Sánchez Does Budget Deal with Left-Wing, Separatist Allies

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal, Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, October 15 (PES)

I doubt Pedro Sánchez reads this blog, but I’m glad he’s taken my advice.

Almost three months ago, I urged the Spanish prime minister to remember who his friends were. The social democrat was trying to do a spending deal with center-right parties. The far-left Podemos (We Can) and Basque and Catalan parties that voted him into office were starting to feel overlooked.

It is with those parties Sánchez has now reached agreement on next year’s budget, which includes major tax increases to finance deficit spending and investments in health and unemployment insurance.

The liberal-nationalist Ciudadanos (Citizens), despite moving back to the center following a disappointing election result, balked at joining a deal with Catalonia’s Republican Left, a separatist party. The Citizens are fiercely opposed to Catalan independence.

The conservative People’s Party and far-right Vox (Voice) were never going to give Sánchez a win.

Podemos, the Republican Left, the centrist Basque Nationalist Party and the left-wing EH Bildu give Sánchez a majority of 179 out of 350 seats in Congress. Read more “Sánchez Does Budget Deal with Left-Wing, Separatist Allies”

Allegations of Russian Meddling Resurface in Catalonia

Barcelona Spain
Aerial view of the the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Carles Rabada)

Allegations of Russian interference have swirled around the Catalan independence movement for the last three years.

I cautioned against exaggerating Russia’s role in 2017, when two million Catalans voted in a referendum that had been deemed illegal by the Spanish state to break away.

I still believe what I did then: that Russia is a convenient scapegoat for Spaniards who don’t want to understand why nearly one in two Catalans prefer their own republic.

“Easier to blame foreign manipulation than examine the root causes of Catalan separatism and the events which led to the current crisis,” I wrote — from the 2010 Constitutional Court ruling that overturned parts of Catalonia’s autonomy statute to former prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s years-long refusal to negotiate a revision of the charter to current prime minister Pedro Sánchez slow-walking his promise to do just that. Read more “Allegations of Russian Meddling Resurface in Catalonia”

Spain Proposes Major Tax Increases to Fund 2021 Budget

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018 (La Moncloa)

Spain’s left-wing government has proposed raising public spending by 10 percent next year to cope with the effects of coronavirus. If approved — the ruling parties do not have a stable majority in Congress — it would be the biggest budget in Spanish history.

Health spending would rise 150 percent, or €3.1 billion. In addition, €2.4 billion would be set aside to prop up primary care and buy vaccines. Another €700 million, drawn from the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund, would go to elderly care.

Spain qualifies for around €70 billion in EU grants and €70 billion in loans. It is not expected to make use of the loans, given that it can still borrow affordably on its own.

To pay for the extra spending, the coalition government also plans to raise taxes. Read more “Spain Proposes Major Tax Increases to Fund 2021 Budget”

Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed

Quim Torra
Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region’s president, May 14, 2018 (Miguel González de la Fuente)

Successive Spanish governments have treated Catalan separatism as a legal, rather than a political, problem. This has done nothing to weaken support for independence. It has radicalized Catalans.

The dismissal of Catalan president Quim Torra is the latest episode in a decade-long legal drama. Spain’s Supreme Court removed him from office on Monday for hanging a “partisan” banner from the balcony of his government’s medieval palace in the center of Barcelona during the 2019 election.

The banner didn’t express support for a political party, but rather called for the release of the nine separatists who were imprisoned for leading a failed breakaway from Spain in 2017.

Torra’s removal triggers early elections, which polls predict the separatists will win.

He is the second Catalan president in three years to be unseated by the Spanish judiciary. His predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, was ousted after leading the 2017 independence bid. He fled to Belgium to escape prosecution. Read more “Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways

Palazzo Balbi Venice Italy
View of the Palazzo Balbi, the residence of the regional president of Veneto, in Venice, Italy, April 1, 2013 (Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Moroder)

Italians elected new regional councils and governors in the Aosta Valley, Apulia, Campania, Liguria, Marche, Tuscany and Veneto on Sunday and Monday.

They also voted in a referendum to reduce the number of lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies from 630 to 400 and in the Senate from 315 to 200.

The right has gained control of one more region — Marche — but the center-left Democrats held their own in the regions they governed.

The populist Five Star Movement, which shares power with the Democrats nationally, underperformed everywhere. Read more “Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways”

Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections

Arcevia Italy
View from Arcevia, a town in the central Italian region of Marche, December 24, 2013 (Giorgio Rodano)

Seven of Italy’s twenty regions hold elections on Sunday and Monday. Four are currently governed by the center-left, two by the right. Polls suggest that balance could flip.

The seventh, the Aosta Valley, is governed by local parties representing its French-speaking minority.

Italians will also elect over 1,100 mayors, two senators and decide in a referendum whether or not to cut the number of lawmakers.

Here is everything you need to know.

Italian law forbids the publication of polls in the two weeks prior to the vote, so all the numbers cited here are at least two weeks old. Read more “Everything You Need to Know About the Italian Elections”

Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point

Barcelona Spain
Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Egor Myznik)

I have a story in The National Interest about the independence crisis in Catalonia.

The arguments will sound familiar to those of you who have been reading my analyses and opinions. I blame the Spanish government for refusing to listen to Catalans when all they asked for was more autonomy. I think it was a mistake to deny them a legal independence referendum when the majority of Catalans were still opposed to breaking away.

Now half are in favor and hope of a compromise is fading. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at least recognizes that the problem calls for a political, not a legal, solution, but he has postponed talks with the Catalan regional government due to COVID-19. Read more “Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point”

Spain Proposes Schengen Membership for Gibraltar

Gibraltar
Bay of Algeciras seen from the Rock of Gibraltar (Unsplash/Freja Saurbrey)

Politico reports that Spain has proposed to include Gibraltar in the EU’s passport-free Schengen Area to facilitate cross-border travel.

The arrangement would be similar to Liechtenstein’s, which is not in the EU but a member of Schengen. Andorra is negotiating a similar status. Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City are in neither the EU nor Schengen but maintain open borders.

The proposal is backed by Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo.

96 percent of his citizens voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, but they were overruled by majorities in England and Wales.

Although Britain formally left the EU at the end of 2019, the bloc’s rules and regulations still apply until the end of 2020.

Gibraltar, like Britain, was never in the Schengen Area, but it was in the EU single market, allowing it to trade freely with the EU’s 27 other member states. Before the pandemic, commuters were typically waved through by Spanish border police. Read more “Spain Proposes Schengen Membership for Gibraltar”

Sánchez Needs to Remember Who His Friends Are

Pedro Sánchez Pablo Casado
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez greets People’s Party leader Pablo Casado outside his residence in Madrid, October 16, 2019 (La Moncloa)

It is time for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to accept that little more will come of his overtures to Spain’s conservative opposition.

Sánchez, a social democrat who rules in coalition with the far-left Podemos (We Can), came to power with the support of Basque, Catalan and other regional parties.

But since the outbreak of coronavirus disease, he has tried to build broader support for his recovery programs.

I argued in July that Sánchez was walking a fine line. Make too many compromises with the right and Podemos and the Catalan Republican Left could feel betrayed.

That point is approaching fast. Read more “Sánchez Needs to Remember Who His Friends Are”

Sánchez Can’t Put Off Catalans Indefinitely

Pedro Sánchez
Pedro Sánchez addresses a conference of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party January 30, 2016 (PSOE)

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez needs to make good on his promise to open dialogue with the Catalan regional government.

Talks about more autonomy were put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Spain in March. Now that it looks like the country will have to live with coronavirus for many more months, Sánchez cannot delay indefinitely.

Catalonia is due to hold elections before the end of the year. If the Republican Left, the more moderate of the separatist parties, doesn’t have anything to show for bringing Sánchez, a fellow social democrat, to power in Madrid, hardliners could win in Barcelona and make a negotiated solution even more elusive. Read more “Sánchez Can’t Put Off Catalans Indefinitely”