COVID-19 Has Put Catalan Politics on Hold

Palau de la Generalitat Barcelona Spain
The palace of the Catalan regional government in Barcelona, Spain at night (iStock/Tomas Sereda)

The coronavirus pandemic has put the politics of Catalan independence on hold.

Talks about transferring more power to the region, which Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez promised in return for the support of Catalonia’s Republican Left, were postponed when COVID-19 broke out in March and have yet to be rescheduled.

So do snap regional elections Catalan president Quim Torra called for in January.

Torra, whose center-right Together for Catalonia rules in a coalition with the Republican Left, was disappointed when the other separatists agreed to enforce a ruling by the electoral commission to strip him of his status as lawmaker.

The electoral commission found that Torra had violated rules on government neutrality by hanging a banner from his palace in Barcelona during the last election that demanded the release of nine prominent separatists who are in prison for leading a failed independence bid in 2017. Read more “COVID-19 Has Put Catalan Politics on Hold”

Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs

Spanish parliament Madrid
The Palacio de las Cortes, seat of the Spanish Congress of Deputies, in Madrid, August 16, 2017 (Shutterstock/Vivvi Smak)

The Spanish Congress has approved three out of four recovery programs proposed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose left-wing government does not have a majority.

Right-wing and regional parties supported plans for the economy, EU and health care. A package of social reforms, which included rental protections, a basic minimum wage and measures against gender violence, fell four votes short.

The government could reintroduce those proposals in its 2021 budget. Read more “Spanish Congress Approves Coronavirus Recovery Programs”

Basque, Galician Elections Have National Implications

María Dolores Cospedal Alberto Núñez Feijóo
Former Spanish defense minister María Dolores Cospedal confers with President Alberto Núñez Feijóo of Galicia during a People’s Party congress in Seville, April 7, 2018 (PP)

Incumbents won regional elections in the Basque Country and Galicia on Sunday, giving a boost to Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and throwing more doubt on the confrontational strategy of his conservative opponent, Pablo Casado.

The Basque Nationalist Party, which supports Sánchez’ minority left-wing government in Congress, posted its best result since 1984 with 39 percent of the votes.

In Galicia, the popular center-right governor, Albert Núñez Feijóo, won a fourth term with 48 percent support, the same share as in the 2016. The left-wing Galician Nationalist Bloc went up from 8 to 24 percent at the expense of other left-wing and regional parties. It doesn’t always support Sánchez in Congress but did back his investiture in January. Read more “Basque, Galician Elections Have National Implications”

Sánchez Walks Fine Line Between Left and Right

Pedro Sánchez Stefan Löfven
Prime Ministers Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, February 20 (European Council)

With support from the pro-independence Catalan left weakening, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez is reaching out to the center-right.

The liberal-nationalist Citizens are shifting back to the center under their new leader, Inés Arrimadas, after a disastrous lurch to the right in the last election. They have largely supported Sánchez’ emergency measures to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 28,000 Spaniards. The party has pledged to vote for three out of four proposed recovery programs, except the one for social policy.

Even the conservative People’s Party, which only a few months ago called Sánchez a “traitor” for doing a deal with Basque and Catalan separatists and then accused him of lying about the true death toll of the pandemic, has suggested it could support some of the policies, which include tax hikes and loans to small businesses.

With tourism, normally one-sixth of the economy, drying up, unemployment is projected to reach 19 percent. (It would be worse without the furloughing system ERTE.) The central bank expects the economy will contract between 9 and 15 percent this year before growing 7-9 percent in 2021. Read more “Sánchez Walks Fine Line Between Left and Right”

Barcelona Without the Tourists

Barcelona Spain
The sun sets on the Hotel W in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Leyy M)

Tourism in Spain has come virtually to a standstill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For many residents of Barcelona, Spain’s top tourist destination, it is a relief.

The city welcomed 9.5 million tourists last year, up from under two million in the 1990s. That’s almost six times its population (1.6 million).

Most come during the summer, when I normally avoid the old medieval city and Barceloneta beach. (The beaches north of the Olympic Harbor, which were created for the 1992 Olympics, are usually less crowded but still busy.)

Now Barceloneta is actually nice. Cops constantly check to make sure sunbathers keep two meters distance, so crowding is impossible. The xiringuitos (tapas bars on the beach) have free tables. La Rambla, which is otherwise so packed it’s impossible to get through, is now pleasant for a stroll. Read more “Barcelona Without the Tourists”

Arrimadas Shifts Spain’s Liberal Party Back to the Center

Ines Arrimadas
Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Spain’s Citizens party, speaks at an event on liberal feminism, March 6, 2020 (Ciudadanos)

In normal times, being elected as the first female leader of a Spanish political party, on International Women’s Day no less, would be seen as a good omen.

Unfortunately for Inés Arrimadas, she took over the reins of the center-right Citizens just as the coronavirus pandemic spread to Spain. With the country under lockdown, the leadership change in a party that has been reduced to a mere ten seats in Congress drew little attention.

But the health crisis has also given the Citizens an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the other two right-wing opposition parties: the conservative People’s Party and far-right Vox. Read more “Arrimadas Shifts Spain’s Liberal Party Back to the Center”

Support for Quarantine Weakens in Spain

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

Support for maintaining the coronavirus quarantine is weakening in Spain. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has partly lifted a two-month lockdown, allowing small stores to reopen and restaurants to serve takeaway, but the opposition is calling for a quicker return to normalcy.

Deaths from coronavirus disease have stabilized at under 200 per day. The infection rate is also slowing.

But Spain still has more known cases of COVID-19 than any country except the United States.

The government fears that without strict controls, the virus could rebound in the next six to eight weeks. Read more “Support for Quarantine Weakens in Spain”

Lockdown in Barcelona

Barcelona Spain
The Sagrada Família seen through two of the smokestacks of Les Tres Xemeneies in Barcelona, Spain, March 10 (Luke Strange)

I haven’t blogged much recently. What little news there is other than the coronavirus outbreak seems rather less important. Since I’m by no means an expert on pandemics, I don’t have a lot to write.

I can tell you what’s happening here in Barcelona. Read more “Lockdown in Barcelona”

Catalan Ruling Parties Fall Out

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)

Catalan president Quim Torra’s suspension as a parliamentarian has divided the Spanish region’s ruling separatist parties.

In a session of the regional parliament on Monday, Speaker Roger Torrent of the Republican Left warned Torra, who leads the center-right Together for Catalonia, that his vote would not be counted in accordance with a ruling by the Spanish electoral commission. The entire Together for Catalonia delegation then abstained from all parliamentary business in protest.

The electoral commission has ordered Torra to resign as lawmaker for violating regulations on political neutrality. The Catalan leader refused to remove a banner from the regional government palace in Barcelona during the last election that called for the release of nine separatists who are in prison for leading a failed independence push in 2017. Among them is Republican Left leader Oriol Junqueras.

Torra argued only the Catalan parliament could remove him. Its presidium has now sided with the electoral commission, although it believes Torra can continue to serve as president. Torra is appealing the electoral commission’s decision to the Supreme Court in Madrid. It is unlikely to rule in his favor. Read more “Catalan Ruling Parties Fall Out”

Sánchez Wins Second Term as Prime Minister of Spain

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez gives a speech in parliament in Madrid, March 2, 2016 (PSOE)
  • Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez has won a second term as prime minister of Spain.
  • He fell short of a absolute majority in Congress on Sunday but needed only more votes in favor than against a the second ballot on Tuesday.
  • Left-wing separatists from the Basque Country and Catalonia abstained, allowing Sánchez to scrape by with a majority of two — the smallest ever for a Spanish prime minister.
  • Sánchez’ will be the first coalition government since the Civil War and the most left-wing government since the fall of the Republic. Read more “Sánchez Wins Second Term as Prime Minister of Spain”