Barecelona during lockdown. | Alejandro Garcia


When Pedro Sánchez wanted an extension of the state of alarm until June 27, the thinking seemed sound. This was the extension he had initially sought to take the state of alarm from May 24 to its ultimate conclusion. It wouldn’t have been the case that everywhere in the country would have continued to be subject to the same rules during this extended period. This much was clear both in terms of ministerial statements and contrasting virus data.

So the soundness of the Sánchez thinking was predicated on a) the fact that he would only need to go through the Congress extension rigmarole one final time and b) a need to ensure that the state of alarm could still apply to parts of the country where the virus data were not as encouraging as elsewhere. It was to have been an extension with in-built flexibility, a reasonable approach which, despite it having been reasonable, was not acceptable to sufficient numbers of political parties to have guaranteed that the proposal would have prospered. Sánchez was forced to back down, all too aware that if he had lost a vote to extend the state of alarm beyond 24 May, there would have no longer been a state of alarm and that “chaos” could have ensued because regions would be making things up as they went along.

As things have turned out, Sánchez will have an extension until June 21. The difference between this and what he had wanted in May seems almost by the by. But it has come at some political cost. He has had to agree to demands from different political parties with different political goals. The battle of the Spanish de-escalation has been a political one, not a health one, while it has also created one big anomaly: there will be parts of the country after June 21 which have not completed de-escalation Phase 3 by the time that the state of alarm is lifted on that date.

The regions of Castile and León, Catalonia and Madrid were all late in having passed to Phase 1 and are therefore behind the rest of the country. Fernando Simón says that these regions should “assume their responsibilities” for controlling risks under Phase 3. He would hope that they will, because the government will have lost its power of command, i.e. the state of alarm. The battle of the de-escalation has created this anomalous and potentially risky situation.

There are other battles. One has to do with de-escalation as it applies to tourism. The Balearics and the Canaries look as if they have finally convinced the government that there should be test tourism in June, presumably from June 22, though even a week earlier is also being mentioned. With the government apparently looking favourably on this, there are regions - and Andalusia is principal among them - which are asking why they are not being shown a similar favour. Andalusia attracts a heck of a lot more national tourism than either the Balearics or the Canaries. This would be one justification for there not being a test (which is frankly incidental in any case), as what Andalusia perceives is political and business favouritism. Andalusia’s government coalition is of the right and so not akin to that of the government in Madrid or to that of the Canaries and especially the Balearics, where hotelier interests extend beyond the Balearic boundaries and embrace a significant chunk of the Canaries hotel industry.

Coming back to the out-of-sync phases, it would seem that people in the regions which haven’t entered the “new normal” after Phase 3 will continue to be unable to travel to other regions. This is going to create something of a control issue, and one wonders how well it might be controlled. Are fines for breaching mobility rules not governed by the state of alarm? This control aspect aside, one can almost imagine a further de-escalation battle - that of some regions wanting to avoid people from the likes of Madrid coming to them.

There is some previous with this. Immediately before the state of alarm was declared, there was uproar in Andalusia and Valencia because of all the people who were “escaping” from Madrid, and once the state of alarm had started, there were reports of neighbouring regions being fearful of people from Madrid who were still escaping, regardless of the regulations.

Might there be a repetition of this anti-Madrid? Well, no regional government can prevent freedom of movement from another region, that’s for sure. But it might not stop a row being played out sin the media, which is exactly what is happening in Italy. Regions in the south, less affected by the virus, are saying they don’t want people from the north. The islands of Sardinia and Sicily are asking for there to be health passports for northerners.

De-escalation battle lines are being drawn.