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Analysis: ‘We are still far from seeing any constitutional reform’

Carles Puigdemont remains in Brussels and Catalonia without a president. As the Spanish government w..



Carles Puigdemont remains in Brussels and Catalonia without a president. As the Spanish government waits for the next move from pro-separatist parties, several issues remain to dissect.

Eduardo Bayón, an expert on Spanish constitutional affairs, discussed Elsa Artadi as a potential new Catalan president, how further delays could lead to new regional elections and the unlikelihood of any constitutional reforms anytime soon.

The Local Spain: Supporters of independence have suggested that Puigdemont could remain as a 'symbolic' president, with an administration in Catalonia actually administering the region. Do you think this could end up being the solution?

Eduardo Bayón: No, I do not think that is the solution. I believe that this proposal must be understood in the context of a battle between Junts per Catalunya and ERC, whereby the latter in order to avoid new elections and seek a viable path within the legality of Article 155, has tried to remove Puigdemont from power by offering him a symbolic charge.

The greatest asset that the independence movement has, and the electoral result of December 21st makes clear, is Puigdemont himself, who aims to retain the accumulating power of the pro-independence forces. He knows about his position of strength and that in a hypothetical new election his result would improve. On the other hand, the ERC's move to postpone the full investiture, the wearing away of pro-independence electorate and recently-heard cries of "traitors" place him under pressure.

TLS: In our past correspondence, you mentioned the potential of certain constitutional reforms to help put an end to the current situation in Catalonia. Are we closer to seeing any of these enacted?

EB: No, the situation of Catalonia has devoured everything. The polarized scenario that has been drawn up in the last year has been in full force and is generating a reaction against the Catalan independence movement while nourishing a Spanish nationalism that is shielded by the current Constitution. The result is that the modification of the Constitution now seems unfeasible even though it could help solve political problems. Therefore, I believe that we are still far from seeing any constitutional reform, which would also happen because the political forces agreed with the PP, since its majority in the Senate gives it a veto capacity of any attempt to modify the status quo.

TLS: What other candidates for the Catalan president could help to end the current stalemate? If a candidate other than Puigdemont is sworn in as Catalan president, what policies are they likely to promote at the beginning?

EB: The alternatives to Puigdemont I think is Elsa Artadi, current spokeswoman of Junts per Catalunya and director of the electoral campaign of the independence formation, which has become a great asset for the party. The other option would also go through Oriol Junqueras, who although in prison, could be inaugurated as president – this would effectively suggest a restoration of the previous government deposed by the application of Article 155.

But as I said before, I think that the fact that there is a struggle between the two main political forces of the independence movement for hegemony brings everything closer to a new election vis-a-vis the legal impossibility of swearing-in Puigdemont. But take into account that it is Junts per Catalunya who has the better electoral prospects if there is a return to the polls, which gives them a position of strength in negotiations with the ERC.

TLS: The Spanish media seem to be tired of the Catalan stagnation. But what is the general feeling among Spanish people? Are there any important recent survey to show this?

EB: We have data about the importance that Spaniards attach to the independence of Catalonia. The Center for Sociological Research (CIS) regularly surveys about the issues that most concern Spaniards and that these consider as the main problems in Spain. In October, when the Catalan question was at its height, the independence of Catalonia became the second problem that most concerned the respondents, being for 29% the main problem faced by Spain.

In the last survey, published this week and carried out during the month of January, the independence of Catalonia falls to fifth position – only 15% of respondents consider it the main problem for Spain. This shows that the presence of the Catalan independence debate begins to be assumed with some normalization, and that, in addition, a large part of the Spanish – between the application of Article 155 and the holding of the December 21st elections – have ceased to see it as one of the main problems facing the country.

TLS: A report from the Columbia School of Journalism argued that several Spanish media have shown their impartiality in the coverage of Catalan affairs. Do you think the Catalan situation has highlighted a problem in the Spanish media?

EB: It is true that many of the major Spanish media have shown a coincident and unanimous point of view that is contrary to the independence process and that they have also done so with clear intentions and positioning. In addition, being the shared position on the Catalan issue, they have shown a lack of plurality, and above all of impartiality, as pointed out in the report of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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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’.


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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.


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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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