The metropolitan PSC returns to the Government of Spain. In addition to the tradition that was joined by mayors of the Barcelona red belt such as José Montilla, Carme Chacón, Celestino Corbacho or Joan Clos, it is now Raquel Sánchez, mayor of Gavà, who assumes a ministry, that of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, with immediate challenges to address such as the regulation of rents, the financing of highways, the law of sustainable mobility or aid for the rehabilitation of housing with European funds.
Sánchez dispenses with his heavyweights in the first major government remodeling
Sánchez, born in 1975 in Gavà, has been the mayor of her city for the last seven years. His political career has been carried out almost exclusively in this metropolitan city of about 50,000 inhabitants, which has caused surprise among not a few Catalan socialists when his appointment was known. However, this is not just any municipality for the PSC. Governed by this formation since the democratic stage, it is the headquarters of the Festa de la Rosa, its traditional start-of-year event and the place from where Miquel Iceta proclaimed the now famous “Free us from Rajoy and the PP!”.
That day, September 24, 2016, a Pedro Sánchez listened to Iceta from the front row. At his side was Raquel Sánchez. Just a week later, the current president resigned as secretary general of the PSOE in the party’s chaotic Federal Committee and began his particular journey through the desert.
Today the paths of Pedro Sánchez and Raquel Sánchez cross again in the Executive. His entry also means that the Catalan quota in the Government goes from one to two ministries – Miquel Iceta changes Territorial Policy for Culture – and this, at a decisive moment of recovery of relations with Catalan institutions after the pardons, is interpreted as a new gesture of approach. It is not trivial that the new Ministry of Territory, Mobility and Public Agenda is the one that assumes almost the entire state public works budget, an opportunity to address some infrastructure deficits that the Government has been demanding for years, such as the Rodalies network .
Before making the leap to the central government, Sánchez has been above all a policy dedicated to his city, Gavà. Trained in Law from the University of Barcelona, she has been a member of the PSC since 2003 and entered the city council as a councilor at the age of 32. Since 2007 he has chained very important councils, such as those of Economy or Urbanism, until in 2014 he replaced the mayor Joaquim Balsera. In terms of party, she has never been one of the most prominent voices of Catalan socialism, although she sits on its Executive Committee as National Secretary for Climate Strategy.
In favor of regulating rentals in Gavà
It so happens that two of the great challenges that she will have to face now, not as mayor, but as minister, have passed through her municipality of Gavà in recent months. The first is the regulation of rental prices, since the Housing policies depend on your portfolio. In the year and a half that the government, PSOE and Podemos coalition goes, a bitter debate has been staged on the need to put a ceiling or even reduce rent prices in the most stressed areas. For now, the first has been agreed, but the text of the law remains stalled and accumulates six months behind schedule.
Sánchez is one of the socialist mayors who recently voted in favor of maintaining the declaration of a stressed area for her municipality of Gavà over time, in accordance with the Catalan law regulating rental prices, which is being appealed to the Constitutional Court for its Government. “Based on the high rental prices in our city, which exceed the average for Catalonia, this statement will allow us to apply measures to limit them and act in the market to facilitate access,” he argued the day the measure was approved in plenary.
The other big issue that has occupied her in her city in recent months and that she will now do from Madrid is the expansion of the El Prat Airport, one of the Government’s bets to invest in infrastructure in Catalonia but which is seen with doubts from the Generalitat and from some nearby municipalities. Gavà, a neighbor of the aerodrome, has always had a particular position. He is in favor of the expansion in part because it would serve to bury once and for all another alternative for growth, that of the use of independent tracks, which would mean an increase in noise on some urbanizations of his municipal term.
Almost 20,000 million European funds ahead
Sánchez joined a ministry that changed its name in 2019. Development then became Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, with the aim of “improving the mobility of people and goods, a connected, safe and sustainable mobility”. In addition to the stranded Housing Law, Ábalos sold the future Sustainable Mobility Law as another of its major projects, which has also remained in the pipeline. It was one of the points of the agreement between the socialists and United We Can.
A year ago, in July 2020, the Ministry started the consultation procedures and proposed a “national dialogue for mobility”. At the turn of the summer, in September, the minister invited all Spaniards to participate, asking them why they were not cycling and how to improve the Cercanías. That’s where it came from a report And so far nothing else. At the same time, a State Bicycle Strategy has been created, with its own person in charge (Antonio Pérez) at the helm.
The new minister will have among her challenges to carry out this law and manage the application of European funds. It should be remembered that the two largest items of recovery funds will pass through MITMA, totaling almost 20,000 million euros: 13,203 for the sustainable mobility strategy and 6,820 for the housing rehabilitation and urban regeneration program. Within these programs, the most ambitious measures proposed by Ábalos were to subsidize (through direct aid and tax incentives) the owners who rehabilitated their home and made it more energetic and to create low-emission zones, in the style of those of Barcelona and Madrid, in all municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants.
Unlike the housing and mobility laws, Ábalos has been able to see how the rail liberalization goes ahead. The Ministry of Transport approved in 2018 the royal decree that allowed it and today at least one foreign company circulates on the roads between Madrid and Barcelona: the French SNCF, which operates a “cheap” service under the Ouigo brand. Liberalization – which allows more companies, not just Renfe, to use the tracks – has forced the state operator to create its own low-price service to compete with the rest. It is called AVLO (High Speed Low-Cost). ILSA will also arrive soon, a company 45% owned by the Italian Trenitalia.
The new Minister Sánchez will see in the coming months, as the recovery progresses, the results of this liberalization (if there is sufficient demand, what effect it has on Renfe, what new lines are opened). In 2023, it is planned to liberalize OSP services, public service obligations or unprofitable train routes, a challenge that if he continues in office he will have to face.