Pedro Sánchez profile
BY OLIVER SUAREZ-JIMENEZ
A defining feature of 21st-century European Politics has been the decline of the traditional centre-left party. Since the turn of the millennium, there has been a stark decline in the vote shares of France’s Socialist Party, the German SDP, and the Dutch Labour Party.
This makes the political resurgence, and relative electoral success of the Spanish PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), even more surprising. With the July 2023 Spanish general election held under a backdrop of widespread losses for the PSOE in regional and local elections, the closer-than-expected outcome highlights that competent leadership and strong campaigning can allow for the success of traditional centre-left parties.
Born in February 1972, Pedro Sanchez, the charismatic, articulate prime minister of Spain, has been the long-time leader of PSOE, the predominant centre-left party in Spain. After a decade-long career working within local Madrid politics, Sanchez gained a role in Congress in 2013 following the resignation of his predecessor. Following this, Sanchez quickly rose up the ranks of the PSOE, becoming leader in 2014, and was quickly met with infighting and the rise of the radical left Podemos Party. This coagulation of challenges culminated in the 2016 PSOE crisis, in which a variety of issues, chief of which the PSOE’s disappointing performance in the 2015 election, led to the mass resignation of senior leaders and an internal election, which Sanchez narrowly won.
In spite of the small percentage of PSOE parliamentarians (22% of total congress seats), the collapse of the ruling PP (Partido Popular) government of Mariano Rajoy in 2018 created a power vacuum which resulted in Sanchez’s ascension to prime minister, albeit with virtually no congressional support.
Since then, Sanchez has remained as prime minister, retaining power with two minority governments, oftentimes relying on the support of secessionist regional parties, like the Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC-S). Sanchez’s tenure has been characterised by an underlying political pragmatism, highlighted by him initially only choosing to propose measures that would have considerable parliamentary support. Unlike the combative rhetoric of his Conservative predecessors, Sanchez has engaged in a civil approach to the issue of Catalan separatism, balancing between Spanish nationalism and greater autonomy for Catalonia. His push for Catalan linguistic legitimacy within the EU and his juxtaposing decree that there will be no future Catalan independence referendums demonstrates this.
Sanchez’s government is known for its progressive agenda, with a 29% raise in the minimum wage, labour law reform, and the reduction of Church influence within education. The successful implementation of these policies, in spite of Spain’s reputation as a more socially and economically conservative EU state, highlights the skill of Sanchez as a politician and may explain his greater-than-expected success in July’s elections.
So, what else caused the PSOE’s political revival? In spite of being beaten by both the PP and the far-right Vox party in May’s local elections, Sanchez and the PSOE overturned a vast polling deficit to become the party most likely to form government. Whilst the defeat of the PSOE in various Spanish provinces was detrimental in the short run, the formation of hard-right PP/VOX alliances in the provinces of Aragon, Extremadura, and Valencia may have actually benefited Sanchez’s political standing. Framing the election as a choice between the hard-right alliances being propped up across the country, and the PSOE’s brand of moderate social democracy could explain high voter turnout which benefitted Sanchez’s electoral standing.
Although nuances are required when discussing the unstable nature of Spanish politics, I believe that the relative success of Sanchez, and more specifically the rebound of the PSOE is down to two factors. Principally, the continued success of Sanchez highlights the need for political pragmatism. Sanchez’s ability to cater to various electoral tribes is a gift few contemporary social democratic politicians have, and his ability to maintain popular whilst implementing progressive, social democratic policies deserves admiration. This being key to his sustained electoral success.
Secondly, I believe that the 2023 Spanish election highlights that whilst far-right parties may be effective at creating support outside of government, the introduction of such factions into government is never effective, and often aids centrist and centre-left parties through voter disgruntlement. Through framing the election as a choice between far-right government and social democracy, Sanchez tapped into voters’ fears, and thus successfully convinced them to vote for the PSOE.
Whilst it is rare to find politicians as effective at communicating this message as Pedro Sanchez, Spain offers a blueprint to stop the far right - something that Germany and other EU states should follow.
Image: Flickr/ Pedro Sánchez en Tarragona