Spain’s Sanchez Aims to Shut Down Talk He’s Soft on Catalonia

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is looking to defend himself against claims he’ll be too generous to Catalan separatists with his first appointments.

Foreign Minister-Designate Josep Borrell was one of the most high-profile defenders of Spanish unity during last year’s crisis and as a Catalan has particular authority to tackle the separatists’ arguments. The 71-year-old will also be in charge of explaining the Spanish government’s position to the rest of the European Union, a world he knows from his time as president of the European Parliament. He’s published two books in the past three years poking holes in the Catalan government’s claims.


Josep Borrell

Photographer: Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images

Prospective Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero will be in charge of any reforms of Spain’s regional financing system and she comes from Andalusia in the south, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo.

“Borrell raised his voice against the separatists when few in the Socialist party in Catalonia dared,” said Veronica Fumanal, a political marketing expert and former adviser to Sanchez. “Montero is a guarantee that there won’t be unfair concessions to anyone.”

Sanchez’s ability to handle the aftermath of Catalonia’s push for independence will be one of the key factors in determining whether he can consolidate his leadership in Spain. With only 84 deputies in the 350-strong Parliament he seized power by ambushing his predecessor Mariano Rajoy with a no-confidence vote last week, stitching together an alliance that included both left-wing radicals and the Catalan separatists themselves.

Catalan Challenge

“Borrell’s appointment makes the government’s stance on Catalonia very clear,” the Socialist Party’s head of organization Jose Luis Abalos said in an interview with state broadcaster Television Espanola. “We aren’t negotiating or committing to anything.”

The Socialists supported Rajoy’s decision to impose direct-rule in Catalonia in October after the regional government attempted to declare independence from Spain. But Sanchez has also criticized his predecessor for lacking a political strategy for Catalonia and letting the courts take the lead in defending the constitution.

“Such embarrassment,” separatist lawmaker Gabriel Rufian said on Twitter when Borrell’s appointment was announced.

Another Catalan Meritxell Batet will be minister of public administration, El Independiente reported. A press officer for Socialist party declined to comment on that position.

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