Not even make-up could hide Pedro Sánchez's sweat when he appeared on television this Saturday, just after 7 p.m. He did so to announce the inevitable which, due to stupid stubbornness, he had been rejecting for more than two (lethal) weeks: the full lockdown of Spain with the exception of essential services. "Tomorrow, at an extraordinary cabinet meeting an exceptional measure will be approved by the government: all workers in non-essential activities will have to remain at home for the next two weeks as they do now every weekend.". Nervous, with a choked voice and perceptible drops of sweat around his mouth, the Spanish Prime Minister surrendered to those who had been asking him to take this decision for over two weeks: from Catalan president Quim Torra and his government, to an endless number of scientists. Among them the Catalans Oriol Mitjà and Bonaventura Clotet, and a legion of experts from the WHO, as well as epidemiologists, doctors, economists, international experts on pandemics, etc.
Sánchez offered no apology to the public for his tragic and colossal mistake, nor any self-criticism in a press conference-like broadcast at which only one question — with no right to follow up questions — selected by a government spokesperson, was allowed. In a textbook case, such as a global pandemic is, the Spanish government attempted to combine its health response with politics and failed. No one can be happy about this because the political leaders’ deplorable management of a state immersed in a savage crisis affects us all
Could we say, however, that everything would have been very different had the measure been taken at the right time and place? We are talking about a pandemic, about many human lives, about giving an economic response to a country with hundreds of thousands of workers, soon to be millions, affected by temporary lay-offs. It is not enough to appear remorseful and give a Churchillian phrase, elaborated by his spin doctors, telling the audience that all he could offer was sacrifice, resistance and a promise of victory. It is not about votes, prime minister, it is about human lives.
Sanchez's intervention addressed two complementary issues: the total confinement of the workforce will be managed through paid leave that will be paid by companies, and thus the hours not worked will be made up for, before the end of December. It remains to be seen what employers will say, and how it will impact the self-employed. And what the trade unions think. Everything seems to fall on the productive sector for which the Spanish government pretends to be doing something but in fact is doing nothing. Sánchez did not mention the postponement of Social Security payments or delaying payments to the tax authority, the two battle horses of the self-employed and SMEs in these last two weeks.
The second issue addressed the heads of state and government of the European Union. Sánchez was particularly aggressive towards EU countries, starting with Germany and the Netherlands, which have refused to mutualise the debt of all EU members in order to tackle the upcoming economic crisis. A tough battle between northern and central European orthodoxy against the countries of the southern part of the continent is looming. The former will demand payment guarantees and structural reforms to show solidarity before making any contributions to a common fund. That will be the battle horse and perhaps the cause for the breakup of the already battered EU, at least as we have known it.