Ferrol in Galicia is a city of some 66,000 people. It has a long naval tradition and is home to the Naval Construction Museum. It is also noteworthy for having been the birthplace for certain highly significant figures in Spain’s political history. Francisco Franco Bahamonde was born in Ferrol in 1892. Forty-two years earlier, Pablo Iglesias Posse had been born in the city. In terms of who Ferrol has produced, it is a political contradiction. On the one hand, Ferrol provided the fascist dictator; on the other, the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and of the General Workers’ Union (UGT).
Alberto Núñez Feijóo wasn’t born in Ferrol. He is from a village called Os Peares in Ourense, a province in Galicia’s south. An inlander, he wasn’t exposed from an early age to what can be the tempestuous conditions of the Galician coast; conditions, it might be suggested, which can influence the psyche of political figures.
Known by his mother’s surname, Feijóo has been the president of Galicia since 2009. A member of the Partido Popular, he has recently been re-elected. It is said of Feijóo that his political mentor was Manuel Fraga. From Lugo in Galicia, Fraga was president of Galicia between 1990 and 2005. Some thirty years before becoming president, Fraga was appointed minister of information and tourism by Franco.
In the Partido Popular of the current day, there remains a link to the party’s forerunner, the Alianza Popular. Initially a federation of political groups, the AP was populated and dominated by Francoists. Founded a year after Franco’s death in 1975, Fraga was its leader. Mariano Rajoy, born in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, was a member of the AP before its transformation into the PP in 1989. Rajoy is hardly unique in having started his PP political career with the AP, which required its rebranding in order to create a new look divorced from Francoism.
Galicia, despite the historical association with the founder of PSOE, offers a political continuum - by accident rather than by design - which has, as with any continuum, undergone its shifts. A continuum implies extremes, but in the case of Alberto Núñez Feijóo, he doesn’t inhabit any extreme.
One of Spain’s more respected politicians, Feijóo’s name has been put forward (not by himself) to be leader of the PP nationally. The possibility exists that he might indeed become leader one day, and for moderates in the party he would be the ideal candidate. He does, moreover, have a standing at a national level that few other regional presidents can claim. Those who do, such as Catalonia’s Quim Torra, typically attain this standing through controversy. Feijóo is rarely controversial, and when he speaks, people tend to listen to him, regardless of their political sympathies.
In setting out the course for what will be his fourth term as president, Feijóo stressed two words - moderation and stability. Without these, political communities are “weakened”. From the point of view of the PP’s own narrative, his observations are important. The party’s leader, Pablo Casado, who at times has appeared to wish to position the PP further and further to the right, is now seeking to do the opposite. This is a reason why Casado ditched Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo as parliamentary spokesperson. The PP were veering too far into Vox territory; the political landscape has required a repositioning, one that is of the centre-right.
This is exactly where Feijóo stands, and while he is critical of Pedro Sánchez, of PSOE and of Podemos, the messages he was sending out at the ceremony to officially mark his taking of the presidential office (again) were symptomatic of the moderation he espouses. Galicia, he noted, “will continue to be a loyal and collaborative administration” in giving support to the Spanish government. This collaboration is such that it is “not alien to anything which affects the common nation (of Spain)”.
But it was perhaps his remarks about the nature of regional government which were the most telling. The state of alarm disrupted much of the regions’ powers. There are those who would now like the Spanish government to reclaim certain centralised powers that it assumed under the state of alarm and which it was only able to have assumed by having declared the state of alarm. Feijóo raised the issue of “co-governance”, a term that Sánchez used repeatedly in connection with the state of alarm de-escalation; it referred to joint central and regional management of the de-escalation. For Feijóo, “co-governance should be something habitual, and not presented as a concession derived from an exceptional situation”.
His advocacy of regional government was thus clear, and it was couched in moderate and occasionally flowery tones. “Spain is a composite state, not a decomposed mosaic with scattered pieces.” Regional government and central government “work together”. It was the view of a Galician very much removed from that of another Galician, who died 45 years ago.