Catalan Election Guide

Barcelona Spain
View of Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Ferran Fusalba)

Catalans vote in regional elections on Sunday that are unlikely to produce a breakthrough in their region’s acrimonious relations with the rest of Spain.

I’ll be live-blogging the results on Sunday night. In the meantime, this explainer will get you up to speed. Read more “Catalan Election Guide”

Three-Way Race for First Place in Catalonia

Salvador Illa
Spanish health minister Salvador Illa listens to a debate in parliament in Madrid, October 28, 2020 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

Pro-independence parties are projected to defend their majority in the Catalan parliament on Sunday, but the regional branch of Spain’s ruling Socialist Party could place first in the election.

The Catalan Socialists, led by former health minister Salvador Illa, who resigned from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’ cabinet two weeks ago to campaign, are polling at 21-23 percent, up from 14 percent in the last regional election and 20.5 percent in the last national election.

The Socialists and their allies in the far-left Podemos (We Can), who have 6-8 percent support, oppose Catalan independence but do want to give the region more autonomy. Although talks about transferring more power to Barcelona are still on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Read more “Three-Way Race for First Place in Catalonia”

Far Right Comes to Sánchez’ Rescue in Spain

Santiago Abascal
Spanish Vox party leader Santiago Abascal gives a speech in Valencia, February 22, 2018 (Vox España)

Sometimes bad people do good things. Spain’s neo-Francoist party Vox (Voice) has given Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez a majority for his plan to spend Spain’s €140 billion share of the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund.

Vox had criticized the plan for its “opaque” oversight during a debate in Congress, but when it became clear the conservative People’s Party (PP) would vote against it, the far right spied an opportunity.

“We regret that in the worst moment of these 42 years of democracy, PP is not the opposition but the absolute destruction,” a Vox spokesman thundered.

That’s a little rich coming from a party that wants to reverse Spain’s democratization in important ways, including by abolishing regional autonomies, teaching a more Franco-friendly version of twentieth-century history in middle schools and weakening women’s rights.

But it is also an example of how multiparty democracy can make a country more governable. Read more “Far Right Comes to Sánchez’ Rescue in Spain”

Gibraltar Brexit Deal is Victory for Spain

Gibraltar
View of the Rock of Gibraltar from the territory’s airport, September 29, 2015 (Shutterstock/Nigel Jarvis)

Gibraltar is joining the Schengen free-travel area and will accept European border guards in its ports.

The agreement, reached shortly before New Year’s between the governments of Britain and Spain, avoids the need for a hard border and pulls the Rock closer into the European Union than it was before.

It is a victory for Spanish nationalists, who have long dreamed of regaining a foothold in Gibraltar after three centuries of British rule.

Accomplished, ironically, by a left-wing government. Read more “Gibraltar Brexit Deal is Victory for Spain”

Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways

Pere Aragonès
Acting Catalan president Pere Aragonès gives a speech in Barcelona, Spain, December 14 (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya)

Catalonia’s ruling separatist parties are drifting apart.

José Antich writes in the pro-independence outlet El Nacional that the top candidates of Together for Catalonia, the senior party in the regional government, are “supporters of a path of greater confrontation with Madrid.”

The list of the Republican Left, by contrast — currently the smaller party, but the largest in the polls — is led by office holders, including Acting President Pere Aragonès and Health Minister Alba Vergés. Read more “Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways”

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 an 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 oppose Catalan nationalism.

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”