Newly elected Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent looks through a door after holding meetings with regional party leaders. Photo: AFP
The new pro-independence speaker of Catalonia's parliament on Thursday started meeting party representatives to pick a regional president, with exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont in the lead for the post.
The central government in Madrid has already warned it will take the matter to court and keep direct control over Catalonia if Puigdemont tries to govern from Belgium, where he and other ousted regional ministers fled after declaring independence from Spain in October.
But Puigdemont himself insists he has the legitimate mandate of the people to rule after his Together for Catalonia list won the most votes within the separatist block in December elections.
On Wednesday, the region's separatists took a first step in that direction when they regained control of the Catalan parliament.
The assembly had been dissolved on October 27th by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in response to the breakaway attempt.
Fresh from a victory in December elections that gave them an absolute majority, separatist lawmakers elected Roger Torrent of the left-wing, pro-independence ERC party as speaker.
Might Puigdemont attempt to govern from exile? Photo: AFP
Their next aim is to regain control of the government by voting for Puigdemont as their president in a parliamentary session due by the end of the month.
Torrent, 38, is holding talks with all the different assembly groups to designate the candidate with most support.
He met Thursday with the Socialists, who oppose independence, and Catalunya en Comu, the Catalan allies of far-left party Podemos, who are also against Puigdemont as candidate.
He also held talks with Rajoy's Popular Party and the far-left, radical, separatist CUP party.
Torrent has until January 31st to officially propose a candidate — presumably Puigdemont given the separatists are in the majority — but his task is complex.
Puigdemont is in Brussels in self-imposed exile after escaping just days after the regional parliament declared independence.
He risks arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his role in the failed independence bid if he comes back to Spain.
He wants to present his candidacy and government programme to parliament — a prerequisite to being voted in — remotely via videolink or by having someone else read it for him.
The Catalan parliament's legal experts, however, say the contender has to be physically present and Madrid has vowed to block him.
After meeting with Torrent, Miquel Iceta, the Socialists' leader in Catalonia, said his party could not "fathom the possibility" of a presidential candidate not being physically present.
But the final say lies with Torrent and his deputies who will ultimately decide whether or not to allow it.
Torrent gave a conciliatory first parliamentary speech on Wednesday.
"I don't intend to renounce my political convictions but democratic principles and living together in harmony must take precedence," he told Catalan radio on Thursday.
Last week, Torrent hinted that he would follow what the parliament's legal experts said.
His ERC party has said it will support Puigdemont as president, but has eluded questions over electing him remotely and has asked his Together for Catalonia movement to be "realistic."
Madrid, meanwhile, has warned it will take the matter to the Constitutional Court if Puigdemont is elected.
By Daniel Bosque / AFP
Sitges Mayor among others arrested in police investigation of alleged corruption
Aurora Carbonell, the mayor of Sitges and from the ERC party, has been arrested in connection with an alleged corruption investigation, that has also implicated 12 other people, including eight local councillors from the period 2017-2022.
At least four people have been arrested as part of the case, including the local ERC councillor Jaume Monasterio, who was responsible for public works in the last legislature.
The group are being investigated for the crimes of misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and falsification of documents in the awarding of grants and minor contracts in the previous two mandates.
The Spanish National Police and officers of their Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit (UDEF) carried out several searches on Wednesday morning in Sitges, including municipal offices and the homes of two people. The investigation is focused into the process of subsidies granted by the Sitges Town Council to the social entity ‘Taula del Tercer Sector’ (Third Sector Board) and another local co-operative. The police seized documents relating to the entities under investigation.
According to local sources, the police would be investigating, among other elements, if the entity was paid twice for the same service, or received a subsidy and a minor contract, for example.
According to El Pais, police sources have said that the investigation affects the local departments of Beaches and Social Welfare. The police are analysing various specific grants, some of €45,000, €100,000 and €120,000, among others, which may have allegedly gone to the entities under suspicion. According to reports, the total sum under investigation is €600,000.
The starting point of the case stems from a police report detailing the alleged irregularities in May 2022, discovered by the council’s own inspectors.
Carbonell, who was recently re-elected as mayor, has been mayor of Sitges since 2019. The court has ordered for Carbonell and eight councillors to be investigated, in addition to four others who were part of one of the entities and cooperatves also under investigation. The period of alleged corruption is over four years, and also affects the government team prior to Carbonell, according to reports, under the leadership of Miquel Forns (CiU).
The Sitges Town Council has since issued a statement to say that the investigation is connected to ‘external irregularities’ and that it denies any type of wrongdoing.
‘The facts under investigation had already been analysed internally,’ the statement read. ‘The Town Council, once possible external irregularities were detected, commissioned legal professionals to clarify the facts, stopping the subsidies, reviewing the files and starting the process for the return of the subsidies that were not fully justified. The Council has reports that ensure the absence of administrative and even less criminal responsibilities, and which demonstrate the diligence of the Sitges Town Council.’
The statement went on to say that the council ‘is a transparent institution, which has a rigorous code of ethics that ensures the highest standards of integrity’.
It said that it would be making itself ‘available to the authorities in order to show our full collaboration in whatever is necessary’ and ‘reiterates our willingness to cooperate with justice at all times’.
Spain’s far-right Vox seek to make gains in 28 May local and regional elections
Spain’s third largest political group in the national parliament, the far-right Vox party, is looking to make gains in the local and regional elections due to be held across the country on 28 May.
Since it entered a regional government for the first time in Castilla y León last year, Vox has attacked the unions and pushed polarising positions on social issues, including abortion and transgender rights.
It is now poised to spread its influence beyond the sparsely populated region near Madrid, with the party hoping to make gains in the elections at the end of May.
Surveys suggest the main opposition, the right-wing People’s Party (PP), could need the support of Vox to govern in half of the 12 regions casting ballots, just as it did in Castilla y León last year.
Polls also indicate the PP is on track to win a year-end general election but would need Vox to form a working majority and oust socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his coalition government from office.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal [pictured at a recent rally in Chinchón, near Madrid] has called the PP-VOX coalition government in office in Castilla y León since March 2022 a ‘showroom’ and ‘an example of the alternative Spain needs’.
It is Spain’s first government to include a far-right party since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
In Castilla y León, Vox has slashed funding to unions, which the party has vowed to ‘put in their place’ if it comes to power nationally. Trade union UGT was forced to lay off 40% of its staff in Castilla y León last month and scale back programmes to promote workspace safety. Spain’s other main union, the CCOO, is reportedly preparing to follow suit.
Vox has also angered LGBTQ groups by refusing to allow the regional parliament to be lit up in the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the gay rights movement, for Pride festivities as in past years when the PP governed alone.
In addition, the regional vice-president, Vox’s Juan García-Gallardo, has railed against a law passed by Spain’s leftist central government that extends transgender rights.
The 32-year-old lawyer warned earlier this month that women would now be ‘forced to share locker rooms with hairy men at municipal swimming pools’.
Vox’s most contested initiative was a proposal that doctors offer women seeking an abortion a 4D ultrasound scan to try to discourage them from going ahead with the procedure.
The idea was swiftly condemned by Spain’s leftist central government, and Castilla y León’s PP president Alfonso Fernández Mañueco stopped the measure from going ahead.
The issue highlighted the hazards for the PP of joining forces with Vox, which was launched in 2013 and is now the third-largest party in the national parliament.
Spain – Gas falls below 90 euros per MWh for the first time in almost two months
The price of TTF natural gas for delivery next month has fallen below 90 euros on Friday for the first time in almost two months and closes a week marked by the decision of the European Commission to cap gas with a drop of 29, 36%.
According to data from the Bloomberg platform, gas closed this Friday at 83 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh), 8.9% less than the day before and the first time it has lost 90 euros since last October 31.
After months of negotiations, the EU agreed on Monday to set a cap of 180 euros on contracts linked to the Amsterdam TTF index with a price difference of at least 35 euros above the average price of liquefied natural gas in the markets.
EU countries agree on a cap of 180 euros for gas with the support of Germany
In a report this week, the Swiss investment bank Julius Baer indicated that the chances of the mechanism being activated are low and pointed out that the chosen formula was not very effective in avoiding the multiplier effect that gas has on the price of electricity. However, he reiterated what was said in other previous reports: “Energy supply risks are minimal and prices should continue to decline in the future” due to the availability of raw materials from Asia to offset cuts from Russia.
Gas tends to fall during the hot months due to lower demand, but this summer it has reached historic heights as European countries were buying to face the winter with their tanks full and reduce their dependence on Russia. The price fell in September and October due to lower demand once the warehouses were full due to the high temperatures at the beginning of autumn, but in November it picked up again and 66% more expensive.
This article was originally published on Público
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