He's young, liberal, Catalan and a fan of France's Emmanuel Macron and Canada's Justin Trudeau.
Now, boosted by the separatist crisis which his centrist Ciudadanos party has long fought against, Albert Rivera has big ambitions — dethroning Spain's current prime minister and becoming the first Catalan premier since the country transitioned to democracy in the 1970s.
"I want to govern Spain also as a Catalan… to have a very clear vision of what has to be done in Catalonia with regards to nationalism," he tells AFP.
Separatism not over
In 2006, when Ciudadanos was founded in Catalonia to fight against growing nationalism and regional corruption, national politics was but a far-flung dream.
Now though, it is the fourth largest party in the Spanish parliament and the most voted in Catalonia where its anti-independence stance resonates with hundreds of thousands.
But it still has limited power in the region, as its 36 seats out of 135 in the regional assembly can't counter the 70 lawmakers of the three separatist parties.
Rivera warns against under-estimating the separatist movement, part of which has renounced any unilateral break from Spain after an unsuccessful attempt on October 27th.
"The Catalan separatist movement is going to take a half step back to regain strength," he tells AFP.
"Spain as a country and Europe as a continent and an union must prepare for a political and intellectual battle against nationalism," he says.
At a national level, opinion polls say Ciudadanos is on the rise on the back of the Catalan crisis.
Polling firm Metroscopia even puts it ahead of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP).
Rivera, a former company lawyer and ex swimming champion, insists his party's rise is not a mere flash-in-the-pan, even if opinion polls have in the past overestimated his grouping, known for its trademark orange colour.
The PP, he says, is weathered.
Critics of Ciudadanos accuse the party of being a more modern version of the conservatives, having accepted to back the PP in 2016 in order for Rajoy to be able to rule with a minority government.
Rivera retorts that was in exchange for social reforms, fighting corruption and implementing more transparency.
The PP "isn't doing anything," he says, accusing the party of "not cleaning up corruption" which has long dirtied its image.
"Mariano Rajoy, by nature, after some 40 years in politics, doesn't appear to be a reformer, a dynamic man," he says.
Fan of Macron
Rivera's tone changes, however, when he talks about French president Emmanuel Macron.
He "is a model to anyone that believes in a new way of doing politics and anyone who is liberal and progressive," he says.
Just like Canada's Trudeau, he adds.
Rivera believes a party can be liberal on economic issues and progressive on social matters.
Where Catalonia is concerned, Rivera — along with his party's leader in Catalonia, Ines Arrimadas — backed tough measures in the fight against the separatist crisis.
After a declaration of independence on October 27, Rajoy put the semi-autonomous region under direct rule from Madrid, and sacked its government.
Rivera says the region, where 47.5 percent of voters cast their ballot for separatist parties in December regional polls, needs "a 10-year plan, a strategic plan."
Rivera and Ines Arrimadas, the leader of the Catalan branch of the party celebrate their party's success at the polls in the December regional election in Catalonia. Photo: AFP
Ciudadanos is often accused of adopting a hard line against separatist voters — the same accusations leveled against Rajoy — unlike the more conciliatory stance adopted by the Catalan Socialists, also against independence.
Rivera retorts the independence movement must be respected – while stressing that respect must likewise be accorded to "those who aren't pro-independence, who respect the law and want to be Spanish."
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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