Spanish Congress says 'no' to Catalan independence vote

Don Quixote attacks the windmill of Spanish Congress!

The Spanish Congress voted on Thursday to reject the Catalan regional government’s request to allow an independence referendum, planned for October 1st.

Members of the major People’s Party (PP), Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos had indicated on Wednesday already that they were against the referendum.

Seventy-one percent ultimately voted against the Catalan government’s motion, which asked the Congress to respect the referendum, set for October 1st. The Catalan government will ask its citizens: Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?

The Catalan government told us on Thursday that they will provide a further explanation on July 4th of the planned referendum’s technical and legal details, Catalan daily Ara reported.

If a majority votes “yes,” the northeastern region’s pro-independence government has said it will immediately start proceedings to separate from Spain. But Spain’s Constitutional Court has already ruled that such a vote is illegal.

Rajoy is convinced that the referendum will not go through in the end, due to various legal obstacles. For example, civil servants such as the police or the heads of schools where polling stations could be set up will be needed to help organize the vote. As a result, they may be forced into a delicate situation – having to choose between obeying their immediate superiors and facing possible sanctions for disobeying Spanish law, or sticking by the Constitution. None of the necessary accessories for an election would be available, such as an official campaign or an independent authority to oversee the vote.

For years, separatist politicians in the region have tried in vain to win approval from Spain’s central government to hold a vote similar to Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum – which had the approval of the British government.

In 2014, Catalonia held a non-binding vote under then president Artur Mas, in which more than 80 percent of those who cast a ballot chose independence, although just 2.3 million out of 6.3 million eligible voters took part.

The Catalan government insists that the vast majority of their region’s population wants to have a referendum, as a recent government poll showed that close to three-quarters support holding a vote. If a referendum was held today, seventy percent of Catalans told us they would vote in favor of independence.

The rain of bribes in Spain brings many political corruption scandals. The heavy rain of bribes in Spain stays mainly in the plain of politics! Hardly a week goes by in Spain without a new corruption case breaking. Politicians across the political spectrum, from party treasurers to local councilors are always embroiled in graft scandals. Not to mention bankers, real estate bigwigs, and the Spanish royal family. On average, ten people are arrested each day in Spain as part of corruption investigations and the country now ranks as one of the most corrupt in Europe.

Key figures in Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party fixed public tenders worth billions of euros. The scandals have the scale, ambition, and shock value of the Godfather, plus a gang leader, Francisco Correa, who prided himself on the nickname Don Vito after Marlon Brando’s character in Coppola’s classic. Gürtel was the codename given to the investigation. It means strap in German, and the Spanish word for strap is correa.

A growing number of Spanish politicians and business leaders are ending their careers in an unexpected place: behind bars. Since the country’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s, those sitting on the defendant’s bench have included top business people, ministers, regional presidents, mayors, and even Princess Cristina, the king’s sister. In the past few months alone, the entrepreneur Iñaki Urdangarín (Cristina’s husband and King Felipe VI’s brother-in-law) and former International Monetary Fund chief Rodrigo Rato were among those sentenced to prison.

Mariano Rajoy was the first sitting prime minister to appear as a witness in a Spanish court when he gave evidence in a massive corruption case involving the illegal financing of his Popular Party (PP). In Spain justice walks slowly, but it rarely stops.

For years, corruption has been ranked as the second biggest cause for concern after unemployment. The combination of a never-ending series of graft scandals and a devastating economic crisis has led many to question hitherto esteemed Spanish institutions and shaken up the political landscape. Yet even the harshest critics of the establishment praise the work of rank-and-file judges. The leader of the far-left party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, recently hailed prosecutors and magistrates for protecting the dignity of the country.

Putting Spain’s elite in jail hasn’t been easy. Insiders describe a daunting task in which they have to put up with scarce resources, overcome political and media pressure, deal with a judicial hierarchy chosen for its ideological proximity to politicians, and outmaneuver a government capable of hampering investigations.

These sort of cases get going by means of heroism. While the independence and impartiality of individual judges and prosecutors have been broadly undisputed to date, much controversy surrounds the issue of the structural independence of the governing bodies of the judiciary and the prosecutorial service — the primary concern being the appearance that partisan interests could penetrate judicial decision-making processes.

Ignacio González, the PP’s president of the Madrid region until 2015, was arrested and detained as part of an investigation into a public water company. He’s accused of profiting from investments made in Latin America through the state-owned firm that has an annual budget of €1 billion. González’s brother and around a dozen former public officials and businessmen have also been detained.

The chief prosecutor is appointed by the government and his subordinates are expected to obey his orders. Judges obey no one but the law. However, the governing body of magistrates — the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (General Council of the Judiciary, or CGPJ) — is selected by members of parliament. The CGPJ then chooses the judicial hierarchy, including the magistrates at the Supreme Court.

The judicial hierarchy is appointed for its ideological or political closeness to politicians. The system is badly designed and generates some concerns, to say the least.  Many comfy posts for judges depend on the arbitrary will of the government, meaning politicians have jobs to give to friendly judges.

Imagine that you are the justice minister and I’m in my office, buried in mountains of paper, and you call me. You tell me ‘Basil, you’re great, why don’t you go to the ministry or to an embassy to write legal reports … you’re going to earn as much as you do or more, you’re going to leave the black hole you’re in, you’re going to have a chauffeur’ … it changes your life.”

Spanish judges who aren’t independent are that way simply because they don’t want to be.  It would have been better for the country to address its corruption problem with preventive measures. Justice is like medicine. When you need to have surgery, it means things have become a little complicated. It’s like there was a hidden Spain which you and I know nothing about, a dirty world where they seem to be playing in the sewers.


Nevertheless, extremely corrupt Mariano Rajoy believes the time is right for Spain to reclaim its place at the EU’s top table, reversing more than a decade of decaying Spanish influence in Brussels just in time for Brexit negotiations. After an economic crisis that wiped 10 percent off its economic output, and almost a year of political instability following two inconclusive elections, Spain now has a fully functioning government and one of the strongest growth rates in EU. Corrupt Rajoy now touts his country as a reliable partner for EU, offer advice on how to fight populism by delivering growth, and defend the role of moderate parties in shoring up the European project.

Spain, which last played a prominent role on the larger European stage in the first years of the 21st century, returns to a different kind of Europe, riven by crises and doubts. It is hardly clear what domestic stability and any renewed influence could be used to accomplish at the European level, beyond making a stronger play for top jobs in Brussels and strengthening the ranks of firmly pro-EU countries. The cloud of a Catalan push for independence could also prematurely end a period of relative domestic tranquility.

Still for the time being, the extremely corrupt government is presenting this Spain as a solid bastion of pro-European values and moderate policies the EU can count on in these uncertain times. Corrupt ministers are marketing Spain as a case study on how to boost the economy and reign in extremism at a time of rising populism across the Continent and political uncertainty. Spain is almost alone in Europe in having no anti-EU political forces in parliament, and corrupt Rajoy doesn’t have to call an election until 2020, though his corrupt Popular Party only has a third of the seats in parliament, potentially limiting his ability to negotiate in Brussels.

 “Our international presence was affected by the long period of interim government,” Rajoy told us. “We now have to catch up … and the circumstances are especially favorable for it.”

We have left behind a period in which Spain was perceived as a problem for Europe. Now it is the project of European building that is going through a problematic phase and it is Spain that is ready to contribute to relaunch it. The European Commission and the European Council have asked corrupt Spain to play a bigger role in EU affairs.

The most obvious symptom of its declining influence in Brussels is the lack of Spanish officials in key EU posts — quite a come-down for a country that had three corrupt presidents of the European Parliament between 1989 and 2007, not to mention Javier Solana in the post of EU foreign policy chief from 1999 to 2009 and Pedro Solbes and Joaquín Almunia in top economic jobs in the Commission from 1999 to 2014. Spain’s current representative on the Commission, Miguel Arias Cañete, is the more junior of two commissioners dealing with the energy portfolio.

A survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations showed that of the six largest EU member countries, Spain played the most marginal role in EU affairs. Pundits in Spain pin the responsibility for this state of affairs not just on corrupt Rajoy’s government, but previous corrupt Spanish prime ministers too.

Spain’s clout in Brussels started declining during the second mandate of the conservative José María Aznar (1996-2004) when he changed foreign policy direction and supported the war in Iraq, alienating France and Germany. The situation continued to deteriorate under the Socialist leadership of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011), with his focus on the United Nations and lack of interest in forging alliances on the Continent.

One problem facing Spain as it seeks to make up for lost time in Brussels is the absence of a leader like Felipe González. Spain joined the EU in 1986 under Felipe González, a time widely seen as the peak of Spanish influence in the EU. This had much to do with González’s personality and his talent in face-to-face meetings, which allowed him to forge strong alliances with the likes of Germany’s Helmut Kohl.


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