Josu de Miguel

The Parliamentary New Normal

«This increase in votes of no confidence expresses the changes that have taken place in parliamentary politics since we moved away from bipartisan politics»


The Parliamentary New Normal
Kiko Huesca EFE

This week we have seen the beginning of the fifth vote of no confidence (moción de censura) in the history of Spanish parliamentary democracy. As you know, Spain decided at a given point to go down the path of a rationalized parliamentary system of government. That meant that the investiture of a president, previous to his or her designation by the Head of State, was accompanied by mechanisms of extraordinary responsibility which were difficult to specify. Our no confidence vote, as in the case of Germany, is a constructive one: a government is censured and a candidate is put forth who, should he or she win the final vote (by an absolute majority), is then automatically named president. Between 1978 and 2015 there were two no confidence votes of this type; both failed, but with some very different political consequences (compare that of Felipe González with the one led by Hernández Mancha). Between 2015 and the vote proposed by Vox, there have been three altogether, counting the successful vote of no confidence presented by Pedro Sánchez and the PSOE in June 2018.

This increase in votes of no confidence expresses the changes that have taken place in parliamentary politics since we moved away from bipartisan politics. And this has been the source of all the ills of the Spanish political system. In the absence of a solid political culture, multiple-party politics has served to throw gasoline onto a nationwide talk-show polarization; it has produced institutional instability and placed the Cortes (Parliament) in a situation of legislative paralysis. Parliamentary politics was already faring poorly, let’s not kid ourselves, as a consequence of the transformation of ideological debates and the transfer of powers to the European Union, which has turned national parliamentary bodies into organs of ratification more and more immersed in consitutional politics. Because the loss of density in its normative star product, the law, leads inexorably to constitutive debates, as is happening in Spain.

I have compiled some statistics so that you can see where we are. Between the years of 2010 and 2015 the General Cortes produced an average of 45 laws a year; on the other hand, the Government issued an annual average of 18 decrees by law. From 2016 to 2020 the Cortes have approved an average of 5 laws per legislature and the decrees by law approved by the Executive Branch have come to be the main normative source of the state’s framework (21 per year). You will be equally aware, I am sure, that up until 2015, general budgets were approved in Spain on a regular basis. Now, from 2016 onwards, we have only approved one general budget, which leads us to fail to comply with article 134.2 of the European Community and the majority of the communitarian laws that regulate the European semester. These figures show the decline of the parliamentary system and its progressive replacement by what Schmitt called «motorized legislation», a contsitutional mutation which, as I note, will end up whetting many Spaniards’ appetite for presidentialism.

Naturally, this whole landscape has only grown worse since the arrival of the plague and the declaration of war on it, for, as Susan Sontag observed, bellicose metaphors of the struggle against pandemics usually entail other more profound changes. Since March not only has the legislative power of the Cortes been diluted (31 laws by decree versus 5 laws in 2020!), a juridical language has also appeared which seems to be hammering out a postdemocratic period. Deescalation, cogovernment, lockdown, or the closing off of perimeters are part of the new language that justifies the loss of normative guarantees of fundamental rights, the unpiecing of the State of regional governments (autonomías), or the erosion of parliament’s ordinary process for monitoring the Government. This week in the Congress (the lower House) we have gone through another metamorphosis: Vox has asked for a vote of no confidence, so to speak, in the Partido Popular, its ideological partner on the benches of the opposition, in order to consolidate its standing in the polls. The perspective is bleak, but it is astounding that the parties are not capable of grasping that, if the coronavirus does not lift soon, the power gained in the political polls or in the institutions will be ephemeral: we are confronted with an unheard-of phenomenon that threatens to make the revolutionary general strike Sorel theorized look like child’s play.



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