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Spain’s local elections set to put PM on the back foot



Spain votes Sunday in local and regional polls which will be a barometer for a year-end general election that surveys suggest Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will lose, heralding a return of the right.

The stakes are high for Sánchez, whose Socialist party governs the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy in coalition with the far-left Podemos.

Voters will cast their ballots for mayors in 8,131 municipalities across the country while also electing leaders and assemblies in 12 of Spain’s 17 regions — 10 of which are currently run by the Socialists.

Voting opens at 9:00 am (0700 GMT) and closes at 8:00 pm with some 35.5 million voters eligible to cast ballots in the local elections and 18.3 million eligible to vote in the regional elections.

Spain does not issue exit polls, with the initial results due out around 10:00 pm.

If the left “exceeds expectations and manages to retain control of most regional governments in play… this would suggest the national elections will be very closely fought, and bode well for the left’s chances of staying in power”, Eurasia Group analyst Federico Santi said this week.

But if the polls — which forecast a shift to the right — are correct, success at a regional level will provide opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo, head of the right-wing Popular Party (PP), with the “momentum” he needs to win the end-of-year election, Santi said.

Sunday’s vote finds Sánchez, in office since 2018, at several disadvantages.

He faces voter fatigue with his left-wing government, soaring inflation — even though the rate is lower in Spain than other EU nations — and the resulting fall in purchasing power.

He has also struggled to contain the fallout from the repeated crises that have shaken his left-wing coalition.


Feijóo has done everything in his power to turn these elections into a national referendum on Sánchez.

In campaigning he has denounced the prime minister as not only pandering to the far left, but also to the Basque and Catalan separatist parties on which his minority government has relied for parliamentary support to push its reforms through.

“I have come to ask for the votes from the Spain that wants to overthrow ‘Sanchismo’ this coming Sunday,” Feijóo said closing his campaign on Friday night, using a derogatory term for Sánchez’s policies.

In his own closing remarks, Sánchez focused on his government’s record in bolstering the economy, fighting a drought and managing Spain’s water resources — an increasingly important issue as climate change gathers pace.

“Social democratic policies suit Spain a lot better than neoliberal policies, because we manage the economy a lot better,” he said.

Of the 12 regions where new leaders will be elected, 10 are currently run by the Socialists, either alone or in coalition.

The number of regions that the PP manages to wrest from the Socialists will be important in determining the public perception of whether Feijóo has won this first round — and whether his election as premier at the year’s end is a foregone conclusion.

A far-right problem

But Feijóo has his own problems — namely the far-right Vox, the third-largest party in parliament, which hopes to become an indispensable partner for the PP.

Since last year, the two parties have governed together in just one region, Castile and León, which will not be voting on Sunday.

Aware that key to winning the general election is conquering the centre, Feijóo has sought to moderate the PP’s line since taking over as leader last year, while also keeping Vox at a distance. A strong regional showing by Vox would put him on the back foot.

The election campaign, which ended on Friday, was marred in its final week by allegations of fraud involving postal votes, which have largely implicated individuals allied with the Socialists.

Although the impact remains hard to assess, the allegations pose yet another hurdle for Sánchez, who has made good governance a priority for his administration, in contrast with the corruption of various former right-wing governments.


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Maroccogate Sparks Controversy In EU Parliament



For the first time in more than twenty years, the Strasbourg Assembly has adopted a text unfavorable to the Cherifian kingdom, criticizing the attacks on freedom of expression in the country. This vote comes barely a month after the corruption scandal of MEPs broke out, in which Rabat is implicated.

Short Resolution

It’s a very short resolution on the situation of Moroccan journalists, adopted Thursday, January 19 in the European Parliament by 356 votes for, 32 against and 42 abstentions… And it’s a small revolution within the institution meeting in plenary session in Strasbourg. It took “more than twenty years and a corruption scandal like ‘Marocgate’ for the European Parliament to finally be able to talk about Morocco and human rights”, sighed, on Wednesday, the Spaniard Miguel Urban Crespo, of the group of the unitary left, at the origin of this resolution.

This text of less than 500 words urges in particular “the Moroccan authorities to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the media, to grant imprisoned journalists, in particular Omar Radi, Soulaimane Raissouni and Taoufik Bouachrine, a fair trial with all the guarantees of ‘due process’. It “strongly condemns the misuse of sexual assault allegations to deter journalists from carrying out their duties” and “believes that such abuses endanger the rights of women.”

But he goes further. The text supported by left-wing groups, environmentalists, but also by liberals and sovereignists, indicates that the Strasbourg Assembly “is concerned by the allegations that the Moroccan authorities have tried to corrupt elected members of the European Parliament”.

This marks a real change of footing of the European institution vis-à-vis Morocco. Over the past twenty years, elected European representatives have rarely voted on texts concerning one of the most important African partners of the European Union (EU). According to the database of the European Parliament, half a dozen texts mentioned Morocco, in particular the agricultural and fisheries agreements between the EU and this country. But none addressed the issue of human rights.

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Ukraine Conflict: Political Resolution Amid Armament Debate



Belgium has announced 92 million euros in additional military aid to Ukraine, the largest Belgian support package, bringing the total Defense effort to 186 million euros since the start of the war in February 2022. According to some international comparisons, however, Belgium remains at the bottom of the ranking of countries supporting Ukraine.

At a press conference, both the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister dismissed this argument, preferring the notion of complementarity to that of competition between nations. “In our interactions with the Ukrainians, they know what we have and are very specific in their needs. There is no point in sending material for which there is no specific request”, underlined Alexander De Croo placing Belgium on the same level as France, Spain and Italy, and recalling that the kingdom was one of the first countries to provide military support to Ukraine.

A Substantial Sum

“92 million euros is a substantial sum”, comments Christophe Wasinski, professor of International Relations at the ULB, expert in the fields of legitimizing war and questions of armament and security. But he refuses to compare it with the sums allocated by other countries, because “we do not have total visibility, or at least complete data, on what is provided to Ukraine by the different European countries” .

He adds that certain forms of aid are not quantified and come under agreements between States, pointing in particular to the indirect support provided by Belgium to Ukraine a few months ago, when our country sold to Great Britain heavy vehicles of the self-propelled howitzer type, put back into service across the Channel with a view to being exported to Ukraine. “It is also, he says, a form of contribution, on the political level, and that is essential”.

Comparison is Not Right

“We must be extremely careful when we try to classify the States to say that there are good and bad students in terms of support for Ukraine”, continues the researcher, pointing to the interest of some, according to him. , to create a form of emulation to encourage others to deliver more material to kyiv.

With regard to Belgium, we know that some of the arms and ammunition that have just been released come from Defense stocks, while another is purchased from the arms industry to be transferred to Ukraine. “If we export weapons currently belonging to the Belgian army, that means that we have to buy new weapons for defence. This is a calculation that seems to have been made in certain European countries: giving up rather old weapons for to be able to take advantage of the European fund and renew its equipment. In the second dimension, this seems to be entirely beneficial for the Belgian armaments industry, in a commercial logic”.

What Impact on Defense Stocks?

Theoretically, military aid given to another country is not supposed to undermine a national stockpile of weapons that might be needed to defend itself or project itself abroad. “In terms of security for Belgium, there are not many risks”, assures the professor.

“The conflict is taking place in Ukraine, the Russian army which was presented as the third most powerful army in the world is blocked in Ukraine, we realize that its military potential is much weaker than we thought. So even if the Belgian stocks are started for the moment, there are no risks in the long term, at least conventional, for Belgian territory. Although there is always a risk of escalation and geographical extension of the conflict towards countries borders of Ukraine […] but nobody today imagines the Russian army arriving in Western Europe after its Ukrainian campaign”, he explains.

“Turning Point” or War of Attrition?

According to Christophe Wasinski, “as long as we concentrate exclusively on arms deliveries, we do not concentrate on possible negotiations and on a possible political resolution of the problem and its origins […] However, the debate , more and more, is devoting itself to these questions of armament. It is for me extremely problematic because it conceals the essential: the political dimension of the conflict”.

“Today, we hear in the speeches of many experts or politicians, the idea that we are at a turning point. But we have been repeating it for a while… Maybe we are not there at all, maybe we are simply in a war of attrition and that we are running out, which for me is extremely worrying”, concludes the political scientist.

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Scholz: Key To Ukraine’s Future, Awaits Biden’s Action – POLITICO



International efforts to ship modern Ukrainian tanks may depend on Germany – but it waits for the US to act first, which is not happening.

Ahead of a meeting of Western defense ministers on Friday at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is urged to help Ukraine secure Germany’s top Leopard 2 tanks ahead of a possible spring offensive. The reason: In addition to overseeing its own fleet of Leopard tanks — and Europe’s largest economy — Scholz must approve donations of German-made tanks from other countries.

Germany is expected to soon allow at least allies like Poland and Finland to send their Leopards to Kyiv. And officials and diplomats in Berlin say the Chancellor may even offer to help Ukraine train and maintain the Leopards.

But that’s the farthest Germany is likely to go yet. Unless, of course, the United States is also willing to send tanks. Scholz indicated as much on Wednesday, keeping a low profile on the subject when pressed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We are [among] those who do the most” on military aid to Ukraine, the Chancellor said, listing nearly four minutes of military equipment that Berlin has already provided or will soon send, from air defense systems to the Marder infantry fighting vehicles.

“We never do anything alone, but with others, especially the United States, which is very important in this common task of defending Ukrainian independence and sovereignty,” he added.

It’s a line German officials have been repeating in recent days: Berlin’s decision on Leopard tanks is tied to the Americans’ willingness to send in their own M1 Abrams tanks. Yet as President Joe Biden’s administration prepares to announce a major new US arms package for Ukraine on Friday, the aid is unlikely to include US tanks.

This is causing a headache for European leaders like Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who wants to form a broad alliance of countries that would each supply a few Leopards to Ukraine, in addition to a large tank battlegroup.

So far, only Finland has publicly mentioned the possibility of participating in such a program. Many other countries seem to be holding back as long as mighty Germany remains on the fence.

Spain, for example, which has more than 200 Leopard 2 tanks, has already said that the issue of sending some of these tanks to Ukraine “is not on the table as we speak today”. , as Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said on Tuesday in Davos. .

Yet EU diplomats say countries like Spain could hardly maintain such a line if Berlin – and Washington – changed course.

In Search of a Leader

The pressure on Scholz intensified after Britain announced last weekend that it would send its own Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is convening a meeting in Estonia on Thursday with defense ministers from Eastern Europe and the Baltic to further ratchet up the pressure on Berlin.

Western officials fear Ukraine has little time left before Russia launches a new, broader offensive against Ukraine | Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP via Getty images
The French are also considering sending their own Leclerc tanks to Ukraine in an effort to provide Berlin with a common framework for tank expeditions.

“The subject is complicated and has not yet been settled in Paris. But we are thinking about it,” a French official told POLITICO, before nodding to an upcoming meeting on Sunday. “We will see what will be decided during the Franco-German Council of Ministers. »

Western officials fear Ukraine is running out of time before Russia launches a new, broader offensive against Ukraine, which could require late-game tank shipments to bolster Kyiv’s defenses.

“For months now, Scholz has been warning against going it alone when it comes to arms supplies to Ukraine,” said Katja Leikert, a German lawmaker on the EU’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Centre-right Christian Democratic Union, the main opposition party in the country. “But now he is doing just that: his reluctance to let European allies deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv is a dangerous solitary action. »

She told POLITICO: “Germany should play a leading role in a European coalition of states delivering Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

Strong criticism is also coming from the Greens party, a junior coalition partner in the government led by Scholz’s Social Democrats. In a thinly veiled push to send tanks to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens said earlier this week that she hopes Friday’s Ramstein meeting will “set decisions in motion that will help Ukraine.” to release more people.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Davos that the “main message” of the Ramstein meeting will be to provide “more advanced support, heavier weapons and more modern weapons”.

Pressure for Germany to do more also came from Strasbourg on Wednesday. The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution urging Scholz to form an international coalition to send Leopards “without further delay”. And European Council President Charles Michel told MPs: “The time has come. Ukraine needs more military equipment. I strongly support tank delivery.

A potential move by Scholz to help train the Leopards or build the supply chain for maintenance, as officials and diplomats in Berlin discussed on Wednesday, could be of some relevance, given that the tanks are made in Germany.

“In general, the availability of spare parts and an assured logistical supply are crucial for the effectiveness of the main battle tank system, including, for example, recovery tanks to recover damaged tanks,” said Georg Löfflmann. , Assistant Professor of War Studies at Warwick. University.

General Rajmund Andrzejczak, chief of staff of the Polish armed forces, told POLITICO on Wednesday that Ukrainians could be trained quickly in the use of Western tanks, urging partners in Kyiv to avoid unnecessary delays.

“It’s a decisive battle point right now,” he said, pointing to Russian efforts in Soledar and Bakhmut. “So now or never. If we don’t send, if we talk too much, bureaucracy, delays, it might be too late.

Alexander Ward and Suzanne Lynch contributed reporting from Davos. Lara Seligman and Paul McLeary contributed reporting from Washington. Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting from London. Gregorio Sorgi contributed reporting from Brussels.

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