Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez has carried out a far-reaching reshuffle of his government as his ruling Socialists seek to regain the initiative after a series of setbacks on the political, economic and diplomatic fronts.
In a much wider ranging reshaping of the government than expected, Sánchez promoted Nadia Calviño, Spain’s economy minister, to become his new number two, as several of the government’s most prominent figures left office.
In an address to the nation, Sánchez announced the formation of what he described as a new government that would focus on economic recovery and the use of the €140bn in EU funds that Spain hopes will help it bounce back from the ravages of the pandemic — and which the government hopes will help retrieve its fortunes.
“The government of recovery begins today, to overcome the worst calamity in decades,” he said. He added that the change implied a “generational renewal”, with the average age of ministers falling from 55 to 50 and the percentage of women rising from 54 to 63 per cent.
Among those departing the coalition are Carmen Calvo, until now Sánchez’s principal deputy — a position that will be taken up by Calviño — as well as foreign minister Arancha González, the prime minister’s chief of staff and strategist Ivan Redondo, and José Luis Abalos, a Socialist veteran who served as the minister of transport.
The new foreign minister will be José Manuel Albares, a former Sanchez adviser who now holds the post of ambassador to France, and who prides himself on his diplomatic experience and his closeness to the prime minister.
The promotion of Calviño — a former top European Commission official — means she will chair cabinet meetings in Sanchez’s absence.
“This move underlines her status as an essential part of this government; it’s also a signal to markets and Brussels of its commitment to economic orthodoxy,” said Pablo Simón, professor of politics at Madrid’s Carlos III University.
But he added that the reshuffle “was practically trying to start the government again from zero”, just under half way through parliament’s four-year mandate.
The Socialists have fallen behind the centre-right People’s party in the polls in the wake of a devastating defeat in a Madrid regional election. It also follows a diplomatic crisis with Morocco, which in May briefly allowed thousands of migrants to cross over to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.
Spain’s GDP contracted more as a result of the pandemic than that of any other major economy, shrinking 10.8 per cent last year.
The country’s economic prospects have been further clouded by the country’s fifth coronavirus wave, which last week pushed the infection rate to the highest in mainland Europe, throwing the tourist season into jeopardy.
In normal times, tourism generates 12 per cent of Spanish GDP and 13 per cent of jobs, with the months of July and August playing an outsize role, but last week both Germany and France warned their citizens against travel to the country.
Among other changes, the reshuffle replaced the heads of the education, justice, science and culture ministries, and appointed a new government spokeswoman, Isabel Rodríguez.
Simón argued that not only were many ministries changing hands but that the four top officials co-ordinating policy under Sánchez — who included Calvo, Redondo and Abalos — had now left office.
The fourth in that group, Pablo Iglesias, the former leader of Podemos, the Socialists’ radical left coalition partner, left politics after coming fifth in the Madrid election.
He had previously been replaced as a deputy prime minister by Yolanda Díaz, Spain’s communist minister of labour. Podemos’ five ministers were not part of Saturday’s reshuffle.
Spain’s opposition parties responded to the changes by labelling Sánchez, not his ministers, the problem, and calling for elections.