World News

Spain’s New Leader Forms Government With Almost Two-Thirds Women

Posted June 6, 2018 7:19 p.m. EDT

Spain’s new prime minister on Wednesday unveiled a government that has more women than men and includes a foreign minister from Catalonia who has led the fight against the region’s independence movement.

After meeting with King Felipe VI, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told journalists that his team was “a government for an equal society, open to the world but anchored in the European Union.”

Sánchez took office after winning a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party was embroiled in a corruption scandal. Sánchez’s tenure could, however, be short-lived and pave the way for new national elections as his Socialist party has only a quarter of the seats in Parliament.

His first challenge is to keep together his unwieldy alliance with a far-left party and nationalist parties from the Catalonia and Basque regions, which helped him unexpectedly replace Rajoy as prime minister.

Last week, Sánchez promised to “rebuild bridges” with the separatist parties of Catalonia and his appointment in Madrid coincided with a new separatist administration taking office in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, led by Quim Torra. Torra said Wednesday that he was willing to talk with Sánchez, but he insisted that the starting point of any negotiation could not be a demand that he “surrender” his plan to create an independent Catalan republic.

One of the veteran politicians in the new government is Josep Borrell, 71, who was named foreign minister.

Borrell, who is Catalan, is a former leader of the Socialist party and also did a stint as president of the European Parliament. Last year, he made a comeback as one of the most outspoken opponents of Catalan secessionism, leading a large march in Barcelona in October.

That came weeks before a botched attempt by separatist lawmakers led by Carles Puigdemont to declare unilateral independence in violation of Spain’s Constitution.

Women stand out in the new government not only in terms of number — heading 11 of the 17 ministries — but also in terms of the importance of their portfolios.

During his two terms as prime minister, Rajoy formed Cabinets in which at most 36 percent of the ministers were women. Sánchez is leading a Cabinet that even surpasses the gender parity achieved by the last Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, in 2004.

Carmen Calvo is the deputy prime minister, and women will also run the two main economics ministries as well as one that combines industry, trade and tourism. The new justice minister is Dolores Delgado, who has been one of the country’s leading prosecutors in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Magdalena Valerio is the labor minister and Carmen Montón is the health minister.

In what he called “a highly qualified” administration, Sánchez also included two former judges: Fernando Grande-Marlaska will run the Interior Ministry, and Margarita Robles will be in charge of the Defense Ministry. A former astronaut, Pedro Duque, is the science minister.

A Basque politician, Isabel Celaá, takes charge of education. Another Catalan politician, Meritxell Batet, is in charge of regional affairs, which could give her a pivotal role in any negotiation over Catalonia’s future.

While Sánchez takes charge of a fragile government, his right-wing opponents also have to rebuild after last week’s abrupt change in government.

Rajoy’s ouster, which was followed this week by his decision to also step down as his party’s leader, could open up a fierce power struggle within his Popular Party. Rajoy never designated an heir.

The front-runner to replace him is Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who has been in charge since 2009 of the regional government of Galicia, which is also Rajoy’s region.