Last Tuesday there was an unprecedented event in Spanish democratic history. The Senate witnessed first time face to face between the Prime Minister and the opposition leader. Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who came to the leadership of the PP after unseating Pablo Casado, has had to resort to the Upper House to be able to confront Pedro Sánchez, even if it is a single debate a month of just seven minutes. The premiere of the Galician was preceded by great expectation, transferred to some corridors of the Senate that had not been seen in another similar one in a good handful of years. That management of expectations was, perhaps, the first and main mistake that Feijóo made in his premiere
This is what the professor of political communication at UPF-BSM, Toni Aira, points out in a conversation with elDiario.es. "It was somewhat exaggerated," says the expert, who recalls that how previous sensations are modulated is one of the keys to success in this type of event. In the preceding days, Feijóo's team pointed out the importance of the meeting and reported that the PP leader was working hard to prepare his speech, with several proposals written by Marta Varela, the speechwriter who has accompanied the Galician leader for years.
The problem with expectations is that "they can later be frustrated" if what the public expects is not met, Aira points out. In the hours leading up to the debate, The World published a picture of the cover of the “notes for the president”, made by his team. The cover of the document included a photograph of the signing of the Moncloa Pacts, sealed by parties and social agents in full Transition.
Aira believes that the PP exceeded itself. "It is not the debate on the State of the Nation, it is a parliamentary question," she points out. No more no less. And, furthermore, in an ecosystem to which Feijóo is not accustomed, after 16 years in the Galician Parliament, thirteen of them as president with an absolute majority.
A much simpler environment than a Senate where, at least in his first time, the leader of the PP was not comfortable, in Aira's opinion. “He was unsettled. Not lost, but outside its natural habitat. It was especially noticeable in non-verbal communication, says the communicologist. "It's a sign of general nervousness," he says, although he adds that "it's normal" and that "he has to find his space."
The president of the PP stumbled on several occasions during his speech and, as Aira points out, it did not sit well with him that the president of the Upper House, Ander Gil, warned him that he had already used up his time right in the final stretch of his last intervention, when he mentioned the second vice president and former rival in Galicia, Yolanda Díaz. And that his team, later, recognized that Gil had been benevolent with Feijóo, since in the control sessions the time is highly valued. In Congress, it is not uncommon for Meritxell Batet to leave the deputies, or the ministers, with the word in their mouths unfinished.
Feijóo focused his first speech in the Senate on the economic issue. A classic in the PP, as the political scientist recalls Luis Orriols. "He resorted to the guiding values of the PP in recent decades: economy and taxes," recalls the professor at the Carlos III University. In that, he points out, he was “effective”. "These are two issues that can be an added value, that appeal to the traditional PP," he says. That of the great majorities of the year 2000 and 2011.
It was no secret that Feijóo's plan was to arrive at Moncloa on the back of the horse of social discontent due to the extraordinary economic crisis that Europe is experiencing due to the war in Ukraine, now spurred by the clash between Spain and Algeria on account of relations with Morocco.
But on Tuesday he completely dispelled any hint of doubt. No cultural battle, that is a thing of Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Vox. Feijóo tries to pretend that the ultra party does not exist and has managed to encapsulate the leader in the Community of Madrid. Galicia and Andalusia have taken command of the PP, they control all the organic springs, and have yielded so that it controls the party in the region. Mariano Rajoy did not have a bad time with Esperanza Aguirre, although she cost him a lot of trouble and some pacts that he later paid dearly for, like the one he sealed with Francisco Camps to win the 2008 congress.
Aira agrees that Feijóo wanted to "link the PP brand with good management and that of the PSOE, with crises." The UPF-BSM professor believes that the Galician approached the subject well: a shopping basket, a rise in fuel prices and problems making ends meet. "It's a classic PP speech, it's doing well," he says.
Feijóo wants to present himself as a “manager”: someone who has been in positions of high responsibility since 1996. From director of Insalud to president of Correos, going through president of the Xunta de Galicia. The natural order of things should take you to Moncloa. If he doesn't stumble. And on Tuesday, he stumbled.
The president of the PP said that the risk premium had touched 250 points. "Risk premium" is a concept that immediately goes back to the financial crisis that broke out in 2008 and that took José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ahead. The problem is that it was a lie. That day Spain had placed 10-year bonds at 2.5% interest, that is, 250 basis points. The risk premium measures the difference between that price and the one Germany pays for the bund, its 10-year bonds.
A slip that Feijóo's team later blamed "on the teletypes" and which they tried to downplay. But for the two experts consulted by elDiario.es it can be a problem. "It damages the manager's aura," says Orriols. And it can cause some distrust since he has decided to "put the economy in the spotlight", which implies that it is an issue that he controls, "and then make mistakes".
Aira agrees that more important than the error itself is that it undermines the character that the Feijóo PP wants to build, which will manage the Spanish money well. The Government saw it immediately and has struck on that flank. The next day, Pedro Sánchez used the “lapse” ironically during the long monographic debate in Congress. The parliamentary spokesperson for the PP counterattacked with the data on German inflation, which she believed that Sánchez had done wrong. But no, in this case, the president's advisers had been more attentive and had the updated number.
Feijóo's intervention was “well focused, but not so well defined”. And that allowed Sánchez to get away with it. And in the event of a draw, says Aira, “whoever wins is the one who defends the title”.
"Feijóo did not clear up the mystery," says Orriols, who has written in elDiario.es that the new leader of the PP puts the party in the competition.
Because Feijoo's second mantra is that the PP is a "state party." But at the moment, it has not reached any agreement with the Government. Not even to renew a General Council of the Judiciary in office for more than three years and whose blockade now threatens the Constitutional Court. The reason given, whether real or not, are the Andalusian elections. Perhaps it is not the best of arguments to sell institutional centrality.
“Sánchez was effective in asking for proof” that the PP was really going to adopt a State position, Orriols believes: “There was a good tone, that generates a short-term effect. Not insulting is a change, but how many interventions can you endure with the tone marking whether or not it is a state party?
Feijóo made the absence of insults an axis of his speech. For days, his team abounded that he wanted to distance himself from Sánchez in style, flee from the harsh environment that has dominated the legislature. This is what Feijóo himself said in his initial speech, that he did not hesitate to put in the sack those who were spokesmen during Casado's term and that he has decided to keep their positions.
But Sánchez did not enter the rag then. Feijóo resorted to the only more or less harsh part of the debate, when the president asked the PP not to "get in the way" if he does not want to support the anti-crisis measures. A bit of overacting, in Aira's opinion, which he does believe was the Galician's best moment. "Sánchez is good at contrasting himself with a very bad man" as Casado was and is Santiago Abascal. “The more garish and rude, the better he has it to win. If he does not have someone who meets a histrionic profile in front of him, it costs him more, ”he points out.
The PP also lowers the impact that Feijóo's refusal to renew the constitutional bodies can have. Orriols concedes that "the constitutional bodies are not of interest to the people" and that they are "inconsequential for the coffee gathering." "But Feijóo is wrong," he points out immediately. “The CGPJ is a symptom, the most obvious, of whether he is going to project that the PP is a state party. And big bipartisan deals do matter. The Judiciary in particular, no; but that there are no holders of agreements between the parties, it does enter ”.
Feijóo will not have another opportunity to face Sánchez in the Senate until after the summer. Unlike Congress, only two plenary sessions a month are held in the Upper House, and the president usually attends one of the control sessions. July and August are, in principle, non-working months, so except for surprise, until September the leader of the opposition will not be able to demonstrate whether what happened on Wednesday were simply details to be polished as a result of the novelty or if the PP has, as some feared in the previous weeks, a problem to confront the Government as a result of the circumstances.