When Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, unveiled his majority-female cabinet earlier this month, one of the foreign politicians to praise the move on Twitter was Justin Trudeau.
After all, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Mr. Sanchez seems to have followed Mr. Trudeau’s playbook to a tee since taking office on June 2. In tone and deed, Mr. Sanchez’s new Socialist regime has emulated Canada’s Liberal government with a series of high-profile moves out of the gate aimed at cementing its progressive image and attracting glowing global reviews.
It’s a dramatic switch from the People’s Party government of Mariano Rajoy, who ruled Spain for seven years with the same uncompromising style Canadians came to know under former prime minister Stephen Harper. The 46-year-old Mr. Sanchez is all hugs, dialogue and inclusiveness and has the dark looks of a Spanish movie star. In other words, he’s the Castellano Trudeau.
“The new Spanish Prime Minister has chosen the Trudeau concept: a broad liberal-progressivism steeped in feminism, empathy and good intentions,” columnist Enric Juliana wrote this month in La Vanguardia, Barcelona’s leading daily newspaper. “A good reputation is the big bet on which the Trudeau concept is based.”
Whether the gambit works out for Mr. Sanchez remains to be seen. So far, so good. His Socialist Party has seen a bounce in the polls. It has closed the gap with the upstart centre-right Ciudadanos, or Citizens’ Party, which, along with the far-left Podemos, has turned Spain’s previously two-party political system into a four-party free-for-all.
Unlike Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Sanchez came to power without an electoral mandate to stand on. Rather, his Socialists teamed up last month with Podemos and Basque and Catalonian nationalists in Spain’s Congress to defeat Mr. Rajoy’s minority government on a motion of censure after judges sentenced several People’s Party officials to jail on corruption charges.
Mr. Rajoy was not personally implicated in the scandal, since the charges stemmed from kickbacks paid on public contracts under a former People’s Party government led by Jose Maria Aznar between 1996 and 2004. But the court ruling provided Mr. Sanchez with a perfect excuse to pull the plug on Mr. Rajoy’s government as disgusted voters soured on the People’s Party and its old-fashioned pork-barrel politics.
With only 84 seats in Spain’s 350-seat Congress, however, Mr. Sanchez’s government is hardly sitting pretty. It can’t give in to the demands of Podemos or Catalonian separatists, whose support it needs to stay in power, without turning off mainstream Spanish voters.
Mr. Sanchez hopes to put off an election until 2020. In the meantime, he aims to lure progressive voters who defected to Podemos in recent years back to the traditionally centrist Socialist Party, just as Canada’s Liberals courted New Democratic voters to win power in 2015.
Hence, Mr. Sanchez’s 18-member cabinet includes 11 women, who make up the front-line and public face of his government. They are all accomplished academics and professionals and Mr. Sanchez has avoided the charges of tokenism that surrounded a few of Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet picks. Indeed, the new government sends a strong message about where Mr. Sanchez stands as Spaniards debate their country’s machista (male chauvanistic) culture in the #MeToo movement’s wake.
The Trudeau comparisons continued after Mr. Sanchez’s move to take in 630 African migrants whose rescue boat had been turned away by anti-immigration Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The migrants’ arrival in Valencia on June 17 recalled Mr. Trudeau’s welcoming of Syrian refugees to Canada in 2015, especially after Mr. Sanchez declared: “It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people, fulfilling in this manner the obligations of international law.”
It was a feel-good moment for all Spaniards that cast Mr. Sanchez and his government as constructive partners in Europe as the continent grapples with rising anti-immigrant sentiment and right-wing nationalism. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel rushed to welcome Mr. Sanchez into their tight circle of Europe-fixers.
Still, while most Spaniards praised Mr. Sanchez’s migrant rescue, they don’t want him to make a habit of it. Spain has not experienced the anti-migrant sentiment that has swept over Italy and Germany, but that could change if what has been a trickle until now turns into a flood.
Mr. Sanchez will also need to walk a fine line on making concessions to Catalonia’s separatist government. He has already lifted spending controls imposed on the Catalonian parliament by Mr. Rajoy. But his promise of constitutional reform will be a hard sell in the rest of Spain.
For now, though, Spaniards are just enjoying their Justin Trudeau moment.