Europe

Spain budget failure puts snap election on the cards

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez clasps his hands together almost as if in prayer in this close-up from the Spanish parliament on Wednesday Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Prime Minister Sánchez failed to get his budget through, which could prompt early elections

Spain's Socialist government is widely expected to call a snap general election after failing to get its budget through parliament.

Catalan separatists rejected Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's bill after the government refused to discuss the region's right to self-determination.

They voted with the conservatives, despite their different agendas.

Mr Sánchez, in power since June, will announce a date for the vote after a cabinet meeting on Friday, reports say.

The government's budget was rejected by 191 members out of the 350-seat parliament, with votes from the People's Party (PP) and Ciudadanos as well as Catalan separatists.

What's the political situation?

Mr Sánchez leads a minority government, with just 84 seats in parliament. He is supported by a confidence-and-supply agreement and the support of a handful of smaller parties with competing interests.

The PP is the largest party with 134 seats.

Mr Sánchez became prime minister after his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, from the PP was pushed out in a no-confidence vote over a corruption scandal.

A new general election will be the third in five years in Spain, the eurozone's fourth-largest economy. Citing unnamed sources, Reuters news agency says 14 or 28 April are the most likely dates.

Why did Catalans pull their support?

Catalan pro-independence parties had insisted on a dialogue over independence for their region as the price for supporting the budget, but talks broke down last week.

The government's stance remains that, according to the country's constitution, the nation is "indissoluble", and no part of it can secede from the whole.

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Media captionOutside the court, rival groups offered support - or scorn - for the accused

Divisions were highlighted on Tuesday, when 12 Catalan separatist leaders and activists went on trial for rebellion and sedition over their unrecognised independence referendum in 2017.

Mr Sánchez left parliament immediately after his defeat, smiling but silent.

Why did Sánchez refuse Catalan demands?

Mr Sánchez came under political pressure for his attempts to reach out to the Catalan politicians he needed to pass his budget.

On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators marched in Madrid in a pro-unity demonstration called by parties of the right, demanding fresh elections

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Media captionProtesters angered by the government's outreach to Catalan separatists call for new elections in Spain

Long hours of negotiation and parliamentary debate failed to break the deadlock.

Ahead of the vote, Finance Minister María Jesús Montero tried to appeal to economic sensibilities, labelling the budget's provisions for Catalonia as generous.

But she also called the insistence on independence talks a form of "blackmail".

Who's likely to benefit from a snap election?

Mr Sanchez's party still leads opinion polls but a possible result could be a right-wing majority formed by the PP, Ciudadanos and a newly-emerged far-right party, Vox.

Discontent in Spain over the Catalan issue was one of the key factors behind the Socialists' defeat in regional elections in Andalusia in December to a right-wing coalition supported by Vox.

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