I sometimes get criticised for not writing anything good about Spain in this blog. I do try, but it’s not always easy – especially since last October. Whilst I’ll never win the €12k offered by Spain’s previous Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, to write the most positive things about Spain (if the reward still exists now that he’s no longer in the job), I feel there’s been a mix of good and bad news during the past week, so I’ll try and highlight some, er … positive things. Always look on the bright side of life …
For example, Spain’s former Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, after losing the no-confidence vote and then resigning as head of the PP party, has now also announced that he’s giving up his post as an MP. He plans to return to his work as a property registrar. I think it’s good news that he’s off. It’s bad news, perhaps, if you want to register your property and find out that he’s the one to do it. The front-runners to now lead the PP include the former deputy PM, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, María Dolores de Cospedal (PP secretary general), and Alberto Núñez Feijóo (regional president of Galicia). I can’t find any good news in any of those options … sorry. I think it’s good news, however, that Spain’s Congress plans to summon former Spanish PM, José Maria Aznar, in July, to talk about the PP’s former ‘caja B’ corruption fund, and it should take place just before Rajoy’s successor is appointed.
Spain’s new Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, said in a TV interview that ‘Catalonia is on the verge of civil confrontation’. It’s bad news (and totally irresponsibile) that he said it. The good news, however, is that he was talking nonsense (to put it politely). We all know that the Catalans are extremely peaceful people, and so unless Borrell has some sinister plans to create ‘civil confrontation’, then there won’t be any at all.
It is clearly bad news that the Franco Foundation still exists, and even worse that they have recently said that Franco was the direct opposite to Hitler, and that he was also an ‘exemplary Catholic’. The good news, however, is that less than two weeks after being formed, the new PSOE government of Pedro Sánchez has announced plans to remove the remains of Franco from the ‘Valley of the Fallen’ monument. Rajoy’s party had wanted to leave Franco alone on the grounds it would ‘needlessly reopen old wounds’ – and the PP abstained in last year’s non-binding motion that called for removal. It has been reported that the socialists will now go further, and eventually also ban the Franco Foundation. Time will tell.
I think it is very good news that Pedro Sánchez offered the Port of Valencia to welcome the Aquarius ship and receive 630 refugees (who arrived safely this morning). ‘We comply with international commitments regarding humanitarian emergencies,’ Sánchez tweeted. Of the 630 on board three ships that arrived, there were seven children under 5, thirty-two children between 5 and 15 years, and sixty-one aged between 15 and 17. There were 80 women – 7 of them pregnant. The refugees are from 26 different countries, but mainly from Sudan and Nigeria. They have been given 45 days to remain in Spain. I’m not sure what happens next, or where they can then go. The sad news, of course, is that this is an on-going problem – but it is good that Spain took in the Aquarius.
I think it’s good news, too, that there’s a new editor at El Pais, Soledad Gallego-Díaz, and that there’s a change of editorial staff. The fact that this all coincides with a clear out of the previous Spanish government, however, rather speaks for itself. I think it’s good news that Belgium is to investigate Spain’s alleged spying on Carles Puigdemont … although I guess I’m saying something good about Belgium there, rather than Spain. Clara Ponsati’s lawyers in Scotland are considering calling upon ex Spanish ministers to testify in the trial regarding her extradition … that might also be good news. Catalan minister, Ernest Maragall, announced the reopening of the Catalan government delegations in London, Rome, Berlin, Geneva and Washington DC, as well as the relaunch of the delegation to the EU … again, I personally think that’s good news. Article 155 didn’t resolve anything and I don’t think it should ever have been applied. Dialogue is still needed, and dialogue has been promised. Mediation will eventually also be required (I’ve mentioned it many times before in this blog) – and it will probably come from Germany. Indeed, the Catalan ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, revealed in an interview with Scottish newspaper, The National, this week, that Angela Merkel made it clear to Mariano Rajoy in a phone call during the morning of 1st October that ‘Europe cannot accept police brutality’ … and then the police brutality against Catalan voters suddenly stopped. The chairwoman of the Bundestag’s Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, Gyde Jensen, has also said that the EU should now bring ‘the two sides’ of the political conflict in Catalonia to the negotiation table. Let’s wait and see …
Whilst I don’t think there should be any political prisoners in any jail anywhere in Spain, the new Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has said that he is in favour of the prisoners being moved closer to Catalonia, if the Supreme Court judge, Pablo Llarena, allows it. Suffice to say that Llarena has said that it is not for him to decide … and so the farce continues.
In the Basque Country, thousands of people formed human chains calling for the right to have an independence vote. The Ciudadanos leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, announced that she is presenting a new law to the Catalan parliament to ‘guarantee and respect the neutrality of the beaches, parks and institutions’. In other words, to not allow yellow ribbons and ‘free political prisoners’ banners. As I wrote last week in ‘What’s the point of Ciudadanos?’ – the solution is not to remove banners, Inés; the solution is to remove the political prisoners from jail. Meanwhile, the party’s leader, Albert Rivera, has said he wants to change the electoral law so that he can win … sorry, I meant that he wants to change the electoral law so that only ‘parties that obtain a minimun 3% of the national vote can be in Congress’. It’s probably the same thing.
You can decide whether it is good or bad news, but Spain sacked its national team’s football coach, Julen Lopetgui, two days before the opening World Cup match. Fernando Hierro took over. Cristiano Ronaldo has made an offer to settle the case of ‘alleged irregularities’ related to his image rights between the years 2011 and 2014, during which time he is thought to have evaded €14.7m in taxes. It includes a two-year prison term (suspended) and an €18.8m fine. He then scored a hat-trick for Portugal against Spain in the World Cup. The final result was 3-3.
Spain’s new Culture Minister, Màxim Huerta, only in the job for a week, resigned, following reports that he had defrauded Spain’s Tax Agency of some €218,322 in 2006. It is still unclear why he was appointed in the first place. Personally, I think it is good news that he resigned swiftly and didn’t hang around for years, waiting for an Eroski video to emerge (por ejemplo). It was reported that the new Culture Minister, José Guirao, stated in a newspaper interview in 2017 that ‘the problem with some Catalans is that they understand [cultural] differences as superiority’. He was responding to an alleged comment from former Catalan president, Jordi Pujol, that Andalusians ‘live in a state of cultural poverty’.
Spain’s King Felipe VI, currently in the United States, is to meet Donald Trump on Tuesday. Apparently it coincides with the fourth anniversary of him being proclaimed king. It should also coincide with his brother-in-law entering prison. A court in Palma finally sentenced Iñaki Urdangarin to five years and ten months in jail, having previously had his sentence cut by five months. The fine imposed on his wife, the infanta Cristina, was reduced to €128,138. Urdangarin was given 5 days to enter a prison ‘of his choice’. As others have also commented, you might like to contrast that with the candidate chosen to be the President of Catalonia, Jordi Turull, who was suddenly put in jail in the middle of his investiture debate itself, without trial, without bail, and without having committed any crime (as far as I know) … and where he still remains today.
By ‘coincidence’, the Urdangarin verdict seemed to coincide with new Spanish police searches in Catalonia for evidence regarding the independence referendum (including at ‘Mediapro’, who actually produced a documentary demonstrating that imprisoned Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez are not guilty of rebellion nor sedition). Seriously: if they are still searching for evidence, why are these people still in jail without trial and without bail? Even though he has been locked up for 8 months, Jordi Cuixart has now also been reelected as president of Omnium Cultural, one of Catalonia’s leading pro-independence grassroots groups.
Finally, Guardia Civil officers requested the ID of members of the ‘Castellers’ human-tower team of Valls outside the Soto del Real prison, where the two Jordis are in prison. God knows why. Perhaps they were expecting them to jump into the prison compound and then free the Jordis, ‘Ocean’s Castellers’ style. As I say, you have to look on the bright side …