Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Pedro Sanchez’s government hasn’t been free of controversy since its beginnings. Being the first-ever coalition government, made only possible with support of Spain’s separatist parties, having one of the worst coronavirus responses in the world, and expected to suffer the biggest recession of all European countries, it is likely that it will continue to draw critiques from the opposition blocs.
This time, it is Mr. Sanchez’s alliance with the separatist parties that has again drawn attention to him. In order to approve the new state budgets for 2021, and not extend for yet another year the 2018 ones drafted by the then-in-charge opposition party Partido Popular, the Spanish prime minister must again look for support within the controversial separatist parties.
This week, the peak of the controversy came when Mr. Otegi, leader of the left-leaning Basque EH Bildu, promised his party’s votes in Congress in order to pass the budgets. Why is this so problematic? Because of Bildu’s behavior regarding the terrorist organization ETA.
Since its definitive cease-fire in 2011 and their unconditional surrender in 2017, the terrorist organization ETA (short for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country and freedom), responsible for the death of 864 people, is still present in the Spanish collective consciousness.
It is safe to say that EH Bildu and ETA are not officially connected, as they have passed the rigorous scrutiny of the Interior Ministry in order to officially operate as a political party. Said ministry has previously banned political parties for their links with ETA, such as Herri Batasuna and many others. Nonetheless, certain things about Bildu raise alarms.
For starters, Mr. Otegi himself has served jail time for having praised terrorist activities and for having been a member of ETA. This is also the case of Iker Casanova, Ikoitz Arrese and Arkaitz Rodríguez, all members of the Basque parliament, and all of them also convicted for their involvement in terrorist activities. Furthermore, EH Bildu has avoided any public condemnation of ETA’s terrorist activities. For example, they abstained in the voting of a resolution in the Parliament of Navarre, condemning one of the most gruesome attacks of ETA, the 1987 car bombing of the Hipercor supermarket in Barcelona that took 21 innocent lives and injured 45 others.
Most recently, Mr. Abascal, leader of the conservative party Vox, suffered an anonymous attack on his mother’s store in Álava. Besides damaging the storefront, the perpetrators left threatening graffiti reading “let’s see if you like this, you fascist”, in a modus operandi similar to those of ETA. We must note that Mr. Abascal’s family has had a long history of threats by ETA since the 80s, because of his father’s political role, now continued by him. In response to this, Bildu posted a tweet with a curious choice of words: “EH Bildu condemns the attack suffered by a family on their store last night in the municipality.” Attitudes like this, and many others, have earned Bildu the scolding of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), their coalition buddies in the Basque Parliament.
It is also worth noting that in various occasions, Mr. Sanchez and other VIPs of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) have assured that deals regarding Bildu are a red line. “We aren’t going to make any political agreements with Bildu. For us, that’s a red line and we, the socialists, are very trustworthy”, reads a tweet by Carmen Calvo, Mr. Sanchez’s first vice-president, in 2019. “We are not making any political agreements with Bildu. I can repeat it five or twenty times.” said Mr. Sanchez in a political rally in 2015.
Now, the moral compass appears to have shifted for the Socialist Workers Party. Recently, José Luis Ábalos, Minister of Transportation, who met with EU-sanctioned human rights violator Delcy Rodríguez in Madrid, has said in an interview for El País that “Bildu has had more sense of responsibility than the Popular Party regarding the State’s Budget.” Mr. Ábalos has also affirmed that “terrorism is something we’ve overcome.”
The budget law is yet to be passed, and in the meantime, Mr. Sánchez continues to look for support wherever he can find it, even at the cost, it appears, of betraying his own moral standards.
Correction: This article was updated to correct Mr. Arnaldo Otegi's name.
Marc Suñer is a Law student at Autonomous University of Madrid, you can find him on Twitter at @marcsuner.