Why The Basque Nationalists Decided Rajoy’s Fate

A no-confidence motion has removed Mr Rajoy from Spain's governmentA no-confidence motion has removed Mr Rajoy from Spain's government

The fate of Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy was in the end settled by the five votes of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). Until yesterday´s debate in the Congress, Rajoy was confident that the Basques, who last week voted in favour of the 2018 budget, would abstain. This would have denied socialist leader of the absolute majority he needed to eject Rajoy from the Moncloa Palace. But this time the Basque Nationalist Party had other priorities.

Their first priority was to ensure the implementation of the 2018 budget, which receives final approval in the Senate later this month. They negotiated hard with Rajoy for their support, and secured significant financial benefits for the Basque Country, and were reluctant to put these gains at risk. Once Sánchez promised to guarantee the implementation of this budget, the reluctance to support his censure motion eased.

The second priority of the Basques was to maintain Rivera, leader of the centre-right Ciudadanos out of the Moncloa. Ciudadanos has gained in popularity in recent months through its resolute opposition to Catalan nationalism. Recent polls suggest it would win elections if called today. It is equally opposed to Basque nationalism, and in particular to the fiscal autonomy enjoyed by the Basques (and Navarra). Initially the PNV thought the best way of keeping Rivera out of power would be by maintaining a weakened Rajoy in the Moncloa. But once it was clear that, if the censure vote tabled by the socialists failed, another would be tabled next week aimed at immediate elections, the calculation began to change. When Sanchez made clear that if elected he would not call immediate elections, the decision was all but made.

The final element was when Sánchez announced in the debate that he would open a dialogue with the Catalan government. This assured the votes of the Catalan nationalists. But it also made it harder for the PNV to explain to its voters why it was the only nationalist party not to support the censure motion, all the more so as the left wing Basque nationalist party Bildu announced that it would vote in favour. Unlike the budget vote, this time there were no benefits for the Basque Country to justify supporting Rajoy. Within the party, the nationalists warned the pragmatists of the danger of losing votes to Bildu.

The three elements finally came together in a meeting of the PNV executive in the Basque capital Victoria yesterday. At midday PNV parliamentary spokesman Esteban was informed of the party´s decision. Rajoy´s fate was sealed.


About the Author

Shaun Riordan
Shaun Riordan is Director of the Department for Diplomacy and Cyberspace in the European Institute of International Studies and a senior visiting fellow of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, “Clingendael”. He is also an independent geopolitical risk consultant. A former British diplomat, he served in New York, Taiwan, Beijing and Madrid, as well as the departments of counter-terrorism and the Eastern Adriatic in the Foreign Office. Shaun has taught at diplomatic academies in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Armenia and Bulgaria. He is the author of “Cyberdiplomacy: Managing Security and Governance Online” (Polity, 2019), “Adios a la Diplomacia” (Siglo XXI, 2005) and “The New Diplomacy” (Polity, 2003). He maintains a blog (www.shaunriordan.com) and can be followed at @shaun_riordan