, probably to a maximum of eight years, and axing diplomatic immunity rights that mean cases against high-ranking politicians go straight to the Supreme Court, plus greater obligations in terms of transparency, accountability and financial information to prevent corruption and money-laundering are on Sánchez’s list.
But one of his most challenging tasks in terms of political rule and reform will, undoubtedly, be Catalunya: Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, stripping the region of its powers, has now been lifted following the swearing-in of Catalunya’s new president Quim Torra, and Sánchez has agreed to ‘dialogue’ with the pro-independence parties, largely because they backed his no-confidence vote against outgoing president Mariano Rajoy.
Rajoy and the PP had closed ranks permanently concerning Catalunya’s drive for independence, refusing to even approach the subject as the Constitution outlaws attempts at secession, even banning an advisory referendum.
But Sánchez appears willing to relent and talk about it.
It also remains to be seen whether he relaxes the zealous judicial man-hunt against Catalunya politicians involved in the disputed independence referendum on October 1.
A reform of the Constitution being long overdue is something the PSOE and Sánchez have long argued, and it could be the Catalunya crisis will accelerate this process now the PSOE is in power.