Spanish PM Under Pressure Over Catalan Protests

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addresses a press conference in Brussels on October 18, 2019. AFP

 

Ahead of next month’s general election, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez faced sharp criticism on Sunday for his handling of violent Catalan separatist protests even as calm returned to Barcelona and other cities overnight.

The centre-right Ciudadanos party, which was born out of opposition to Catalan separatism, held a rally in front of Catalonia’s regional government headquarters in Barcelona under the slogan: “That’s enough! Justice and coexistence”.

“We have had enough of seeing how radicals roam freely and scare millions of Spaniards on their land. The streets belong to everyone,” Ciudadanos leader Alberto Rivera tweeted before the rally began.

He has called on Sanchez to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy just as the central government did in 2017 after the Catalan parliament declared independence following a banned secession referendum.

The streets of Barcelona and other Catalan cities have been rocked by protests since Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine separatist leaders, many of them former regional government ministers, last Monday to jail terms of up to 13 years for sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid.

Nearly 600 people have been injured in clashes with police since the protests started. A police officer was in “very serious condition” and a demonstrator was in “critical condition” according to Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.

 ‘No dialogue’ 

In an interview published in top-selling daily newspaper El Pais, the leader of the main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, accused the government of “pretending nothing has happened” and promising that everything will return to normal “with moderation”.

“There can be no dialogue with those who make Catalonia burn,” he said in reference to Catalonia’s separatist president Quim Torra who on Saturday called for “unconditional” negotiations with Sanchez.

That appeared to be aimed at ensuring that a legal referendum on independence, currently a non-starter for Madrid, was up for discussion.

Sanchez, who came to power in June 2018 with the support of Catalan separatist parties, refused to meet with Torra until he “clearly” condemns this week’s violence and recognises that half of Catalonia’s roughly 7.5 million residents do not want independence.

A poll published in July by a public Catalan institute showed support for an independent Catalonia at its lowest level in two years, with 48.3 percent of people against and 44 percent in favour.

 ‘Increase polarisation’ 

The court’s decision has thrust the Catalan dispute to the heart of the political debate ahead of Spain’s November 10 general election, its fourth in as many years.

According to the first poll since Monday’s verdict, the ruling Socialists are likely to secure the most votes but again fall short of a majority. The PP was tipped to make significant gains.

Published by the daily El Mundo, the survey predicted Sanchez’s Socialists would capture 122 seats in the 350-seat parliament, slightly down from 123 it took in the last election in April, while the PP would win 98 seats, up from 66.

“Order and territory has never been a winning bet for the Socialists,” Pablo Simon, a political science professor at Madrid’s Carlos III university, wrote in a blog post on Saturday, adding the Catalan crisis will “increase polarisation” which would benefit parties with more extreme positions like the far-right Vox and radical separatists CUP.

Barcelona returned to relative calm Saturday night after six days of demonstrations against the jailing of separatist leaders.

But on iconic Las Ramblas street, protesters set up barricades and lit fires before they were dispersed by police firing foam projectiles.

Overnight Friday, radical separatists had hurled rocks and fireworks at police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

AFP

Spain PM Loses First Parliament Vote To Remain In Power

Spain PM Pedro Sanchez                                                                PHOTO: Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP

 

Spanish caretaker prime minister Pedro Sanchez lost a first parliamentary confidence vote on Tuesday as he seeks to remain in power after an inconclusive general election.

A total of 124 lawmakers in the 350-seat parliament voted for the Socialist premier, leaving him well short of the absolute majority he needed.

Another 170 MPs voted against and 52 abstained. Four remaining votes belong to suspended lawmakers.

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A second, decisive vote has been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, before which Sanchez needs to reach a coalition deal with far-left Podemos, a party that was once arch-rival.

Sanchez is currently caretaker premier after coming first in the April general election but without the majority he needed with just 123 seats, forcing him to look for support.

If he manages to form a coalition government, it would be the first in post-dictatorship Spain.

In debates on Monday and Tuesday ahead of obligatory post-election parliamentary votes this week, Podemos and regional parties that could back Sanchez accused him of not reaching out to possible allies despite needing their help.

‘Playing poker’ 

The second vote on Thursday requires only a simple majority.

With the support of far-left Podemos’s 42 lawmakers and a few others from small regional parties, he could get through.

But given the anger of these potential allies, that support looks uncertain.

Sanchez’s Socialist party has been locked negotiations with Podemos for months and only recently reluctantly agreed to form a coalition government with the party.

But Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias angrily lashed out at Sanchez in the parliamentary debate on Monday.

He accused the socialists of refusing to give his party positions that carry any kind of weight and wanting them to be “a mere decor” in the government.

In Tuesday’s vote, Podemos lawmakers abstained.

Catalan separatist party ERC, meanwhile, accused Sanchez of being “irresponsible” for not appearing to want to negotiate with anyone.

He also slammed him for not having mentioned the separatist crisis in Catalonia in his Monday speech to parliament.

ERC had previously said it would not stand in Sanchez’s way despite their differences over how to handle the crisis.

But Gabriel Rufian, ERC’s leader in parliament, said: “the feeling was that you are playing poker with the hopes of hundreds of thousands of people who came out to vote on April 28.”

ERC voted against Sanchez Tuesday.

Aitor Esteban of the PNV Basque nationalist party said the socialists had not even been in touch with them in the past few weeks.

“They have taken for granted that our vote was going to be positive,” he said.

“You’re the one who should be looking for alliances,” he told Sanchez. His party also abstained in Tuesday’s vote.

If Sanchez cannot secure the votes he needs, he has another two months to find a solution, failing which the Spanish will face another general election.

“What we are seeing in Spanish politics is effectively the natural tensions that occur as a political system transitions from an old way of operating (single-party governments) to what appears to be the new normal…(coalition governments),” said Alfonso Velasco, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Spain might need another election for politicians to accept the new reality.”

AFP

Spain Election: Socialists Win Amid Far-Right Breakthrough

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro and Socialist Party (PSOE) candidate for prime minister Pedro Sanchez (R) delivers a speech beside his wife Begona Gomez during an election night rally in Madrid after Spain held general elections on April 28, 2019.  JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists have won snap elections without the necessary majority to govern solo in a fragmented political landscape marked by the far-right’s entry into parliament.

The results raise the spectre of another period of instability for Spain, with Sanchez depending on alliances with hostile rivals in an environment that has soured since Catalonia’s failed secession bid in 2017.

A significant development was the rise of the ultra-nationalist Vox party, which garnered just over 10 per cent of the vote in a country that has had no far-right party to speak of since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

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Sanchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) got 123 lawmakers out of 350, or close to 29 per cent of votes — short of an absolute majority but much better than the 85 seats it got in 2016.

“The Socialists have won the general election and with it the future has won and the past has lost,” he told cheering supporters from the balcony of the party’s headquarters in Madrid, claiming victory late Sunday.

The big loser was the conservative Popular Party (PP), which bagged 66 seats compared to 137 in the previous election that saw it govern Spain with a minority government.

 Possible alliances 

Sanchez, who came to power in June after ousting conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, could seek to forge alliances with far-left Podemos and smaller groupings like Catalan separatist parties, as he had done over the past 10 months.

He could also try to cosy up to centre-right Ciudadanos, which won 57 seats. Together, they would form an absolute majority but voters from both parties would likely frown on such a move.

“I hope Sanchez won’t reach an agreement with Ciudadanos, I want a left-wing government,” 51-year-old Esther Lopez, said at the Socialist Party headquarters, wearing earrings marked “PSOE.”

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, built his campaign on disparaging Sanchez, criticising his attempts to negotiate with Catalan separatist parties in a bid to ease a secession crisis in the northeastern region.

In an editorial on Monday, Madrid daily El Mundo called on Sanchez to “reach out to Rivera and consider forming a moderate government — which would undoubtedly go down well in Europe — to ensure the stability” of the country.

 Far-right emergence 

The crisis in Catalonia was precisely what fuelled Vox’s meteoric rise from the outer margins of politics to the national scene, after gaining nearly 11 per cent of votes in December regional polls in southern Andalusia.

Founded by Santiago Abascal, a disgruntled former PP member, it will now take 24 seats in the national parliament.

This is less than what opinion polls had predicted.

“I thought Vox would get way more votes, with this result Vox won’t have any weight in parliament as no one supports them. We needed more seats,” said Maria Bonilla Ortega, a 22-year-old philosophy student in central Madrid, a Spanish flag draped around her shoulders.

Abascal was more optimistic: “We can tell Spain with a complete calm that Vox has come to stay,” he told cheering supporters.

After a tense campaign, voter turnout was high at 75.76 per cent, up from 66.48 per cent in 2016, election authorities said.

Catalonia shadow 

With a strong stance against feminism and illegal immigration, Vox stood out with ultra-nationalist rhetoric advocating the “defence of the Spanish nation to the end” and a hard line against separatists in Catalonia.

The region in northeastern Spain was the scene of a secession attempt in 2017 that sparked the country’s biggest political crisis in decades and caused major concern in Europe.

The issue has continued to cast a pall over Spanish politics.

Sanchez was forced to call Sunday’s elections after Catalan pro-independence lawmakers in the national parliament, angered at the trial of their leaders in Madrid, refused to give him the support he needed for his 2019 budget.

Right-wing parties for their part lambasted Sanchez, at the head of a minority government, for talking with separatists who still govern the region, accusing him of cosying up to those who tried to break up Spain.

That controversy is likely to continue as two Catalan separatist parties gained even more lawmakers in the national parliament than they did in 2016 — up to 22 from 17.

The five separatists elected are in jail and currently being tried at Spain’s Supreme Court.

In a sign of the impact the crisis had on voters, Dolores Palomo, a 48-year-old domestic worker, said she had always voted for the socialists but cast her ballot for Ciudadanos this time at a polling station in Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona.

The reason? Sanchez “is a puppet of the separatists,” she said.

AFP

Spain To Raise Minimum Wage 22 Per Cent In 2019

Leader of the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during a debate on a no-confidence motion at the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on June 01, 2018.
PHOTO: Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday his cabinet would approve next week a 22 per cent increase in the monthly minimum wage to 1,050 euros ($1,192) in 2019.

The increase, “the biggest since 1977”, will be submitted to a cabinet meeting in Barcelona on December 21, he told parliament.

“A rich country can’t have poor workers,” said Sanchez, who is widely expected to call an early general election next year.

The measure was part of his minority Socialist government’s draft 2019 budget unveiled in October but which he is struggling to pass in parliament so it will now be approved by decree.

The announcement comes after French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled Monday a 100-euro ($113) per month increase in the minimum wage from next year in a major concession to “yellow vest” protests which have roiled the country.

After years of austerity policies imposed to cope with the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, governments are under increasing pressure to ease the purse strings, especially for the lower paid.

Sanchez’s Socialists control just 84 seats in the 350-seat parliament, the smallest number for a government since the country returned to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

He negotiated the draft 2019 budget with far-left party Podemos, which controls 67 seats, but would still need the support of Catalan separatist parties to pass the spending plan and they have steadfastly refused.

The government estimated the minimum wage hike will cost the state 340 million euros per year.

Employers groups and the conservative opposition parties, the Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos, oppose the wage hike, saying it will hurt job creation.

PP leader Pablo Casado has said the 2019 budget, which also includes tax hikes, is “economically suicidal”.

AFP

Spain’s PM Sanchez Repeats Brexit Veto Threat After May Talks

Leader of the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during a debate on a no-confidence motion at the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on June 01, 2018.
PHOTO: Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP

 

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez maintained his threat to scupper Britain’s draft deal to exit the European Union following a meeting with UK counterpart Theresa May on Thursday.

“After my conversation with Theresa May, our positions remain far away. My government will always defend the interests of Spain. If there are no changes, we will veto Brexit,” Sanchez wrote on Twitter after arriving for a historic state visit to Cuba.

Madrid is seeking a guaranteed veto on post-Brexit relations between the EU and Gibraltar, the British enclave on Spain’s southern tip.

Spain wants to retain what it sees as its right to negotiate the future of Gibraltar with Britain on a bilateral basis, which would give it an effective veto.

An original clause in the draft deal stipulated that after the UK left the bloc, any agreement between Britain and the EU could only apply to Gibraltar if it had previously been negotiated on a bilateral basis with Spain.

However, that clause has since disappeared from the final draft.

Although the legal service of the EU Council has tried to reassure Spain that the current text does not preclude this, Madrid wants that veto power clearly spelt out.

May is due to sign a treaty with EU leaders to leave the bloc on Sunday, but Spain holds the power to prevent that from happening.

“The negotiations are now at a critical moment, and all our efforts must be focused on working with our European partners to bring this process to a final conclusion,” May told Britain’s parliament, defending her draft deal.

Gibraltar is a tiny 2.6 square mile (6.8 square kilometre) territory that is home to about 30,000 people.

It was ceded to the British crown in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht that ended the War of the Spanish Succession with a more general agreement to preserve the balance of power in Europe.

Earlier on Thursday, Gibraltar’s chief minister accused Spain of being heavy-handed.

“Spain does not need a veto to get us to a table,” Fabian Picardo told the local parliament.

The euro zone’s fourth-largest economy “does not need a whip to get the smallest economy in Europe to sit around the table with it and have a meaningful discussion about cooperation,” he added.

AFP

Spain Defends Selling Arms To Saudi Despite Khashoggi’s Murder

Leader of the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during a debate on a no-confidence motion at the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on June 01, 2018. 
Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP

 

Spain’s Socialist prime minister defended Wednesday arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia despite an outcry over the murder of a Saudi journalist, saying it was in the country’s “interests” to keep selling military hardware to the kingdom.

“If you ask me where I stand today, it is in the defence of the interests of Spain, of jobs in strategic sectors in areas badly affected by the drama that is unemployment,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament.

Spain’s state-owned shipbuilder Navantia in July signed a deal worth 1.8 billion euros ($2.0 billion) to supply oil-rich Saudi Arabia with five navy ships.

The shipbuilder is located in the southern region of Andalusia, a socialist bastion which has one of Spain’s highest unemployment rates and which will hold regional elections in December.

Sanchez said he shared the “dismay and condemnation” of international public opinion regarding the “horrible assassination” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

But the “seriousness of these horrible events which I unequivocally condemn can not and should not prevent us from acting responsibly,” he added.

Catalan separatist parties and far-left party Podemos, whose support Sanchez’s minority government depends on, have called on the government to suspend Spain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabi in protest against Khashoggi’s murder.

Sanchez’s government came under fire in September after it decided to go ahead with the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, amid concerns that they could harm civilians in Yemen where the kingdom is engaged in a bloody conflict.

The government had earlier said it would block the export of the weapons but Sanchez justified the about-face at the time on the grounds that it was needed to preserve good ties with the Gulf state, a key commercial partner for Spain.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed after entering the consulate in Turkey on October 2.

His murder has revived the debate in countries around the world over their ties to Saudi Arabia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that Berlin would not export arms to Saudi Arabia for now in the wake of Khashoggi’s violent death.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that it would be “extremely difficult” to cancel a 2014 blockbuster sale of armoured personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia Without “paying exorbitant penalties”.

AFP

Spain To Strip Officials Of Judicial Privileges In Corruption War

Leader of the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during a debate on a no-confidence motion at the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on June 01, 2018.
PHOTO: Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP

 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez vowed Monday to reform the constitution to end judicial privileges enjoyed by politicians, judges, royals and other top officials which can shield them from corruption charges.

The Socialist prime minister said the measure was needed “to restore people’s confidence in politics” in a country which has been rocked by a string of corruption scandals in recent years.

Sanchez announced the measure which will make it easier for politicians to be prosecuted at a Madrid event marking 100 days since he toppled his conservative Popular Party predecessor in a no-confidence vote amid a long-running graft scandal.

Under a system of judicial privileges known as “aforamiento,” Spain’s lawmakers and other top officials benefit from a system of judicial privileges meant to protect them from spurious attacks and which means they can only be tried by Spain’s Supreme Court, the country’s top court.

Spain’s 1978 constitution originally granted the privileges to the prime minister and a handful of other top officials but it had been extended over the years to include judges, public prosecutors, police and others.

Some 250,000 people are covered by the system, including five members of Spain’s royal family, the head of Spain’s Supreme Court, Carles Lesmes, said last year.

Spain has been fit by a series of graft scandals affecting political parties from across the spectrum, the royal family, footballers and even unions.

The anger over graft has led to the rise of two new parties, far-left Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos, which have vowed to stamp it out.

Sanchez’s Socialist party has only 84 seats in Spain’s 350-seat lower house of parliament, the smallest number for a government since the country returned to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

But the planned constitutional reform would need to be approved by three-fifths of the assembly, as well as three-fifths of the senate, Spain’s upper house, meaning Sanchez will need the support of the Popular Party which he ousted from power in June.

If all worked together, “this reform would come into effect just 60 days after it introduced,” the prime minister said.

AFP

Sanchez Replaces Rajoy As Spain Prime Minister

The leader of the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during a debate on a no-confidence motion at the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on June 01, 2018.
PHOTO: Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP

 

Beaten in the last two elections and ousted as head of his Socialist party before making a spectacular comeback, Pedro Sanchez’s risky gamble to take power in Spain paid off on Friday.

The instigator of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over a mega corruption scandal tainting his conservative Popular Party, Spain’s “Mr Handsome” has finally won success.

With lawmakers passing the motion, Rajoy was forced out of office and the premiership automatically handed to Sanchez.

“I’m aware of the responsibility I’m taking on,” the 46-year-old said after the vote, immaculately dressed in a dark suit.

 Back on centre stage

Fernando Vallespin, a politics professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid, described Sanchez’s no-confidence motion as a “risky bet.”

“Fate is giving him the opportunity to play a central role,” he said.

Until then, the Socialist party had been “on the sidelines” of political debate grouping the PP, the centre-right Ciudadanos and far-left Podemos.

With just 84 lawmakers in the lower house, Sanchez was forced to forge deals with Podemos, Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists to win backing for the motion.

Slammed by the PP as a “Frankenstein majority”, Sanchez’s new government is likely to be very unstable which could cut short his time in office.

Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence said the new premier would likely “try to pass some policy initiatives to prop up support” for his Socialist party.

That, in turn, could put it in a better position for early general elections.

“Sanchez is an audacious politician but not especially reflective and he thinks more in the short-term,” says Vallespin.

 Comeback kid

Born in 1972 in Madrid, Sanchez grew up in a wealthy family — his father an entrepreneur and his mother a civil servant.

He studied in the Spanish capital before getting a Master’s degree in political economy at the Universite libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

Politics, though, was always his passion.

He was an opposition town councillor in Madrid from 2004 to 2009, after which he entered parliament as a lawmaker under Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s administration.

That ended when the PP swept to power in 2011 with an absolute majority, kicking the struggling Socialists out of power.

But he returned to the lower house in 2013 after the resignation of a lawmaker, going on to become Socialist party chief.

In the 2015 general elections, he came after Rajoy but tried and failed to form an alternative government with Ciudadanos.

Fresh elections were called in June 2016 and the Socialist party registered its worst result since Spain transitioned to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Sanchez was subsequently ousted by his party, which held him responsible.

But he made a spectacular comeback in May 2017 when party activists voted him back to the Socialist leadership.

 ‘Opportunism’

Having got closer to Rajoy following last year’s failed secession bid by Catalonia, Sanchez nevertheless turned against him, prompting one PP lawmaker to describe him as “the Judas of Spanish politics”.

Rajoy on Thursday accused him of “opportunism at the service of personal ambition” while the El Mundo daily lashed out at him as a “leader devoured by ambition”.

But this ambition appears to have paid off.

“Today we are signing a new page in the history of democracy in our country,” he told lawmakers shortly before the vote.

PP lawmaker Rafael Hernando, however, said he was entering the prime minister’s office “through the back door”.

“For the first time we may get a prime minister who didn’t win elections,” he retorted.

AFP

Spain Election: Political Uncertainty After Split Result

spain electionThe Spanish government will be forced to form a new coalition government after two new political parties won nearly a third of the seats in the country’s election.

Anti-austerity party, Podemos and liberal Ciudadanos, made big gains, as the conservative Popular Party (PP) lost its majority.

Podemos Leader, Pablo Iglesias, said that “Spain is not going to be the same anymore and we are very happy”.

The PP and the Socialists had alternated running the government for more than three decades.

The parties must now embark on negotiations to form a coalition.

The PP had 28.7 per cent of the vote, the Socialists 22 per cent, Podemos 20.6 per cent and Ciudadanos 13.9 per cent.

Podemos, an anti-austerity movement born during Spain’s financial crisis, confirmed its position as a new, powerful political force.

PP Leader, Mariano Rajoy, said that he would try to form a government, insisting: “This party is still the number one force in Spain”.

But Mr Rajoy admitted that his party had taken some “difficult and even unpopular decisions” over the past four years, as Spain struggled through an economic crisis.

Socialist Leader, Pedro Sanchez, said that his party was ready to start negotiations.

“Spain wants a move to the left”, he said.