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The ritual was respected. First thing this Monday morning, the new ministers of the Spanish government made their promises to fufill their offices - none of them chose the alternative option of swearing their posts - before king Felipe VI at the royal palace. It is a major reshuffle - announced by the Spanish prime minister on Saturday - and there are many new faces, who then became the protagonists of an intense morning of portfolio handovers. Many words of gratitude to Pedro Sánchez and the outgoing ministers, many declarations of intent, but one issue was completely invisible, despite its implications. The hot potato of Catalonia. It's still the elephant in the room.

There were not even words to say on the subject by the new territorial policy minister, Isabel Rodríguez, the first to step up in the portfolio exchange ritual. She was presented by the outgoing minister, Miquel Iceta, who asserted that the ministry is the "house of reaching pacts", of "sincere and loyal institutional dialogue with everyone". A ministry that, he admitted, he did not want to leave, and he felt very bad about doing so because he had put a lot of "hours and enthusiasm" into it. It's only been six months. But Pedro Sánchez has moved him over to the culture and sports ministry. At least he celebrated celebrating leaving his portfolio in the hands of someone from the local government world.

Rodríguez, former mayor of Puertollano (in Castilla-La Mancha) briefly took up this gauntlet, arguing that "agreements and pacts are always a good working formula" and that "it makes us feel better than permanent confrontation". But she didn't go further than that, and focused mainly on the local government world, from which she comes. On the table will be some burning issues, such as the negotiation with the Catalan government over its fund for the Court of Accounts issue, with the intention of avoiding appeals to the Constitutional Court. The new minister, who will also be spokesperson for the Spanish government, recalled some of her Socialist predecessors in the role, such as Rosa Conde and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

There was however one explicit reference to the unmentionable issue from Raquel Sánchez, new transport minister, who presented herself by saying: “I am a socialist, I am an ecologist and I am Catalan; these are my credentials”. She received her portfolio from the outgoing minister, José Luis Ábalos, one of the most senior heads to roll in Pedro Sánchez's major remodeling of his cabinet. Raquel Sánchez will become the second minister from the Catalan Socialists and was accompanied this morning by former minister and now opposition leader in the Catalan Parliament, Salvador Illa. Sánchez took on her new responsibility by asserting the need for a "federal model."

Barb for Redondo?

If Miquel Iceta did not want to leave the territorial portfolio, one incoming minister, Félix Bolaños, admitted that he would prefer not to have his new role. "The number of times I've been glad not to be a minister," said the new head of the prime minister's department, who has been working in the shadows up till now. "But you can't ask for it and you can't refuse," he added. It was read like a barb for Iván Redondo, until now the strategy guru for Pedro Sánchez, who according to El País asked for this very portfolio for himself and ended up leaving. But the new minister later denied this claim in an informal conversation with the press.

Bolaños said he assumed the new responsibility with a "sense of state" and promised to work for a "just" recovery that would reach everyone, responding with actions to the political "tension" and "debates that lead nowhere." He expressed "admiration, respect, affection and friendship" for the outgoing deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, from whom he has received the portfolio.

In fact, the anecdote of the morning was provided by Calvo, the heaviest hitter to be purged in the reshuffle, who said that she was playing a part in "the most loving transfer of roles in the history of Spanish politics". She also had "infinite gratitude" to prime minister Pedro Sánchez. Almost no one stayed away from the handover ritual, with most of the ministers present, including those from coalition partner Podemos, and even former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Iceta jokes about sport

He first passed on the territorial policy portfolio and then Miquel Iceta returned to receive the culture and sports folder from the outgoing minister José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes. With regard to the first area, he vindicated all the languages ​​of the Spanish state and said he was committed to "cultural federalism". In the second, aware of the jokes that have been circulating at his expense, he said ironically that he has not dedicated an important part of his life to playing sports, but that this does not mean that he cannot take this portfolio.


No mention of Sánchez by Ábalos 

According to José Luis Ábalos's entourage, his substitution as the head of the transport ministry did not go down well with the now-ex minister, as it was not expected. But the reality is that he has been in the spotlight since the failure of the political operation in Murcia, which led to elections and a landslide defeat in the Community of Madrid as well. It was symptomatic that the departing minister handed the portfolio on to the Catalan Raquel Sánchez and did not dedicate a single word, not even of gratitude, to prime minister Pedro Sánchez.