Category Archives: Capital

El País – from liberal leader to voice of the establishment

If El País is "co-author of the transición", what does the state of this newspaper tell us about the state of Spanish democracy? That is has retreated into an increasingly authoritarian, illiberal and limiting structure no longer aimed at liberating a nation but at preserving the status quo, above all else.

When I first moved to Barcelona nearly 15 years ago, El País was still read in progressive Catalan households. Even though it had practically always been close to the sort of 'Socialismo' represented by Felipe Gonzalez, El País seemed to stand up to the conservative, even post-Francoist caspa of the Aznar government. Throughout that era, as its readership shared in the boom of the 2000's, El País seemed to represent a progressive, hopeful agenda for Spain. After 2004's 11M bombings, El País offered clear analysis and avoided the unforgivable conspiracy theories of El Mundo and other parts of Spain's conservative press. Zapatero, the most progressive Spanish prime minister to date, helped encapsulate a sense that a certain 'can do' Spanish liberalism was dominating, and despite the launch of Público, El País was still there as the leading liberal voice.

The dawning of the crisis meant bad times for Spain, and bad times for El País and its proprietor Grupo Prisa. Despite layoffs, the newspaper struggled with huge debts, many with the banks it was supposed to be investigating. The ones that helped trigger the crisis itself. Now the government proposed critical labor reforms and I, in retrospect late to the game, saw that El País wasn't in the business of opposing central economic policy. As unions planned first one and then a second general strike, El País published hatchet jobs on their leaders and did its best to undermine turnout. When the Socialist government used Franco-era measures to forcibly militarize all air traffic controllers in the country, El País published lie after lie about the industrial dispute they were involved in. And as Catalonia, without its promised Estatut – which the newspaper had backed, started to look towards self-determination, El País retreated into the sort of dogmatic legalism which still informs its position today.

Grupo Prisa's CEO, Juan Luis Cebrián, was interviewed the other day in El Mundo by Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo y Peralta-Ramos, the 13th marquise of Casa Fuerte and hotshot at José Maria Aznar's right-wing Spanish nationalist FAES think tank (she who allegedly broke the law the other day at the trial of Mas et al, but who will doubtless face no penalty). Asked about the Catalan question, Cebrián laid out his position frankly and clearly: "If the king's brother in law can go to jail, why can't Artur Mas?" [a curious comparison, given that Iñaki Urdangarin, has been jailed for corruption and embezzlement, while Artur Mas is on trial for permitting a non-binding popular consultation to be held] and "Someone mentions sending in the Guardia Civil. People say 'no, not the Guardia Civil', but I say: yes, why not? That's what the Guardia Civil is for" and "[The government should act so that] the debate isn't about when they get their independence, but about when they get their autonomy back".

The interview is fascinating because it helps to explain the decline of El País as a leading liberal voice, the decline of the PSOE as the party of reform, and the end of the Transition Pact, the end of nearly 40 years during which the Catalan bourgeoisie represented by Convergència i Unió could be relied on to maintain the governability of Spain as a whole. The new pact which has replaced the old one is opposed to constitutional reform, which is why it maneuvered to prevent a PSOE-Podemos coalition in the last two elections, and preferred to gift Rajoy reelection than see Pedro Sánchez in charge.

The new pact can be defined by 4 particular policy lines on which its members agree: opposition to reform other than further liberalization of the labor market; the reduction of the concept of democracy to "the rule of law" and not much more; a strict and un-nuanced reading of the constitution; the rejection of the right to self-determination.

Regarding this last point, last month Alfred de Zayas, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, wrote to the Spanish government to raise concerns about its treatment of the Catalan question – the so-called 'Operación Cataluña', which involves criminal trials for elected officials, along with other, even murkier tactics. He reminded Spain about the right to self-determination. And he noted that a referendum is a very good way of resolving questions like that currently concerning Catalonia.

El País, once the leading liberal voice in the Spanish language, chose not to report this letter.

Voting Remain to build a better European Union

The EU is a beast that's difficult to love at the best of times. And these certainly are not its best times. The weakness of its institutions over the last decade has meant that it has found it difficult to deal with a series of crises. But it has not been the abject failure that some would have you think. While I disagree with much of the fiscal policy pushed by the Troika, it must be remembered that the EU managed to prevent a Euro collapse that really was on the cards for a year or two. It's easy to forget now that when the EU faces a serious challenge, it has the pragmatism and determination needed to find a solution. This spirit is what has saved the EU in the past and will help it move forward from its current stasis.

For months, I've been discussing disconnection, alone and with friends. I've been in Catalonia for fourteen years now, and my infrequent trips to England have left me worried about what's happening there. Increasingly, I've felt disconnected from England. I don't understand why there are Union Jacks everywhere, or why cool people I get along with suddenly shriek at me about the country being "full". I don't understand how people close to me can describe the EU as "horrible", while they simultaneously contemplate handing power to people like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or Nigel Farage. Victory for Brexit will be a victory for nasty right-wing populism – the repetition of old lies and the fabrication of new ones. Look how UKIP supporters pushed an ever louder, ever nastier anti-migrant message and then went into overdrive trying to claim that Jo Cox's assassination wasn't political. That party thrives on people's fears, and has managed to poison debate in England in a way I never thought possible. And Brexit will hand Farage a huge amount of political capital.

Not wanting to empower Britain's populist right wing isn't enough of an argument for the EU, though. The other half of this narrative must be logic and fact – the LSE's Nicholas Barr is as good a source as any for a sensible, evidence-based approach to remaining in the EU. How telling it is that some Brexiters are even calling on their countrymen to 'Ignore the numbers!', as though that were somehow a noble way to approach this debate. It isn't: it's the very definition of small-minded ignorance, a quality which exemplifies the Brexit campaign. The numbers are, of course, vitally important. Which is no doubt why we're encouraged to ignore them. "You can prove anything with facts!", as Stewart Lee reminds us. Whether it's trade, security, democracy or the economy, all the evidence and research points to remaining in the EU as the sensible choice.

If Brexit ends up winning on Thursday, the sky will not fall. But things will change. Britain's democracy will have been dealt a major blow by arguably the most dishonest and hate-filled political campaign in our history – certainly since the Blackshirts. Voters will have sided with ignorance and demagoguery. Britain will, for perhaps the first time in its history, take a step backwards and explicitly reject progress and modernity.

This referendum will likely be my last chance to vote in the UK. It's also by far the most important vote I've ever cast. If you have a vote, please use it to vote to keep Britain in the European Union and reject UKIP's vile, populist propaganda. Vote for the hope that Europe represents for so many millions of people, and for the aim that together we can build a better Europe and a better Union. Vote Remain.

Pujol Ferrusola claims a top police chief offered the family immunity for stopping independence "madness"

A generous offer, if true. It fits with the "do this to save Spain" text that we heard about a couple of years back.

Apparently he wanted some dirt on ERC too and said that he "knew" that Pujol had contacts in "Eastern countries" who were going to help create a Catalan army.

None of which makes the Pujol story any less murky, of course. But if true, it helps to confirm suspicions that the Pujol investigation is less about corruption and more about politics and, ahem, territorial integrity.

Personally, I'd be happy to see Pujol behind bars, if convicted, and Mas as well. But those who carp the "Junts pel 3%" line ought to be careful. The idea that kickbacks are some sort of Catalan phenomenon is laughable. I asked a (non-Catalan) friend in the know about this the other day and he told me that not only is this a Spain-wide practice, it happens pretty much everywhere.

And while the independence movement has been accused of existing solely to mask the Pujol case (absurd, given that the large demos started years before anything about the Pujols was in the papers), you might well ask why we hear so much about one group of oligarchs in a country totally overrun by corrupt shits. Would it not make sense, you may wonder, for the PP to pressure an already politicised police and judicial system to investigate the Pujols, shortly after Rajoy himself was named in court documents as personally receiving envelopes stuffed with cash? Because the PP wins both ways: if the tactic works, you stop the Catalans and overshadow the PP's corruption cases.

I mean who even remembers that the PP's offices were raided in December 2013?

From the left towards Catalan independence

Fellow traveler Kate Shea Baird sums it all up quite well. I feel it's important for those of us on the left who support Catalan independence to remember that we want independence in order to deliver a better country. Not just any country. An independent Catalonia, sí o sí, is not the aim and never should be. I don't consider Catalans to be living under a repressive regime (unless you mean the Mossos) and so I don't buy the liberation trope. And while I wouldn't like to see Artur Mas behind bars for organizing the consulta, I'd crack the cava open if he and the rest of his party were sent down for corruption.

The pro-independence left (mainly the CUP and elements of Iniciativa and a handful of people at ERC) must maintain its focus through all the twists and turns in this process. We must, above all, fight for our values as the keystone of our support for independence: we want a better country. We want a country that helps the poorest, defends labor, looks after its citizens' health, educates its young people, invests in the arts and culture, promotes sustainable living and tourism, and rejects CiU's corruption and the neo-liberal model. And because we're on the left, we must want all these things for Spain as well.

That's the Catalan republic that I defend.

Mas making love to France

Artur Mas has been on an official visit to France. He celebrated that Spain has permitted Catalonia its own sub-representation at UNESCO in Paris. He also took the opportunity to suggest that the concession for Rodalies commuter trains in Barcelona might be sold to SNCF when Renfe's license expires in 2015.

Similar noises were made a while back when it was suggested that France be the defender of Catalan independence and territory, rather than Spain or Catalonia itself. A proposed meeting with the French minister of defence was cancelled – allegedly after pressure from Spain.

So it's privatisation of public infrastructure, but done in a clever way that in theory could help get the French on-side when it comes to independence (and thus make us forget that we're talking about basic state services). Going further down that road could be risky: an independent state with no infrastructure to call its own isn't much of a state.

[I'd like to add that I raised the France question a while back on this blog, and had a lot of comments from Catalans who thought France's position was utterly irrelevant. Rather short-sighted of them, in my opinion. I assume they'll be writing to Vilaweb to complain, now that the pro-independence website has published an editorial entitled 'France is key for Catalonia's diplomatic recognition'.]

Simple arithmetic for 'Spain bloggers' – 14 pays

First, the mystery of 14 pays per year (all before tax):

18000 / 12 = 1500
x 12 = 18000

18000 / 14 = 1285.71
x 14 = 18000

It's the same amount of money, numb nuts.

And what's the point moving to Germany when they'll only give you a €450 minijob anyway? I think some 'Spain bloggers' (a broadly middle-aged, self serving, real-estate-hawking lobby) need to learn a bit more about Spain and listen a little less to Germany.

Happy new year.

Pact for Catalan government made; 2014 referendum agreed

Govern de Catalunya

CiU and ERC have agreed the terms for forming a government in Catalonia. The major detail behind the agreement is that a referendum on Catalan independence 'will be held in 2014'. The pact comes almost as late as it could – the government needs to be formed by next Monday to prevent new elections being held.

Also agreed on are at least 2 new taxes designed to prevent (or more likely, reduce) further cuts in public spending (updated info below). A tax on bank deposits (my understanding is that it's not financial transactions that are being taxed, but people or firms putting money in the bank – so it sounds like a regressive tax at the moment, but a tax rather than cuts, all the same), and a tax on sweet fizzy drinks. Both taxes are being criticised by the Spanish government. Other taxes being considered are a restored inheritance tax and a tax on the nuclear power plants. Impressively, CiU's "no alternative" mantra looks to have been a smokescreen for pushing through the cuts it wanted. Funny, that.

The agreement on the referendum isn't quite as firm as the newspaper headlines are making it sound. It depends on the socio-political situation in 2014 and agreement between the two party leaders that it's the right time to go ahead. So there are plenty of opportunities for various CiU bosses to derail the process between now and then. It seems that the referendum was the sticking point that caused these negotiations to stretch on for weeks. This doesn't bode well for CiU's commitment to the consulta but it indicates that ERC's Oriol Junqueras has stuck to his guns.

The negotiations are ongoing, apparently. Artur Mas will be confirmed as president on Friday.

UPDATE: Some more finance info from the news – tax will also be raised on large stores. The total extra revenues expected from all the new taxes is about €1bn. The Catalan government had previously claimed it needs to make €4bn of cuts next year. So we're only a quarter of the way there. Oh, and the Spanish finance minister has said that the Generalitat doesn't have the right to raise taxes by decree. Curiously, it does have the right to cut health spending and cancel taxes by decree. Hopefully, this will force the PP to investigate similar measures for the whole of Spain.

I'll add that this is proof that demonstrations can have some effect. Unacceptable austerity and 2 general strikes led to an increase in support for leftwing groups in Catalonia. And the September 11 demo has led to a pact to hold a referendum on independence, however flimsy that pact might turn out to be. I think it's important to recognise that this is not the work of Artur Mas at all. He tried to take advantage of a situation (he wasn't running things in the background as the loony anti democrats would have you believe) and then voters punished him. The war against austerity is not won. It is more important, I still believe, to beat austerity than to hold a referendum. But the referendum must be held.

#11S and #14N helped bring this pact about. Those of us who supported either movement, or both, must keep the pressure on our politicians. For ordering cheap HCG drops, follow the link.

14 reasons to go on General Strike, #14N

The following text is borrowed from the CCOO.

The European Trades Union Congress has called for a day of Action and Solidarity across Europe to mobilize in opposition to the austerity policies being promoted by the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, and call for a change in policies in Catalonia, Spain and Europe.

This General Strike is a labor, social and no-consumption strike, supported by over 200 organisations in the anti-cuts alliance, the Plataforma Prou Retallades.

1 Massive unemployment: in Catalonia there are 900,000 unemployed and 100,000 households with no income.

2 Alarming levels of poverty: 30% of the Catalan population at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

3 Increasing poverty among the employed: wage cuts, worsening conditions and job insecurity across the public and private sector.

4 The Labor Reform by the governing Partido Popular dismantles labor relations, making it easier and cheaper to sack staff, block collective bargaining and increase the working week.

5 No future for young people in Catalonia: 53% of young people are unemployed and more than 10,000 have emigrated abroad.

6 Cuts in research leading to a brain drain of researchers abroad and losing out on a highly qualified generation.

7 Cuts in education: 6,000 jobs have been cut whilst student numbers have increased by 20,000! Higher tuition fees for university & professional training, cuts in school meals provision, nurseries and infant schools.

8 Cuts in health care, introduction of prescription charges, and waiting lists have increased by 45%.

9 Cuts and limits to unemployment benefit and criminalizing those who receive welfare benefits.

10 A bail-out only worsens this situation dominated by austerity measures: higher unemployment, cuts to benefits and pensions, more poverty, higher interest rate payments to financial speculators.

11 Increased financial inequality: rises in VAT and costs of basic services, penalizing freelance workers, whilst declaring an amnesty for tax fraudsters and failure to rein in the unpaid tax in offshore accounts.

12 Thousands have lost their homes and savings.

13 Suffocating culture and arts with cuts and commercializing creativity.

14 Repression of demonstrations and attacks on our democratic rights.

 

==

There are many sympathetic workers out there who claim that "a strike will achieve nothing". I agree that a 2 or 3 day strike would be better than a 1 day strike. But best of all would be everyone who is interested in getting a fair deal for themselves and their families and friends, simply backing the strike. A high percentage of support will show that more and more people are sick of the PP's and CiU's destructive economic policies.

So, everybody, get behind this day of action before you say it won't work. This is a question of your power to say no to bad governance.

What next for Catalonia? More questions for the independence movement

If not precisely inevitable, Catalan independence now seems much more likely than it did a couple of years back when I first framed my questions for supporters and opponents of Catalan separatism.

Many of those questions remain valid. But my main focus has shifted. This reduced list should read as a demand from those leading and supporting the independence movement that they for once and for all clarify various matters that I believe worry many people currently. Because if Catalonia really will be the 'Next State in Europe', these matters need to be clarified now, not later.

1 – What social model will an independent Catalonia have?
While the right are currently in power, and have governed for the majority of Catalonia's post-Franco years, there is a significant section of Catalan society that supports parties of the left. We're deeply unhappy about the cuts that Artur Mas has made to public health, education, social assistance and public sector pay during the financial crisis. Mas has blamed these cuts on Spain's mishandling of the national economy. Very well: if that is true, he must now guarantee to restore, improve and protect public sending and investment in the event of independence.

2 – Will you now, and forever, forgo all claims on the territories in Spain and France sometimes referred to as the Catalan Countries?
I shouldn't need to explain the importance of this question. The only chance of success as a state depends on France's and Spain's recognition. That won't happen unless you formally reject territorial claims on Rosselló, Valencia, the Franja and the Balearics.

3 – What status for non-Spanish residents in Catalonia?
OK, this is a personal one, but it affects lots of people and many businesses. Will you now guarantee our status as permanent residents? What chances for citizenship will we have?

What hope for Spain?

As the crisis in capitalism deepens, the situation in which Spain finds itself seems increasingly hopeless.

Pretty much everyone I've spoken to about Spain recently seems agreed that Spain – and maybe the world – is approaching some sort of cataclysmic reckoning. This sentiment might well be declared a sentimental form of millennialism – after all, aren't we rich and comfortable enough to entertain fantasies of impending doom? – were it not for the gentle crackle you can hear in the air here. This crackle, this oceanic roar heard from a great distance, is the sound of millions of people waiting for the decisive moment at which they will try once again to reclaim their rights.

Spain is fucked. And not because of Berlin or London, but because of us, the Spaniards who have done nothing to stop Spain getting fucked. While Catalans moan about motorway tolls, Asturian miners are blockading motorways with flaming barricades. And protestors are being shot by police with rubber bullets (bullets that give the police a chance to shoot you multiple times rather than just once – possibly the highest embodiment of planned obsolescence at state/capital level), and Greece never quite got the revolution that seemed so possible just a few weeks ago.

Andrea Fabra, daughter of a repulsive conservative politician from Castelló, summed up the attitude of Spain's political class with impressive candour this week. As PM Mariano Rajoy announced higher VAT (designed to hurt the poor) and deeper cuts to the unemployment benefits system (designed to hurt the hopeless), Fabra uttered the immortal words: "Fuck 'em!". She wasn't talking about her colleagues in the PP who joyfully applauded as Rajoy delivered the negative prognosis. She was referring to the 25% of Spaniards who are unemployed. "Fuck 'em!", she declared because that's how she and her colleagues feel about Spaniards in general. If you're not bright enough to fuck everyone else, then fuck you.

The background crackle just intensified a little. Catalonia's conservatives, CiU, have been making themselves busy recently finding ways to criminalise protest. One assumes that pro-flag, pro-independence protest will still be officially encouraged. We've had two useless general strikes in two years with decent turn-outs but no effect on policy. We had millions of people marching against an illegal war and the government ignored that too. It is clear that they do not listen to argument. And when protest is derided so openly by those in power, the same people who raise a regressive tax in order to pay off crooked banks, the citizens must use other tools to make themselves heard.

Someone told me the other day that the only way we in Spain can end this cycle of corrupt parasitism is with war but that understandably, no Spaniard wanted to recreate the disaster of the 1930s. I hope and pray that this is nothing more than sentimental millennialism. But at the same time, I can't see a way out. What hope does this country have, then?