Josep Borrell, a ‘radical’ anti-independentist, who once said that the Catalan pro-independence movement was a disease, has been appointed as new Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has nominated Josep Borrell as new Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs. Borrell, who was ex-minister in Spanish socialist governments and ex-President of the European Parliament, is a controversial figure characterized by his relentless offenses against Catalan pro-independence leaders. During a unionist demonstration organized by a far-right organization in Barcelona last December, Borrell said: 

It’s a good idea, this ‘stitching up wounds.’ They have to be stitched up. It’s true: this is a wounded society and it has to be cured. But, before closing the wounds, they have to be disinfected. Because, if they’re not disinfected, things rot. The social body has to be healed, so it has to be scrubbed well with disinfectant.”

Borrell resigned as president of the European University Institute in 2012 following accusations of conflicts of interests. In 1998, Borrell accompanied convicted politicians of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) to prison who were sentenced for organizing and taking part in (GAL), a state terrorism group that acted in the Basque Country during the 80’s and caused 27 deaths.

Pro-independence parties have criticized Borrell’s appointment and accused the new Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez of fueling the conflict in Catalonia. President Puigdemont went further and said in a Tweet that the Socialist party was attempting to divide Catalan society.  

The Catalan government has been calling to open a dialogue with Spain’s PM Pedro Sanchez since he became President last week in order to find a solution for the continuing political conflict between Catalonia and Spain.

Despite the appointment of a radical anti-independentist as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Catalan administration has insisted on the need to start bilateral talks with Spain as soon as possible. However, behind the scenes, pro-independence leaders recognized that there are few chances of that happening. They believe that Sánchez will follow the same strategy that his predecessor ex-PM Rajoy used during his term in office: the judicialization and criminalization of the pro-independence movement.

Brief Biography

Born in 1947 in Pobla de Segur, Lleida, Borrell began in local politics before joining the PSOE party and eventually rising to ministerial level. He was the minister of Public Works, Transport, and the Environment during the third and fourth terms governments of Spanish PM Felipe González (PSOE). In 2004, he was elected head of the European Chamber where he served from 2004 to 2007. He joined the board of the Spanish multinational corporation Abengoa in 2019 and became chair of its international advisory board a year later.

Borrell has a doctorate in economic science from the Complutense University of Madrid, and he has studied at the French Institute of Petroleum in Paris and Stanford University in the US.

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PNV supports Spain’s Budget despite Promising the Contrary

On Wednesday, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) voted in favor of Spain’s State Budget despite promising its voters and the Catalans that it would never ever support it unless the Rajoy administration lifted the direct rule over Catalonia (Article 155). A PNV spokesman said, “The party made such a decision out of ‘responsibility.’ It will help improve the living conditions of the Basque people.”

In the past few months, we expressed our intention to reject Spain’s budget for 2018 if the direct rule over Catalonia (Article 155) remained in place, this was a matter of principles,” read an official statement by the party.

PNB representatives lead by Joseba Egibar recognized on Thursday that they had broken their promises over Catalonia, and the fact that they weren’t able to de-activate Spain’s direct rule over Catalonia (Article 155) because apparently they “miscalculated” their capacity of influence.

The PNV had been very critical of the Rajoy administration since he implemented a direct rule over Catalonia. However, yesterday’s decision to support Spain’s Budget by breaking its promises suggests that from the beginning, PNV’s real intentions were to take advantage of the existing political situation in Catalonia in order to negotiate a better funding for the Basque Country.

If the PNV had voted against the budget, the Rajoy administration would have lost the chamber, which might have forced a snap/quick election in the next few months.

The PNV had strong incentives to support Rajoy’s ‘corrupt’ government. The budget includes €570 million in investments destined for the Basque country. In a hypothetical new election, the opposition party C’s could have won the majority of seats in Parliament. C’s has been very critical of the high degree of financial autonomy in the Basque country and announced a few weeks ago that if it ever gets the presidency, it will break all the existing financial pacts between Spain and the Basque Country.

A spokesperson for the Basque government, Josu Erkoreka, also criticized Catalan President Torra for appointing jailed and exiled ministers, which in his personal opinion, has prevented the Spanish government from lifting the direct rule (Article 155) over Catalonia. “There is no doubt he was aware of the effect and consequences of his actions,” he said.

A wide range of political parties, including the pro-independence ones, the Spanish Podemos, and the Basque EH Bildu, have accused the PNV of breaking its promises with Catalan people and being responsible for “keeping” the PP, a corrupt party, in power.

On Thursday, Spain’s ruling PP’s party was fined 250k by the Spanish National Court for illegal funding in a case which involves accusations of kickbacks in exchange for giving contracts to a network of businesspeople bidding for venders.

Former PP treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, was sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined €44 million. The businessman and leader of the corruption plot, Francisco Correa, was sentenced to 51 years in jail. The Spanish National Court also sentenced the former PP member and businessman, Pablo Crespo, to 37 years behind bars. Twenty-six more people involved in the case were also sentenced to prison or fined.

PNV’s decision to support the Rajoy administration will definitely benefit them in the short term since they will be able to maintain a high degree of power in the Basque Country. Nevertheless, it may also backfire against them in the near future when they will need support from the Catalan administration, which feels betrayed.  They may also face problems in next elections, since most of their voters support Catalonia’s bid for independence and more importantly, democracy. It’s believed that the opposition Basque pro-independence party, EH Bildu, will get a high percentage of votes from ex-PNV voters since they have remained loyal to the Catalan people and their legitimate aspirations.

President Quim Torra

The new presidential candidate, Quim Torra (JxCat), is well-known for his fierce defense of the Catalan Republic. Ex-president of Òmnium Cultural, one of the major Catalan pro-independence organizations, Torra was chosen by President Puigdemont to lead a provisional government aimed at the construction of the Republic.

Quim Torra was born in Blanes, a small town on the north side of Barcelona, in 1962. He has a degree in law, was director of the Born Cultural Centre until 2015 and director of the Centre of Studies of Contemporary Topics of the Catalan government until last October.

Torra presented his MP candidacy for JxCat as an independent. He isn’t a member of any political party. He also formed part of the team which negotiated the government manifesto with CUP and ERC in advance of an expected investiture. His presidential candidacy comes after the Spanish Constitutional Court blocked the investiture of Puigdemont, the legitimate President of Catalonia, who then activated the plan “D,” the provisional investiture of Torra until he can be sworn in later by the legislature.

The expectation is that Torra will be elected as President of Catalonia in a second round on Monday after not achieving an absolute majority in the first round on Saturday after the CUP decided to keep its abstention in its political council held on Sunday.

Although unlikely, if the Spanish government or the Constitutional Court decides to block Torra’s investiture, there will be a new election in two months.

Spain’s Treasury minister Cristóbal Montoro confirms again Catalan government didn’t fund the referendum with public funds

 

I don’t know how they funded the referendum, but not with public funds,” said Spain’s Treasury Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, in an interview early this week.

The Spanish government has been controlling the Catalan government’s spending since last September. Montoro said that his department, which had control over the 35 billion euros managed by the Catalan government, hadn’t detected any irregularity during that time. He affirmed that the system set up by the central government to check the Catalan administration finances had been working very efficiently. The Spanish minister suggested that the only way the Catalan government could have funded the referendum with “public funds” would have been if a civil servant had “counterfeit” bills.

Montoro affirmed that “the Catalan government could still technically be prosecuted for “misuse of public funds” because this crime isn’t limited to diverting funds: it also incorporates opening a public building for an illegal political event and similar illegal activities involving public funds.”

Spain has requested the extradition of President Puigdemont and his ministers for misuse of public funds. Spain’s Supreme Court says they misused €1.6 million based on Spain’s Civil Guard reports.  

German, Scottish, and Belgian courts are currently considering a European Arrest warrant against President Puigdemont and his ministers Ponsatí, Puig, Comín, and Serret. According to German media, Spain is having problems demonstrating that Puigdemont misused public funds. Some of them believe that the German Judiciary Court will end up rejecting his extradition for lack of evidence.

On the other hand, the Scottish and Belgian justices have requested more information from Spain in order to determine if they will proceed to the extradition of the other ministers. However, their lawyers believe that they won’t be extradited to Spain due to the lack of evidence.

It now appears less likely that the European courts will return Catalan leaders to Spain, even on a lesser charge, after both the prime minister and treasury ministers have denied it publicly. The non-extradition of Puigdemont and his ministers to Spain would be a major defeat for the Spanish government and would legitimate pro-independence parties to follow their roadmap in order to implement the Catalan Republic.

German Parliament President, Wolfgang Schäuble, asks Spain to de-escalate the conflict with Catalonia

German Parliament president, Wolfgang Schäuble, asked Spain on Friday to de-escalate the conflict with Catalonia.

“We have to shape globalization such that people don’t feel lost. To that end, the Spanish are advised to solve the problem in a way that the Catalans can live with,” he said.

Catalan president Puigdemont was detained and held in a German prison since last week. In response to requests that he be released, Schäuble said that his country has to respect the rules of the European Arrest Warrant.

“The decision over Puigdemont seems anything but trivial. Now it’s in the hands of the justice system, in which I have full confidence,” said Schäuble.

He also said that the German government won’t intervene in Puigdemont’s extradition case, arguing that there must be separation of powers between politics and the justice system.

Puigdemont has been in prison in Neumünster – in the north of Germany – since he was detained and taken into custody by German authorities last week, while traveling to Belgium to face his extradition case there. His German lawyer, Wolfgang Schomburg, had unsuccessfully called through the media for Merkel’s government to stop Puigdemont’s extradition.

Schomburg, one of today’s best German lawyers, believes that the German courts will reject the extradition request, but, if they don’t, he will take the case to the Constitutional Court.

A German government representative, Steffen Seibert, expressed his support for the Spanish government, arguing that this is an “internal matter” which must be resolved in accordance with the Spanish Constitution and laws.

On Saturday, Puigdemont sent his first message from prison:

“I won’t give up, and I won’t step aside when faced with the illegitimate actions of those who lost at the ballot box, nor when faced with the arbitrariness of those who are willing to pay the price of abandoning the rule of law and justice for the unity of the motherland.”

Imminent Internal Restructuring of ERC and PDeCAT

The failure of the negotiations for the formation of a new government between pro-independence parties in the last two months, has forced ERC and PDeCAT to carry out a deep internal restructure.

Numerous influential groups within PDeCAT are demanding that the leadership call for an ideologically extreme congress aimed at establishing a new strategy. They argue that PDeCAT is not defending the mandate of the latest election: the immediate implementation of the Catalan Republic. They also accuse the current party leadership of betraying Puigdemont, arguing that they only defended his candidacy at the last moment, which ultimately led to his resignation and the nomination of the jailed Jordi Sánchez as new candidate.

ERC has also announced that it will soon hold an ideological conference aimed at unifying the party and choose a new strategy. This move comes after numerous ERC representatives from numerous cities across the country publicly showed disagreement with the leadership of the party. They argued that ERC has given up on construction of the Catalan Republic due to their fear of repression by Spain. That is why they are also demanding that all the leaders of the party who are scared of ending up in prison must step aside and allow new members who are willing to disobey Spain to implement the Republic.

Sources close to the leadership recently said that they won’t resign and will instead try to impose a new strategy, aimed at respecting the current Spanish legal framework and implementing measures to grow social support for independence. However, the party bases appear to be willing to push until their resignation.

Jordi Sánchez Nominated as Presidential Candidate

On Monday, Catalan Parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, nominated the jailed leader, Jordi Sànchez, as a presidential candidate. One day later, he also announced that the investiture session to swear Sànchez in will be held in  Parliament next Monday at 10 am.

The Spanish government warned that they won’t allow him to become president. However, the final decision will be made by the Spanish Supreme Court.

According to an important number of jurists, if Judge Llarena, who is leading the case against Catalan pro-independence leaders, does not allow Sànchez to be sworn in as President, he would be prevaricating. Thus, if Sànchez appeals that possible decision to higher courts, including the European ones and wins, the whole case against Catalan pro-independence leaders would be nullified. And all the Catalan political prisoners would have to be released immediately. 

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