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Spain swears in mostly-female government

By AFP - Jun 08,2018 - Last updated at Jun 08,2018

The new spanish government’s ministers pose with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (7th from left) and king Felipe VI (centre) after taking oath of office at La Zarzuela Palace in Madrid on Thursday (AFP photo)

MADRID — Spain’s King Felipe VI on Thursday swore in the country’s new pro-EU government, with women holding the majority of ministerial posts.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez named 11 women to top posts including defence and economy in a Cabinet with six male ministers.

That makes it the European government with the highest ratio of female Cabinet ministers, ahead of Sweden’s, which has 12 women and 11 men.

But Sanchez’s administration risks not lasting until the end of the current mandate in 2020, however, given the fragmented state of Spain’s political parties.

His Socialist Party holds just 84 seats in the 350-seat congress, the smallest parliamentary presence of any Spanish government since the return to democracy in the 1970s.

Sanchez, 46, ousted conservative veteran Mariano Rajoy as prime minister last Friday in a parliamentary no-confidence vote.

The vote was sparked by corruption convictions against former officials from Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP), which had governed for six years.

 

Equality a priority 

 

At Thursday’s ceremony, the ministers broke with tradition by taking their oaths on the constitution rather than the Bible. 

They followed the example set by Sanchez, who became the first Spanish prime minister to forego religious symbols during his own swearing-in on Saturday.

The first minister to take the oath was veteran Socialist Carmen Calvo, a former culture minister, who became deputy prime minister and will also be in charge of equality.

Equality is a priority for Sanchez’s government in a country where women staged an unprecedented strike to defend their rights in March.

Calvo said her government would work to “build the greatest equality, that between men and women”.

The first measure the Socialists will propose to congress concerns gender violence training for judicial officials, the head of the party’s parliamentary group, Adriana Lastra, told reporters.

 

 An ordeal’ 

 

With its parliamentary minority, the government will rely on the votes of far-left party Podemos as well as Basque and Catalan nationalist lawmakers who supported his confidence motion.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias wished the new government “good luck”, adding during a TV interview that trying to govern with such a small minority “would probably be an ordeal” for Sanchez.

Podemos is pushing for greater social spending — a delicate issue given the European Union’s demands on budgetary discipline.

Sanchez has said the “main priority” will be to respect Madrid’s deficit reduction commitments to the EU.

Spain has promised to reduce its deficit to 2.2 per cent of GDP in 2018, which would bring it at last under the three per cent limit set by Brussels.

To maintain “stability”, Sanchez has also pledged to implement the 2018 budget crafted by the previous conservative government which includes pensions hikes and a salary increase for civil servants.

Sonia Lopez, a 40-year-old pastry chef, said she was not “expecting anything” from the new government.

“Before the government only looked after bosses, this one says it will look after workers. But if it does, it’s because it’s already competing for election next time round,” she said as she smoked a cigarette outside the luxury Madrid hotel where she works.

 

Pro-EU government 

 

EU Budget Manager Nadia Calvino was sworn-in as economy minister in a move welcomed by the EU Commission, and former European parliament president Josep Borrell became foreign minister.

The new Spanish executive’s pro-EU credentials sets it apart from certain other parts of Europe.

They contrast with the eurosceptic stance of the populist government about to take office in Italy and the Brexit process in Britain.

Anti-terror prosecutor Dolores Delgado became justice minister and former supreme court judge Margarita Robles defence minister.

Other women have been put in charge of budget, education, employment and health.

The new interior minister is Fernando Grande-Marlaska, an openly gay former judge at Spain’s top-level national court.

He has handled cases against Basque separatist group ETA.

New foreign minister Borrell, who fiercely opposes the independence movement in his home region of Catalonia, will be tasked with defending abroad his government’s commitment to Spanish unity.

Meritxell Batet, another Catalan, has been put in charge of relations with Spain’s regions.

She will have the prickly task of trying to ease the situation in her own deeply divided home region.

Sanchez’s new team also includes a minister in charge of science — Spain’s first astronaut, Pedro Duque.

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