Tag Archives: Generalitat of Catalonia

Spain's strict spending controls give the lie to Catalan autonomy

One of the most widely repeated myths in the debate about Catalan independence is that 'Catalonia already enjoys more devolved powers than almost any other region in the world'. We're frequently told that US states, German landers and other autonomous regions have nowhere near the autonomous powers that Catalonia enjoys. This is less accurate than it immediately seems.

While it's true that Catalonia and the other autonomous communities in Spain have broad powers and areas of responsibility under the constitution and the statutes of autonomy, they really cannot be compared with, for example, German landers or American states. Vitally, Catalonia has strictly-limited powers over what taxes it collects and when it can levy new taxes. Most attempts to create new taxes have been challenged by the Spanish government, or have been subsequently 'trumped' by the government establishing an identical tax at state level, thus making the Catalan tax obsolete.

But it's the Spanish government's latest announcement threatening suspension of payments under the Autonomous Liquidity Fund (FLA) which really gives the lie to this claim. The fund itself was already problematic, because rather than helping Spain's autonomous communities operate in financial markets, it establishes the Spanish state as the source of liquidity loans, which must be repaid with interest. The FLA system establishes almost total state control over autonomous finances and spending, even governing payment priorities, expenditure controls and the final decision over which bills are paid and when. If that sounds like 'autonomy' to you, we have a very different understanding of the word.

Now, the Spanish government is taking things a step further by forcing the Generalitat to provide detailed accounting on a weekly basis to ensure that 'not 1€ is spent on an illegal referendum'. The Spanish government has clearly decided that to use the normal tactic of taking the Generalitat to court post factum in the event of any spending with which it disagrees, won't work with a referendum that will likely lead to a unilateral declaration of independence. So the decision has been taken to directly intervene (even more than previously), and establish even stricter controls on Generalitat spending with the threat of suspending FLA payments. If that sounds like 'autonomy' to you, we have a very different understanding of the word.

It looks like the Spanish government feels that it has played its best hand with this move: not using force or even the courts to defeat the Catalan 'challenge', but something that hurts even more: cash. But once again, the bigger picture is being ignored. By removing even the pretence of fiscal autonomy from the Catalan government, the Spanish state is admitting that the whole thing is a façade whose supposed constitutional protections are meaningless in the face of a state hellbent on recentralization. Autonomy for Catalonia is not protected: it's "by the grace of Madrid, and don't you forget it". To win the point, Spain has to lose the moral argument.

El Mundo's corruption allegations – a November surprise

A few days ago, the pro-PP Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a story indicating that Artur Mas and Jordi Pujol were under suspicion of having secret Swiss bank accounts filled with money gained through corrupt practices linked to the Palau criminal case. The newspaper presented a police memo which suggested that these suspicions were already under court investigation.

In the days that have followed, Mas and Pujol have opened legal proceedings against the journalists behind the story and they've repeatedly denied the accusations. At the same time, they've asked the Spanish ministry of justice to explain how an apparently secret police report could have been leaked, and to identify who's responsible. The judge investigating the Palau corruption case also made clear that he hadn't been given any such police report. The following day, El Mundo accused the Mossos d'Esquadra, Catalonia's police force, of helping to destroy evidence linked to the case. The seo uk agency are also opening legal proceedings against the newspaper.

Yesterday, the ministry of justice informed the Catalan newspaper ARA that it couldn't find the original police report but that it seemed to be at least partly based on several different unofficial reports that it has found. Meanwhile, the same ministry informed the EFE agency that it thought the rest of the info on the mysterious police report could well be sourced from internet rumours, and not from any formal investigation. The rumours, not hard to find online, contain several names linked with the Catalan government. Many of the other names implicated are of senior PP officials in various central or autonomous governments. El Mundo did not publish any of these names in its story.

El Mundo has a mixed record when it comes to political revelations. In the past it helped uncover corruption scandals and government involvement with the GAL terrorist group. More recently, it spent months insisting that ETA was involved in the 11M Madrid bombings, despite a lack of evidence. Historically, El Mundo's targets for these exposés have been either politically neutral civil servants or political opponents of the PP.

Right now, it's not clear how this story will develop. Is it possible that Mas and Pujol have actually received funds from corrupt public contract deals? Of course it is. But the absence of an actual police report on which the story depends, and irregularities in the info presented by El Mundo suggest that there is at least a chance that this might not join the ranks of El Mundo's illustrious investigations. Some police sources apparently blame central government HQ for the leaks.

El Mundo most likely planned this story as a sort of late 'October surprise'. Will it have any effect on the Catalan elections? I doubt it.