Nor did he promise anything different. Alfonso Rueda reached the presidency of the Xunta almost by accident, after Feijóo became involved with Díaz Ayuso in the political beheading of Pablo Casado and made a brilliant escape to Madrid. His investiture speech was brief, with little strategic relief, and in it he explicitly offered continuity. He is fulfilling it. A month and a half later, the main change with respect to the Feijóo era is found in his agenda of public events, dedicated to Jacobean propaganda and more populated than that of the former president, urged to increase his degree of knowledge among the population, meager despite 13 consecutive years at the forefront of the Galician Government. The government action, eight consellos presided over by Rueda later and in the exact equator of the legislature, has not just taken off. His project blurs.
Feijóo, contradiction as the art of doing politics
The last meeting of his cabinet, on June 30, offered 15 agreements. The one with the greatest budgetary implication, the purchase of eight high-tech equipment for the Galician Health Service (Sergas) for almost eight and a half million euros, is the responsibility of the Next Generation funds. The councilors and vice-presidents also reviewed four new reports – on the implementation of the Xunta’s mobile application or on the continuous training of the Department of Rural Environment –, which are added to the previous 25 already approved under his presidency, on matters such as Aid for “thermal water recreational spaces” or the activity of the Autonomous Police. This was the dominant dynamic in these two months, in which perhaps the most transcendent issue of the treaties occurred in the June 16 meeting. It was when the 41 million destined to make effective the gratuity of children’s schools from 0 to 3 years were approved.
In fact, that had been Feijóo’s last big announcement. And that the former Galician president never offered his own vision of the country or lavished himself on large measures to face the underlying challenges. He spoke of management, although neither the facts nor the figures –beyond a certain macroeconomic discipline in neoliberal terms– confirmed it. The abortion of the PEMEX contracts to build fleets or the liquidation of the savings banks were notorious fiascos in his mandates. In any case, free access to nurseries, regardless of whether they are public or private, was his secret weapon during the last debate on the state of autonomy last October. Four months later, he had embarked on the internecine wars that bled the state PP for two months. The nursery was left behind, on the agenda of pending issues of the Xunta. Rueda has limited himself to chairing the government meeting that gave him economic concreteness.
This certain parsimony is reflected in the legislative production. In this regard, the successive executives of the PP never stood out for their dynamism. At the moment, the one from Rueda is also showing continuity in that. He has not announced any new bills. What he has done is carry out a rule that raises taxes on water consumption and creates new rates. In progress since the Feijóo stage, the absolute majority of the PP approved it in Parliament last week. That at the same time the president of the Xunta insists on the need – without specifying how or how much – of a general reduction in taxes places him as an outstanding disciple of his predecessor and of the oxymoron – one thing and the opposite, often in the same phrase – as an art of doing politics.
Advertising and promises of employment
Faced with the notorious decline of the industrial sector, collected in the statistics and with some company closures as an emblem, the Xunta has chosen two ways. The first, to bear the bulk of the responsibility in the policies of the central government, as long as it was not the PP that governed. The second, big announcements accompanied by the promise of thousands of jobs. The numbers sometimes dance, but escorted by the support of the public media and part of the private ones, they serve their main purpose: to do politics. This is the case of the textile fiber factory that the Portuguese pulp mill Altri has promised to install in Palas de Rei and whose announcement was still commissioned by Feijóo. Doubts about the project, which depends on the granting of European funds and environmental permits in an area of ecological value, abound, which does not prevent the Xunta, now under the command of Rueda, from turning to its propaganda.
It is not the only company in the sector that enjoys the backing of the PP cabinet. Another pulp mill, Ence, has obtained it more or less since 2009. Then, the conservative formation changed its position. The first program with which Feijóo presented himself in the elections prescribed a change of location for the controversial factory in the Pontevedra estuary, whose future now depends on the appeals presented by the property and nearby entities against a ruling by the National Court that annuls the extension granted in 2016 by the acting government of Rajoy. But the popular Galicians immediately changed their opinion and for a decade now they have defended its permanence as it is today. The same company, hand in hand with the Galician Government, revealed two weeks ago that it was opting for European money to build a tissue paper and biomaterials center at the As Pontes thermal power plant (A Coruña).
The initiative, Ence itself explained, is independent of the final destination of the Pontevedra factory. And he communicated it to public opinion at the end of a meeting of the board of directors in which the president of the Xunta, Alfonso Rueda, had participated. He stated a few days later that the Galician Government will give “all the facilities” to the new project. He was speaking then at the end of the executive’s weekly meeting, which the first vice president and Minister of Economy, Francisco Conde, was absent that day. At that time he offered a press conference with the territorial director of Ence in Galicia, Antonio Casal. “It is perfectly compatible that you dedicate part of your morning to that”, justified Rueda. The company assures that the As Pontes center would create 150 direct jobs.
Little popularity and motorcycles
The sluggishness of government action itself contrasts, however, with the agenda of public acts of Feijóo’s replacement. This is much more populated than that of his predecessor, who in the last years of his mandate completed his days with just one act, most of the afternoons free and the weekends in white. This is no longer the case. On Tuesday, July 5, his program included up to four calls, all open to the media, in Santiago de Compostela, Lugo, Ourol (A Mariña) and Bergondo (A Coruña). The next day there were three, in Santiago, Arteixo and Boqueixón. He and his team seek to conjure up the low degree of knowledge that Rueda had achieved among the Galician population despite spending 13 years in the front line of successive popular governments. It was encrypted in March of this year by a Sondaxe survey for The voice of Galicia: only 45.9% knew who he was. The leader of the opposition, the nationalist Ana Pontón, was known by 81%, and the general secretary of the Socialist Party, Valentín González Formoso, elected four months earlier, by 58.5%.
But then came the internecine war of the PP and Feijóo’s so often postponed leap into Madrid politics. The succession of events led Rueda to San Caetano, seat of the Xunta government. Only two weeks after taking office as president in mid-May, the same barometer published in the same newspaper produced at least striking data. Rueda’s general knowledge had increased 30 points in three months. The strangest thing is that, at the same time, that of his rivals had dropped, three points in the case of Pontón, six and a half in that of González Formoso.
The multiplication of acts of Rueda includes Saturdays and Sundays, which distances it from the peaceful life of the last Feijóo in Galicia. Rueda’s communication strategy elevates his personal hobbies to official politics and it is common to see him in the media dressed as a cyclist or at biker rallies. In fact, it is his own team that sends the images of his hobbies. All structured by Jacobean politics, whose powers he has reserved as president. Asked by TVG about his plans for San Xoán, a festival with a great tradition in Galicia, he said that he would spend it doing a section of the Camino de Santiago. The next day, he punctually appeared in a jersey on the noon news. This is how the updating of his distant image. But his political profile does not stand out. Not even the fact of leading one of the most important territorial organizations of the state PP gives him too much internal authority or public audience. It does not seem that there is, at the moment, Baron Rueda.
His interventions in Parliament, beyond the barely an hour with which he dispatches his investiture speech, follow the Feijóo manual. With his blaming the central government and even the bipartisan one –which he governed between 2005 and 2009– and not much interest in responding to specific questions. The primary care front, which according to professionals and patients is living on the verge of collapse, is an example: it recently joined the Basque Government to demand solutions from Moncloa, although the powers are exclusive to the Xunta. Evasiveness and a certain tendency to bow to the general argument of the PP also dominate his statements to the press. Accidental president – Feijóo had promised that he would exhaust the legislature but left before reaching the halfway point – he did not even reach the post with all the endorsements of his party. It was discussed by the provincial leaders of Ourense, Manuel Baltar, and A Coruña, Diego Calvo. The negotiations ended with the latter as second vice president and an increasingly less disguised desire for protagonism. Meanwhile, two years before the elections, Alfonso Rueda clings to Feijóo’s trail and, on numerous occasions provided by the public media, he insists that he has “his own style of him.”