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Analysis: New PM brings glimmer of hope to Catalan crisis

A banner reading “Free political prisoners and those exiled” hangs from the balcony of the Generalit..



A banner reading "Free political prisoners and those exiled" hangs from the balcony of the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona after the swearing-in ceremony of the new Catalan government on June 2, 2018.

Socialist Pedro Sanchez's arrival to power in Spain has brought a glimmer of hope that icy ties will thaw between Madrid and Catalan separatists, who are wary of the new leader but happy that veteran conservative Mariano Rajoy has gone.

It was Catalan separatist lawmakers — along with Basque nationalists — who swung the balance in favour of a no-confidence vote brought Friday against Rajoy due to corruption woes afflicting his party.

As opposition leader, 46-year-old economist Sanchez was deeply critical of Catalonia's secession bid last October.

He backed Rajoy's imposition of direct rule on the region after separatist leaders declared Catalan independence. But he softened his tone as Catalan separatist lawmakers in the national parliament backed his no-confidence motion. He has said he wants to "build bridges" with the new regional separatist government.

The fall of the conservatives in Madrid, along with the start of a new executive in Catalonia, could allow "the situation to improve," says Joan Botella, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Sanchez's speech in parliament was not particularly ambitious where the wealthy divided region is concerned, he says. But he could profit from divisions within the separatist camp.

The more moderate want to ditch the unilateral route to independence after several separatist leaders were jailed over their role in the secession bid. Meanwhile radicals like deposed president Carles Puigdemont, who is currently in Germany in self-exile, are in favour of keeping the conflict alive.

Sanchez's swearing-in on Saturday coincided with that of new Catalan president Quim Torra's executive, which automatically triggers the end of direct rule.

"The pro-independence movement is declining, there are internal divisions and with the new government Puigdemont is going to be less important," says Botella. "So maybe Sanchez will be lucky."

Things have not gone off to a good start.

Torra, a hardline separatist, criticised for writing tweets or articles deemed offensive to Spaniards, was described by Sanchez as a "racist" and "supremacist."

Sanchez even dubbed Torra the Jean-Marie Le Pen of Spanish politics, referring to the controversial former far-right leader in France.

"The worst insults came from him and people from his (Socialist) party," said a regional presidency source, who wished to remain anonymous. "We don't have a good opinion at all, but Rajoy was clearly worse. At least he's of fresh disposition, and can defuse the situation and allow some detente."

Since Rajoy came to power in 2011, ties between Madrid and Barcelona have consistently worsened. The tensions escalated still further in the autumn with police violence during a banned independence referendum on October 1, a subsequent failed proclamation of a republic and the imposition of direct rule.

Even if Sanchez supported Rajoy in his response to the Catalan crisis, generally speaking the Socialists have been more attuned to Catalan claims than the conservative Popular Party (PP).

Since 2013, they have called for a federal reform of Spain to give semi-autonomous regions more power and Sanchez has even defined Catalonia as a "nation."

"Even if the PSOE (Socialist party) has tried hard to look like the Popular Party… in Catalonia we know there are differences," Joan Tarda, a lawmaker with the separatist ERC party, said this week in the national parliament.

Adding to this, the main supporter of the Socialists in the no-confidence vote was far-left Podemos, which defends the right to hold an independence referendum in Catalonia.

"There could be a change, maybe not substantial but more like an offer for dialogue, the will to reopen channels to find a negotiated solution to the conflict," says Berta Barbet, editor of political analysis website Politikon.

But any concessions to Catalan separatists could be rejected by members of Sanchez's own party, the PP and especially Ciudadanos, the centre-right party that is on the rise in opinion polls for its aggressive anti-independence stance.

"There will be very strong opposition," acknowledges Barbet. "But if there is a moment when the PSOE could make a different offer to de-escalate the conflict, it's now, because part of Spanish society has realised how important it is to resolve the Catalan issue."

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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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Spain – The retirement age rises to 66 years



Ordinary retirement at age 65 ends for those who have contributed less than 38 years. In fact, 2023 will be the last year in which this can be done since it will be necessary to have a contribution career of a minimum of 37 years and nine months to be able to retire with the reference age of the last century, since it was established in 1919, and once the year is over another quarter will be added to be able to do it without cuts in the benefit.
This requirement means that to access ordinary retirement at age 65 without loss of pay, it will be necessary to have been working, at least, since April 1985 for those who exercise this right in December 2023 and since May 1984 for those who intend to do it in January.

More than ten million contributory pensioners
In the last decade, and coinciding with the implementation of the delay program, the real retirement age of Spanish workers has increased by one year, from 63.9 in 2012 to 64.8 in mid-2022, according to data from the Financial Economic Report of the Social Security included in the General State Budget.

Contributory pensions will have a historic rise of 8.5% as of January as a result of the disproportionate increase in the CPI, while for non-contributory pensions the revision will be 15%. This review will place the average pension of the contributory system at 1,187 euros per pay, while the retirement pension will rise to 1,365, the disability pension will reach 1,122 and the widow’s pension will reach 847, as a result of applying the 8.5% increase.

The Social Security forecasts point to next year, and while waiting to find out the real effects that the rise may have on the payroll due to its “call effect” to bring forward retirement given the opportunity to alleviate with it the penalties for anticipating it, the number of pensioners will consolidate above ten million, with almost two-thirds of them (6.37) as retirees, to which will be added 2.3 million widows and almost one affected by work disabilities.

This record number of pensioners will place the cost of pensions at 209,165 million euros, the bulk of which (196,399, 93.8%) will be used to pay benefits, including non-contributory ones. Health care has a budget of 1,890 million euros and social services another 3,791, while the remaining 7,144 are dedicated to operating expenses.

On the revenue side, the largest contribution comes from the contribution chapter, which will amount to 152,075 million and will leave the gap with contributory benefits at 36,765.
The imbalance will be covered by a contribution of 38,904 from the Government, to which is added a chapter of others worth 18,116 and which includes everything from sanctions to asset disposals, among other concepts.

Read more of this from the source Público

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