Tag Archives: Mariano Rajoy

Juan Carlos I abdicates: Spain enters a new era

So Juanca has finally abdicated, official immediately. It was a ‘surprise’ announcement which shouldn’t really have surprised us at all. The timing was obvious: a week after the EU elections, so as not to get people thinking too hard  about how they want to be governed. This would have been agreed by the twin pillars of a crumbling political system: the PP and the PSOE.

This is the key gesture launching a process which will attempt to preserve the status quo against serious threats including the royal family’s declining popularity, the failure of the bipartisan political system and the Catalan independence movement. The plan is probably to have a quick succession, coronation and then a series of constitutional changes ‘proposed by the new king’ in order to reduce the increasing discontent across the country. I’m not sure that they haven’t left it too long.

Has no one told Rajoy that he should be next?

PP u-turn to offer Catalonia a new fiscal pact – what now?

It looks likely that next week will see Mariano Rajoy offer Catalonia a new fiscal settlement in an effort to deflate growing support for independence. This would represent a huge policy shift for the PP, which until now has refused to discuss any possibility of changes to how much tax revenue Catalonia receives from central government.

The aim behind this offer is obvious and it underlines the serious strategic mistake the Spanish government has made in dealing with Catalonia. Refusal to negotiate since 2012’s September 11th demonstration has fostered significant unity and growth in the pro-independence camp. The PP effectively killed off any chance of returning to the days of ‘la puta i la ramoneta‘ – the traditional model that CiU has used to get more cash from Madrid by pretending to be pro-independence. This shift aims to reintroduce a ‘third way’, with the intention of undermining Unió support for Artur Mas pressing on with plans for an unlikely referendum this November.

The question is, how successful will this manoeuvre turn out to be? Independentists will insist that Mas takes ‘ni un pas enrere’. Popular support for a referendum is around 80%. Can the PP really deflate this to acceptably low proportions? The fairest way to judge this would be to include any such offer as a third way in a consultative referendum which includes independence as an option. But the offer will almost certainly be linked to dropping plans for the ‘consulta’.

I’m not certain but I get the feeling that the PP has left it too long to change its mind. Artur Mas’s constituency has shifted significantly and he knows it. I say this because I don’t see Mas as the evil genius mastermind behind the independence movement which seems to be an indispensable position for anyone who seriously doubts the level of popular support for independence here. I think he’s an opportunist who has hitched his wagon to the estelada. The Spanish government is clearly hoping that Mas will see sense and unhitch that wagon. Or at the very least, that Mas won’t be able to swan around complaining that Madrid won’t talk.

As in any political decision, of key importance here is the personal ambition of those involved. I find it difficult to believe that Mas will back down now. And populist that he is, he’ll be thinking hard about his changed constituency and his legacy.

Could the PP’s luck be changing?

Some days you wake up to a glimmer of good news in the murk of crisis-hit Spain.

The investigating judge on the Bárcenas case sent police into the PP’s headquarters on calle Genova in Madrid last night. It looks as though the bill for renovating the party HQ a few years ago matches an amount in Barcenas’s ‘double accounting’, which would strongly suggest that the PP paid for this major construction project in cash. Cash it received in illegal and undocumented donations.

Now, I’ve lived here long enough to learn that a glimmer of hope can often turn into an oncoming train in the blink of an eye. But I’m also integrated enough to be able to take whatever pleasure I can from small moments such as this.

We’re doing Christmas at home this year for the first time ever. I plan to do some non-political stuff over at the other place. Unless the king abdicates, I might not be back on here until the new year. Bon nadal, merry Christmas and Nadolig llawen to all!

Latest allegations in the Bárcenas case: Rajoy stays put

The most recent allegations made in the PP corruption case, first over last weekend in El Mundo and today in court, have been explosive. Luís Bárcenas, having denied that he wrote the alleged ‘B accounting’ books of the PP, today admitted that they were his work. He deposited digital copies of – apparently – all the documents related to the case with the judge. He went on to claim that Rajoy and party secretary Maria Dolores de Cospedal did receive cash payments from his slush fund in  2008, 2009 and 2010, totalling €90,000.

Rajoy, in a dodgy press conference tactic, took a question from the friendly ABC newspaper instead of from El Mundo, and read a prepared statement. He won’t resign. Of course he won’t. And nobody was expecting that he would. But the PSOE has again called for his immediate resignation. They’re also trying to get enough cross-party support for a censure motion against Rajoy in parliament. I can’t see how this would achieve anything but a symbolic defeat because the PP has an absolute majority.

If Rajoy has one political instinct, it is to ignore everything and carry on regardless. While often seen as burying his head in the sand, El Jueves had a better metaphor for the man today.

 El Jueves - Rajoy no dimite

But stepping back from the excitement of what seem to be such clear grounds for Rajoy’s resignation, we’re faced with two problems. The first is the source of all this information: Luís Bárcenas. The problem with him is that he’s clearly – evidently – a very dishonest man. So why should we trust him now when half of what he denied previously he now admits? The same goes for El Mundo and its crusading editor, Pedro J. Ramírez. El Mundo has a decent reputation for exposing some big corruption cases. But Pedro J.R. is a PP sectarian who loathes Rajoy. He also pushed bizarre conspiracy theories about the 11M bombings for years, and backed them up with some alleged documentary evidence.

So should we trust Bárcenas and El Mundo this time? Well, the question is whether we trust the documentary evidence that Bárcenas has apparently submitted to the court today. He now says it is a full secondary accounting system which he maintained (why? self preservation?) as he handed over millions of Euros in unregistered donations to party officials over 20 years. Trusting this evidence is key. So why do I?

Well, because two PP officials have already admitted to receiving these ‘extra payments’. Eugenio Nasarre and Pío García Escudero both made this admission in May. To now say that the documents that Bárcenas has produced are false would suggest a conspiracy at a much higher level, including various PP officials in an incredibly elaborate anti-Rajoy plot. No, the more believable version is that Bárcenas, realising he has no protection whatsoever from the party he gave so many years to, has  decided to sink them all.

And this leads us to the second problem. Assuming we do trust the ledger books, what other corroborating evidence is there? It will be easy for Rajoy, Cospedal et al to insist that whatever the court says, the documents are false. They could string this case out for decades. So we need some evidence other than the ledgers and it’s still not clear that Bárcenas has this. The PP has talked about releasing tax statements for all its MPs to prove their immaculate record. This, naturally, is insulting. If they want us to believe that their tax records prove that they didn’t get envelopes full of cash, they’re sorely mistaken.

So this is where we are: what seems to be clear incrimination for the head of Spain’s government, and no solution in sight. We can only hope that Bárcenas has something else hidden under his blanket.

Wert’s education reform abandoned

The Ley Wert was unpopular for a number of reasons. It aimed to take power from parent-teacher governance boards and give it to political figures. It introduced streaming for academic and vocational training a year earlier than before, reducing standard schooling for anyone going into vocational training. And it threatened the linguistic immersion system in Catalonia, a system proved to work, in order to downgrade the relevance of Catalan in schools.

From the government’s point of view, shelving unpopular reforms after massive strikes and protests may be a mistake. They may be trying to make themselves look flexible.

From my point of view, what they’ve shown us is that we can win.

Can Rajoy survive the Bárcenas case?

I’ve been meaning to write about the political corruption cases rocking CiU and the PP over the last few weeks, but every time I start an article, a new case appears. Since Gürtel, we’ve had (to name a few) Palau, Sabadell, Lloret… and Bárcenas. All the cases are serious but Bárcenas is the big daddy of corruption scandals. It’s is a case which could – and should – bring down the government.


Originally linked with Gürtel, the Bárcenas case involves significant cash payments made on a monthly basis to senior members of the PP by its then treasurer, Luis Bárcenas. The money, mainly party donations and kickbacks, was handed out in envelopes. This went on for about 25 years until it suddenly stopped a few years ago, apparently on Mariano Rajoy’s orders.

Bárcenas also benefited from the tax amnesty which was one of Rajoy’s first policies. He managed to legalize millions of Euros kept previously in Swiss bank accounts.

What’s stunning about this case is that firstly, this isn’t mere anonymous claims made in El Mundo. It’s stuff that Bárcenas and his legal team seems to be admitting to. Secondly, Mariano Rajoy himself allegedly received €25,000 a year for 11 years in dodgy money. And this may have gone on until 2009.

With a spring and summer of protests on the way, I’m starting to wonder if Rajoy’s government can survive. If it does, it will be through our failure to act as citizens and residents of this corrupt country.

Winning the peace? Just a thought.

Does anyone else get the impression that the PP and PSOE are now positioning themselves for future national elections in Spain rather than the debate over a potential referendum? There’s a shared purpose in words from Rajoy, his barons, Montilla, Rubalcaba, Chacon, etc… and it doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with the debate I hear going on in Catalonia.

Elections this autumn for Catalonia

UPDATE: the elections will be held on November 25th.

The Catalan newspaper Ara is reporting that Artur Mas is about to call early elections, likely to occur on November 18 or 25 or December 2.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy stated in parliament today that he doesn’t agree with the Catalan view that a new fiscal pact ought to be agreed. This was supposed to have been the subject of discussion in a meeting between Rajoy and Mas tomorrow morning in Madrid. It is believed that Mas could call the elections tomorrow, immediately after this meeting.

There is widespread expectation that these elections could take on the form of a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain. For this to happen, the governing CiU will have to form a national bloc with parties sympathetic to independence: ERC, ICV and SI. The Catalan federations of the two main Spanish parties, PP and PSOE will oppose independence, with support from Ciudadanos.

The groups in favour of independence appear to see that speed is of the essence now. They aim to benefit from the upswing in support for separatism seen at last week’s demonstration in Barcelona. They probably also fear the Spanish government invoking section 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows for central government to establish direct rule over autonomous communities seen to be in breach of the constitution.

Does this render independence any more likely? It’s hard to say. There can be no doubt that more people here are taking the question seriously. But CiU will have to negotiate a pact with leftwing ERC and ICV to have a chance of an absolute majority. But I get the feeling that there are plenty of Catalans who might balk at the last minute, either due to the uncertainty that independence might bring or because of their dislike for voting for any CiU-led coalition.

Because of the speed with which the independence movement has gathered pace and the possible sanctioning of Catalonia’s self-government by Madrid, these elections will likely prove to be the supreme test that separatism must pass if it is going to succeed.

What do you think will happen?

A march in Barcelona that surprised everyone #11S2012

Barcelona, September 11th 2012

This blog has seen plenty of debate concerning the whole independence issue. In May, I wrote that I wasn’t sure that Catalan independence had majority support. I now believe that it does.

As of today, I’m happy to declare myself in favour of Catalan independence. (You can now put the trumpets away)

We went to Barcelona today. It took an hour to get to Via Laetana from Gràcia FGC station. The police say 1.5 million people turned out; more than the organisers expected. The PSC didn’t support it. Convergència was taken by surprise. Unió was utterly shocked. All the parties have been sidelined by a popular movement that can’t be ignored.

Today’s demonstration was a step towards Catalan independence. The largest demonstration Barcelona and Catalonia has ever seen, and unequivocally in support of independence. I find it difficult to believe that Rajoy will offer us a ‘pacte fiscal’ that does the job. When he fails to do so, I expect early elections here and a national platform in support of a referendum.

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?