A visit to Sarajevo, a year ago, was an emotional pinch for Pedro Sanchez. The 51-year-old prime minister and Socialist Party candidate for re-election stopped in the Bosnian capital on a tour of the Balkans. But years earlier, at the end of the 1990s, his political career took off in that city, when a young Sanchez worked in the government of Carlos Westendorp, the United Nations High Representative for the country’s post-war reconstruction.
Traveling and working abroad was a decision he made after completing his economics degree and completing his military service. He had joined the PSOE at the age of 21. He worked for a tax consulting firm in New York, and at the age of 26 he went to Brussels, where he did a master’s degree in economic policy in French, and worked as a consultant in the European Parliament’s socialist group.
The next step was Bosnia. There he realized the distance between the advisor and the person who decides. And he wanted to decide. He refused an offer from the United Nations to go to East Timor and returned to Madrid to begin his political career. He was appointed by the Consumers and Users Organization, for his European experience. And in 2004 he was an advisor in Madrid, his first elected position.
“I learned the pressure culture with basketball and I love it, I’m better with pressure,” he says.
In parallel, he met Begonia Gomez, the director of a marketing company, whom he married and had two daughters. “She fell madly in love, but it was very difficult to convince her, although in the end I managed to leave the toothbrush at her house!” In a laid-back interview, he explained to Bertine Osborne that he broke-danced as a teenager, that he was a good cartoonist, and they laughingly shared even their little flirtation strategies. A middle-class son, he spoke of family summers in the Balearic Islands, or in Ireland to study English. It was the end of 2015, he had held the position of PSOE General Secretary for fifteen months and had been on the entertainment show rounds to make himself known. He explained that he played basketball with Estudiantes until he was 21 years old and that he was a university professor with an economic structure. His students called him “The Politician”.
A year after that talk, Sanchez left the PSG leadership and his seat in Congress after the party disavowed him when he refused to facilitate the installation of Rajoy, who won the generals in 2015 and a repeat in 2016. He took his Peugeot and repeated the Tour of the Socialist Unions to drum up support, as in 2014. And as at that time, he regained the leadership of the party. And in June 2018, he was elected prime minister by Rajoy’s censorship after the People’s Party condemned the Gortel case.
With an atypical political career, marked by obstacles that have given him a reputation for being resilient, Sanchez has so far managed to always stand on his feet. “I learned the pressure culture with basketball and I love it, I’m much better with pressure,” he says.
In a three-court match in the campaign, Moncloa and the EU Council Presidency, he needs to fight the frame of mind, bolstered by the polls, that the People’s Party will win. And again, go on a journey.