Posts Tagged ‘Mariano Rajoy’

Spanish Socialist Sanchez succeeds Rajoy as prime minister

June 1, 2018

Socialist Pedro Sanchez took over as Spain’s prime minister on Friday, after outgoing leader Mariano Rajoy lost a parliamentary confidence vote triggered by a long-running corruption trial involving members of his center-right party.

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Spain’s Socialist (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez walks with fellow party members Jose Luis Abalos and Adriana Lastras as he arrives at Parliament to attend the final day of a motion of no confidence debate in Madrid, Spain, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Socialist party head Sanchez becomes Spain’s seventh Prime Minister since its return to democracy in the late 1970s following the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

But Rajoy’s departure after six years in office casts one of the European Union’s top four economies into an uncertain political landscape, just as another – Italy – pulled back from early elections.

Sanchez won Friday’s no-confidence motion with 180 votes in favor, 169 against and 1 abstention.

He suggested on Thursday he would try to govern until the scheduled end of the parliamentary term in mid-2020. But it is unclear how long his administration, with only 84 Socialist deputies in the 350-member legislative assembly, can last.

With most Spanish parties and Sanchez himself being pro-European, investors however see less broader political risk there than in Italy.

Anti-establishment parties in Rome revived coalition plans on Thursday, ending three months of turmoil by announcing a government that promises to increase spending, challenge European Union fiscal rules and crack down on immigration.

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 Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, gestures as he attends a session of the Upper House of Parliament in Madrid (AFP Photo)

“We’ve had a rude awakening of European political risks this week… but the situation in Spain is very different from Italy,” said Michael Metcalfe, head of global macro strategy, State Street Global Markets.

“The parties leading in the polls in Spain are centrists so we’re not getting the proposals for fiscal extremes as we have in Italy.”

Many observers said Sanchez was in any case unlikely to call any vote until after European, local and regional elections take place in May next year.

He has already committed to respecting a budget passed by Rajoy, and the fragmented parliament means Sanchez will find it hard to row back on structural reforms passed by his predecessor, including new labor laws and cuts in healthcare and education.

Leftist Podemos, which will offer parliamentary support to Sanchez’s government, is also unlikely to gain big influence over the new Prime Minister, who is keen to differentiate his Socialist party from its anti-austerity ally and win back centrist voters.

Rajoy had conceded defeat prior to the no-confidence vote, earlier telling deputies: “Mr Sanchez will be the head of the government and let me be the first to congratulate him.”

Rajoy’s position had become increasingly untenable, undermined by his status as head of a corruption-tinged minority government as well as a divisive independence drive in the wealthy region of Catalonia.

The Basque Nationalist Party, whose five seats were key to Sanchez securing enough parliamentary backing, withdrew support from Rajoy after dozens of people linked to his center-right People’s Party (PP) were sentenced to decades in jail in a corruption trial.

Two Catalan pro-independence parties as well as Podemos also backed Sanchez. Market-friendly Ciudadanos, leading in the national opinion polls, was the only major party that supported Rajoy.

Sanchez, who is expected to be sworn in by Monday and appoint his cabinet next week, has promised to start talks with the Catalans but said he will not give them an independence referendum.

editing by John Stonestreet


Spain in crisis: What next for Madrid government?

June 1, 2018

No-confidence vote set to oust Rajoy with Sánchez the likely successor

Image result for Pedro Sánchez , Mariano Rajoy, photos
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (L) shakes hands with the leader of Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sanchez at La Moncloa palace in Madrid on July 6, 2017. FILE photo, Getty Imeges

Michael Stothard in Madrid

Mariano Rajoy’s seven-year reign as prime minister of Spain is on course to come to an abrupt end on Friday after the opposition Socialist party secured enough support to force him out.

Parties representing a slim majority of lawmakers in parliament have announced they will support a no-confidence motion that will topple the centre-right government.

The collapse, which follows a high-level corruption scandal, leaves a chaotic political landscape in Spain and adds to a sense of drift in Europe after three months without a government in Italy.

What’s next for Spain?

The most likely option is that the no-confidence motion on Friday passes, meaning that Pedro Sánchez, Socialist leader, will become the new prime minister of Spain.

Mr Rajoy could choose to resign in the coming hours, something that would stop the vote from taking place and would prevent Mr Sánchez from taking power.

There would then be a caretaker administration while lawmakers tried to agree on a new leader — something that could take months in such a fragmented parliament.

But on Thursday Maria Dolores de Cospedal, general secretary for Mr Rajoy’s Popular party, said Mr Rajoy had no plans to resign and would attend the vote on Friday.

If true, then a Sánchez government is indeed on the cards.

Critics have labelled Pedro Sanchez as an opportunist for calling a vote of no-confidence © Reuters


Who is Sánchez?

Mr Sánchez is a centre-left and pro-European politician who until a week ago had looked sidelined in the political debate and a long way from getting into power.

Two years ago he was fighting a bitter power struggle inside his own party. He has lost two elections and his poll ratings have long been sluggish compared to rivals such as the liberal Ciudadanos party.

Critics labelled him as an opportunist for calling a vote of no-confidence last week. “Everybody knows that Pedro Sánchez is never going to win elections and this is the reason for his motion,” said Mr Rajoy.

But regardless, it turned out to be a masterstroke. The 46-year-old — nicknamed Mr Handsome in Spain — is on track to become the country’s seventh prime minister in its democratic post-1978 era.

What will he try to change?

Mr Sánchez said that if he gets into power he would stick to the 2018 budget negotiated by Mr Rajoy, so there will be no instant policy shifts. He says he wants to implement reforms in some areas, for example on salaries, pensions and gender equality.

He has also said that he wants to re-establish a dialogue with the pro-independence government of Catalonia, which has broken down in recent years, possibly indicating a more accommodative approach to the ongoing constitutional crisis in the region.

But what can he change?

Mr Sánchez will be head of an exceptionally weak government, so potentially not much. The Socialist party has only 84 seats in the 350-seat parliament.

To pass any measures it will rely on the support of two Catalan pro-independence parties, a Basque nationalist group and the anti-establishment Podemos.

This is a disparate group that Mr Rajoy labelled a “Frankenstein government” due to their lack of unifying views. The Catalans want full independence from Spain.

Aitor Esteban, a lawmaker for the Basque party, on Thursday warned Mr Sánchez: “Your government will be very complicated, weak and difficult.”

Mr Sánchez will also have to deal with fierce competition from the wounded Popular party of Mr Rajoy — still the largest in parliament — as well as the rising Ciudadanos party.

Are new elections on the cards?

New election in the cards?

Yes. The big question is when.

In principle, Mr Sánchez could stay in power until 2020, when the next election is scheduled.

Weakness of the government makes this unlikely, however. Mr Sánchez has promised to call early elections, although he has not said when.

For Mr Sánchez, it is in his interests to give himself the time to accrue some policy wins that might boost his ratings in the polls.

Some of his rivals — particularly Ciudadanos, which is doing well in the polls — would prefer an earlier election and may hope to force one.

Should investors be worried?

The reaction to the instability in Spain has so far been muted compared to the sharp reaction to the difficulties in Italy— and for a reason.

Spain is a different economic case to Italy, having cleaned up its banking sector and implemented some painful reforms. Its growth is one of the strongest in Europe.

The politics are also different. The Socialists are centre-left and pro-European, compared with the more extreme alternatives in Italy. The Socialists would also be a minority government making big policy shifts unlikely.

Still, the uncertainty is likely to weigh on sentiment. Spain’s main stock market index was down 1 per cent on Thursday.

What happens to the Popular party now?
It is not yet clear if Mr Rajoy will try to stay on as head of the party, but party members already fear an internal power struggle.

One PP lawmaker told the FT on Thursday that a debate about a possible new leader had already begun — albeit unofficially.

The party is likely to need some time to heal and rebrand itself after the blow of the court ruling last week, which found many of its former officials guilty of operating a slush fund.


Spain: PM Mariano Rajoy could be pushed out in no-confidence motion

May 31, 2018
No-Confidence debate in parliament starts but opposition is split on best outcome
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 Mariano Rajoy said the motion would damage Spain’s economic recovery. Photograph: Reuters

Mariano Rajoy gives a speech in the Spanish parliament on Wednesday, two days before the assembly is due to vote on a no-confidence motion against his government © AFP

Michael Stothard in Madrid 

Spain’s parliament starts formal debate on Thursday over a vote of no-confidence against prime minister Mariano Rajoy. The vote, set for Friday, could see the collapse of Spain’s centre-right government after six years in power.

The motion has been brought by the opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez after the end last week of a long-running corruption trial, known as the Gürtel case. A Spanish court found former officials of Mr Rajoy’s Popular party guilty of operating a slush fund.

While Mr Rajoy was not accused, the court said his testimony was “not credible”.

Will the motion pass?

All the main opposition parties want Mr Rajoy to go following the Gürtel sentences — but there is little consensus on how. As a result, passing the motion on Friday is looking tricky.

There are just two ways that Mr Sánchez, who will be backed by the far-left Podemos party, can pull together enough votes to topple the government.

The first is winning the support of the liberal Ciudadanos party. The problem is that while Ciudadanos want Mr Rajoy out, this vote would put their rival Mr Sánchez in power.

Albert Rivera, Ciudadanos’s leader, has said he will not support Friday’s motion, saying that there should be a different vote over a neutral technocratic candidate who could quickly call new elections.

A solution would be an agreement to put Mr Sánchez in power with guarantees that he would call elections in a few months, although neither side is hopeful.

The second option for Mr Sánchez is to seek support from smaller regional nationalist parties in Catalonia and the Basque country.

On Wednesday, Gabriel Rufíán, from one of the Catalan parties, the ERC, said his party would support Mr Sánchez in order to eject “corrupt individuals and thieves” from the government. It is unclear how the other Catalan group, PDeCAT, will vote.

If the two Catalan independence parties do support Mr Sánchez it will put the deciding votes in the hands of the Basque PNV party, which has five seats in parliament.

Like Mr Rajoy’s PP, the PNV is towards the political right, and so may be wary of putting a Socialist leader into power.

The PNV also won a lucrative deal from Mr Rajoy’s government in the 2018 budget.

But it may be able to be convinced by Mr Sánchez. Last night, there were reports that it planned to support the motion, though a person close to Mr Rajoy’s government said it were not aware of such a decision.

What happens if it does pass?

If the motion passes on Friday, then Mr Sánchez will have pulled off an extraordinary feat, becoming prime minister despite his party having only 84 lawmakers in the 350-seat parliament. Even Mr Sánchez does not have a seat.

Yet the new government would need the support of the far-left Podemos party and the pro-independence Catalan parties to get anything done. In practice, it would be unlikely to be able to pass any meaningful laws.

“Running a government with this kind of support is not viable and he [Sánchez] knows it,” Mr Rajoy said last week.

Ultimately, there would be new elections. Mr Sánchez has said these would come after “recovering political normality” in Spain, “regenerating institutional life” and advancing “a social agenda”. The credibility of being in power may well help Mr Sánchez when the election is called.

If the motion fails, is that it?

Not by a long shot. Ciudadanos is almost certain to follow through with its threat to propose its own confidence motion. It wants to propose an independent prime minister whose only task would be to call a snap election.

On Wednesday, Mr Rivera suggested three possible names of caretaker prime ministers, all of them veteran Socialists: Ramón Jáuregui, Nicolás Redondo Terreros and Javier Solana, the former head of Nato.

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, has also said his party would table its own motion of no confidence in the government. Mr Rajoy survived a no-confidence vote put forward by Podemos last year.

In short, opposition parties have pledged to keep working to find ways to topple the government. “If Pedro Sánchez is defeated on Friday, there is a preferable option to a PP government: working to ensure new elections as soon as possible,” Mr Iglesias said on Wednesday.

Should investors be worried?

Coming at the same time as political turmoil in Italy, the uncertainty in Spain has spooked the markets, with bond yields rising and equity markets falling over the past week. The Ibex 35 Spanish stock market index is down 5 per cent since last Friday.

But the reaction is a far cry from what has been happening in Italy, where markets have seen their worst sell-off in decades on the back of political turmoil, and would be unlikely to see the same kind of response if the government did fall.

Spain has cleaned up its banking sector, implemented some painful economic reforms and is growing at a steady clip, making it a different case to Italy.

The politics are also different. The Socialists are on the centre-left and are pro-European, compared to the more extreme alternatives in Italy. The Socialists, similar to the ruling PP party, would also be a minority government, making big policy shifts difficult.

Asian Markets on Monday: Money Is About to Flow Into China, Just as It Pours Out of Tencent

May 28, 2018

Mainland investors are pulling funds from the Chinese giant, but Asian stocks start the week up

Tencent’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, in 2016. Mainland Chinese investors are suddenly pulling money from the company, a rare development.
Tencent’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, in 2016. Mainland Chinese investors are suddenly pulling money from the company, a rare development. PHOTO: ZHU MIN/ZUMA PRESS


Asian stocks rose Monday as weekend diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang revived the potential for a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose 0.1%, the Korea KOSPI index gained 0.8% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.6%.

Monday’s Big Theme

Mainland Chinese investors are yanking money out of Tencent Holdings Ltd. —one of the country’s biggest and most high-profile companies—just as billions of dollars from around the world are expected to flow into China’s markets this week.

What’s Happening

An odd phenomenon is taking place this month: Investors on the mainland have pulled funds from Tencent, the tech titan behind the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat.

No Longer a TenMainland investors were net sellers ofTencent shares in April and May via tradinglinks connecting China and Hong Kong.Source: Wind InfoNote: HK$10 billion = $1.27 billion

Mainland money has poured into Tencent for years through the trading vehicles that link China and Hong Kong—known as Stock Connect—and been a key pillar of support for the stock. Mainland investors were net buyers of Tencent stock every month from November 2016 through March, before turning slightly net sellers in April.

May has been different.

Those Mainland investors are on track this month to be heavy net sellers of Tencent, a rare occurrence since the Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Connect programs were both open in late 2016, according to data from Wind Info. On Friday, Tencent experienced its second biggest daily outflow ever through these trading links.

Market Reaction

There are multiple theories at play here. One is fundamental: Concerns have mounted for months about the company’s slowing growth and shrinking margins. Tencent’s strong earnings report earlier this month was supposed to put those fears to bed. But the stock is still 15% below its record high in January, trading closer to this year’s low than its high.

Another theory is related to a major upcoming event from MSCI Inc. The global index provider is on Friday set to include more than 200 mainland-listed Chinese stocks in its key indexes, giving global investors exposure to those stocks.

Mainland investors could be trying to front run the event, loading up on mainland-listed companies now and selling their Hong Kong stocks—think Tencent—in order to do so.

So far, that approach appears to be working. The Shanghai Composite, a benchmark index of mainland-listed stocks, is up 2.1% this month, whereas the MSCI China index—a separate gauge that includes Chinese stocks listed in Hong Kong and New York such as Tencent,Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc. —is up 1.6%.

Tencent holds the biggest weighting in MSCI China at 17%. Together with Alibaba and Baidu, those three stocks make up roughly a third of the index. None of them are in the Shanghai Composite.

If the trend holds, May would be only the third time in the past 18 months that the Shanghai would have outperformed MSCI China.


The euro gained against the U.S. dollar after Italy’s president rejected the formation of a new government supported by two anti-establishment parties. Crude-oil prices sank over 2%. Stock markets in the U.S. and the U.K. are closed Monday for public holidays.

Write to Steven Russolillo at


Asian Stocks Monday See Some New Optimism Oil Prices Will Go Down, Trump-Kim Summit Could Again Be on Schedule

May 28, 2018

Energy firms plunged with oil prices in Asia Monday after Saudi Arabia and Russia signalled they could lift output, while indications Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un could be back on provided support to equity markets.

28 May 2018 – 05H40

Both main contracts tanked on Friday after Saudi oil minister Khaled al-Faleh said his country could open the taps wider in the second half of the year to insure against any supply shocks.

His Russian counterpart Alexander Novak said they had spoken about a two-year-old deal capping production, adding OPEC and other members of the pact would discuss lifting limits next month.

The comments come as supply worries increase, with major producer Venezuela hit by economic uncertainty, Iran facing painful export sanctions and demand seen picking up.

On Friday, Brent sank three percent and WTI fell four percent, and in early Asia business they were both down a further two percent.

The losses come after crude earlier this month hit levels not seen since November 2014, and led to sharp selling in Asian energy firms.

Sydney-listed Woodside Petroleum was 3.6 percent down and Inpex dived a similar amount in Tokyo.

CNOOC plunged three percent in Hong Kong, while Sinopec was off more than two percent.

Broader markets were mostly up as the oil sell-off was offset by renewed hopes for the Trump-Kim summit after the US president appeared Friday to do a U-turn 24 hours after cancelling the meeting.

© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP | Hopes for the US-North Korea summit have being reignited after a flurry of weekend diplomacy, including a surprise meeting between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in

– Euro edges up –

Markets fell in Asia Friday after Trump said he had pulled out of the June 12 gathering, citing “open hostility” from Pyongyang. However, a flurry of diplomacy — led by South Korea, whose President Moon Jae-in met Kim Saturday — has put it back on track.

And on Sunday, Trump tweeted that a US team “has arrived in North Korea to make arrangements for the summit”.

He added: “I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”

By the break in Tokyo, the Nikkei was flat, Hong Kong added 0.5 percent and Shanghai gained 0.1 percent. Singapore, Seoul and Jakarta were all sharply higher but Sydney fell 0.6 percent and Manila dipped 0.2 percent.

On currency markets, the euro edged up despite political uncertainty in Italy, with investors welcoming news that President Sergio Mattarella had vetoed the nomination of fierce eurosceptic Paolo Savona as economy minister.

While the decision led to the resignation of prime minister-elect Giuseppe Conte and could lead to fresh elections, it was seen as a positive move for the euro.

However, Ray Attrill, head of foreign-exchange strategy at National Australia Bank in Sydney, told Bloomberg News: “We may now be in for an extended period of heightened uncertainty ahead of fresh elections — assuming that’s where we’re headed.

“For now it’s more relief that Italy will not — for now at least — have an avowed eurosceptic finance minister.”

The single currency’s gains are also being limited by the prospect of upheaval in Spain, where Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could face a no-confidence vote after his party was found guilty of benefiting from illegal funds in a massive graft trial.


– Key figures around 0310 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: FLAT at 22,445.27 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.5 percent at 30,738.92

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,144.74

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1711 from $1.1661 at 2100 GMT on Friday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3320 from $1.3312

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.39 yen from 109.55 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN $1.64 at $66.24 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN $1.45 at $74.99

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 24,753.09 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.18 percent at 7,730.28 (close)

Instability in Italy and Spain jolt European markets

May 26, 2018
Peripheral bonds sell off after confidence motion called against Rajoy while Rome bickers

Image result for Mariano Rajoy, photos
Knocked off balance: Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right Popular party has been racked by a campaign finance scandal © EPA
Miles Johnson in London, James Politi in Rome and Michael Stothard in Madrid

Mounting fears about political instability in Italy and Spain sent tremors through the eurozone’s two largest peripheral debt markets on Friday with investors dumping the sovereign bonds of both countries and sending European bank shares sharply lower.
A two-week sell-off of Italian debt accelerated after the two populist parties poised to govern in Rome failed yet again to get presidential approval for a slate of ministers, with leaders divided over whether to appoint an arch-Eurosceptic as finance minister.

The long-running Italian drama was unexpectedly joined by the prospect of a government collapse in Spain after the main opposition party called for vote of no-confidence in the minority rule of prime minister Mariano Rajoy, whose centre-right Popular party has been racked by a campaign finance scandal.

Although the decision by Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez to table the confidence vote sent the main Spanish stock index down as much as 2.7 per cent and the country’s benchmark government bond yield had its largest one day move since September, most of the political and market focus remained on Italy.

“We saw in Greece how dangerous it is if a country has a bigger and bigger debt and I hope that we will not have a second Greece in our neighbouring country, Italy,” Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, told the Financial Times.

The Italian sell-off left two-year bonds yielding nearly 130 basis points more than Germany’s equivalent debt, a spread that saw its biggest one-day widening since the tail-end of the eurozone crisis in late 2013.

Luigi Di Maio, the head Italy’s largest political party, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and his coalition partner, far-right League leader Matteo Salvini, have backed Paolo Savona, an 81-year old Eurosceptic economist, as finance minister.

But resistance from Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, who is said to be worried Mr Savona could damage Italy’s credibility in the EU and the markets, has held up the formation of the government all week.

Political novice Giuseppe Conte, tapped as prime minister on Monday, was expected to propose his cabinet on Friday and have it sworn in at the weekend, but he held an “informal” meeting with Mr Mattarella instead and did not present a list of ministers.

Giuseppe Conte was given the mandate on Wednesday in Rome to be next Italy’s next prime minister.
Giuseppe Conte was given the mandate on Wednesday in Rome to be next Italy’s next prime minister. PHOTO: ETTORE FERRARI/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTT/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

At the end of a tense day, Mr Salvini posted a cryptic message on social media. “I am truly angry,” he wrote. The post was “liked” by Mr Di Maio.

Moody’s then delivered another blow to the budding government, placing Italy’s Baa2 credit rating on review for a downgrade. The rating agency cited the “significant risk of a material weakening” in Italy’s fiscal strength and the “risk that the structural reform effort stalls [and] that past reforms …are reversed”.

Spain remains in a far less precarious fiscal situation than Italy despite having gone through an EU-funded bank rescue in 2012, having sharply cut its budget deficit and chipped away at its national debt in recent years. But its bout of political instability, which could precipitate snap elections, comes at a difficult time, with investor sentiment beginning to turn against the eurozone.

“It’s easy to see how vulnerable heavily indebted countries can become if investor confidence is eroded,” said Mark Dowding, co-head of developed markets at investment group BlueBay Asset Management.

Mr Sánchez’s gambit was triggered by a damning court ruling that handed down fines and prison sentences to politicians and businesspeople connected to Mr Rajoy’s party on Thursday. The liberal Ciudadanos party, which backs Mr Rajoy’s minority government, said it would not support Mr Sánchez but might back a similar motion unless Mr Rajoy called early elections.

Luca Cazzulani, deputy head of fixed income strategy at UniCredit said of the rise in Italian short-term borrowing costs: “While there have been a few other such episodes since the start of quantitative easing, this is the strongest one …[G]iven the very high uncertainty on Italy, investors are likely to remain cautious for now.”

The upward moves are likely to feed through into the cost of servicing Italy’s debt; the country is expected to sell up to €1.75bn of two-year paper on Monday in an auction which Mr Cazzulani said would be “closely watched”.

Shares in Italian banks and other financial stocks also fell sharply. Banco BPM tumbled 7.5 per cent, while lender Intesa Sanpaolo fell by 4 per cent. UniCredit, UBI Banca and Mediobanca all lost around 3.5 per cent.

The sense of risk aversion was highlighted by the strong rally in German debt, seen as a haven across Europe. The 10-year Bund yield fell as low as 0.387 per cent, a level not seen since late 2017, from 0.468 per cent on Thursday. US Treasuries, another perceived haven, have seen similar buying. Bond yields move inversely to prices.

Additional reporting by Kate Allen in London and Ralph Atkins in Vienna

Fugitive Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont asks Spain to restore his government

December 31, 2017

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont arrives to attend a gathering to watch the election results for Spain’s Catalonia region in Brussels on December 21. (AP)

MADRID: Catalonia’s fugitive former president has called for Spanish authorities to open negotiations regarding the restitution of what he calls his “legitimate government.”

Carles Puigdemont said via social media channels from Brussels on Saturday that Spain should “recognize the election results of December 21 and start negotiating politically with the legitimate government of Catalonia.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy deposed Puigdemont and his cabinet after Catalonia’s regional parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence from the rest of the country in October.
But pro-secession parties, including one led by Puigdemont, won the most seats in elections last week.
Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid a judicial investigation into suspicions of rebellion by him and his government. He did not say Saturday if he plans to return to Spain, where an arrest warrants awaits him.
Rajoy said on Friday that he plans to convene Catalonia’s newly elected parliament on January 17.
In-house rules of Catalonia’s parliament require that a candidate to form a government be present.

Spain’s king uses Christmas speech to urge Catalan lawmakers to avoid confrontation

December 25, 2017


© AFP |Spanish King Felipe VI delivers his Christmas Eve message at the Royal Palace in Madrid on December 24, 2017


Latest update : 2017-12-25

King Felipe VI used his traditional Christmas Eve address Sunday night to call on Catalonia’s newly elected parliament to renounce further moves toward secession from Spain.

“The way forward cannot once again lead to confrontation or exclusion that, as we now know, only generates discord, uncertainty, anguish,” the Spanish monarch said in a televised speech.

The king gave the address four days after regional parliamentary elections resulted in separatist parties being voted back into power. Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, had dissolved the previous parliament after it voted in October to declare Catalonia an independent republic, but saw his hopes dashed that separatists would not regain a majority of seats.


“2017 for Spain has been, without a doubt, a difficult year for our commonwealth, a year marked, above all, by the situation in Catalonia,” Felipe said. “(Catalonia’s) leaders must face the problems that affect all Catalans, respecting their diversity and thinking responsibly in the common good.”

The king’s last televised address was on Oct. 3, two days after Catalonia’s regional government disobeyed a court injunction and held a referendum on secession. The king harshly criticized the Catalan government as disloyal.

His tone was more conciliatory on Sunday, when he recognized that while Spain had grown into a fully integrated member of the European Union, “not everything was a success” in recent decades.

He insisted on recovering the “harmonious coexistence at the heart of Catalan society, in all its diversity, so that ideas don’t divide or separate families and friends.”


Catalonia votes while split on secession from Spain

December 21, 2017

Polls have shown a tight race between pro-independence parties and those that want to remain in Spain. Uncertainty about the outcome — and the color yellow — will mark election day. Anna Gumbau reports from Barcelona.

Spanien - Katalonien vor der Wahl (picture-alliance/dpa/E. Morenatti)

Yellow has undoubtedly become the color of the season among Catalan separatists.

Abel Perez, an engineer, wears a thick yellow ribbon pinned on his back. He supports the release of the Catalan pro-independence leaders who were jailed following a contested referendum on October 1on whether Catalonia should secede from Spain. Abel refers to those behind bars as “political prisoners” who are in jail “for defending the mandate given by the people.”

The Catalan National Assembly (ANC), one of the leading pro-independence civil society organisations, called on its supporters to wear yellow ribbons as a symbol of protest demanding the release of the imprisoned secessionist leaders. “We had never sold that much yellow cloth,” says Lola, the owner of a fabric and sewing goods store in downtown Barcelona. “Many look for yellow scarves; if they cannot find them, then they buy yellow wool from us and knit it themselves.”

An individual sports a yellow ribbon in support of so-called 'political prisoners' (Anna Gumbau)An individual sports a yellow ribbon in support of so-called ‘political prisoners’ — jailed Catalan independence leaders

Read more: Catalan independence supporters in Brussels demand EU attention

Ahead of Catalonia’s regional election on December 21, candidates from the leading pro-independence parties have been among the first people to embrace the color trend. Throughout the many interviews, debates and public events held over the last few weeks, a large majority of them wore yellow clothes, from ribbons to coats to turtleneck tops.

However, seen that yellow now represents the pro-independence political forces, the Spanish Electoral Commission has forbidden banners of this color in public places near the voting stations on election day. The Election Commission also has barred the staff at the polling stations from wearing the color yellow on ribbons and scarves, as they must keep “absolute neutrality” throughout the voting day. Even Barcelona’s own Provincial Electoral Commission forbid the City Council from lighting up public fountains in that color after receiving a complaint from the conservative pro-unionist Popular Party (Partido Popular). Other Catalan cities have received similar complaints.

A library in Barcelona with yellow ribbons (Anna Gumbau)A library in Barcelona has yellow ribbons tied to its gate in support of imprisoned Catalan secessionist leaders

A divided electorate

The predominant overarching theme of the December 21 election campaign is the struggle between the roadmap to independence and the continuation of national unity in Spain. Topics related to economics or social rights have been scarce; education and the use of Catalan as the primary language of instruction are the exceptions, and when these topics would come up, they would mostly address the effect of independence on these issues.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for the regional election as he triggered Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, sacking the Catalan government and taking direct control over the highly autonomous region. At first, many Catalan secessionists had called the election “illegitimate” — an imposition from Madrid. But now, as university physics student Marta Cervello puts it, “in this election we must show once again we want our Republic and that we reject Article 155.”

The historic palace that houses the Catalan government (Anna Gumbau)The palace that hosts the offices of the Catalan president have been empty since Madrid took control of the region and Puigdement fled to Brussels

“We need to reinforce in the polls what we voted for in the October 1 referendum,” Abel adds. “I am hoping for a landslide majority to defend our [Catalan] institutions.”

Spanish unionists, in contrast, see the election as “the way to restore stability at last,” as Miguel Fores, a bartender, puts it. Thursday will mark the fourth time since 2010 that Catalans go to the polls to vote in a regional election.

“The pro-independence drift is completely destroying the economy,” according to Carla. She works at a bank and told DW she has witnessed “a widespread outflow of capitals.”

The latest polls predicted a close outcome between pro-independence and constitutionalist forces. The unionist Citizens (Ciudadanos) and the secessionist Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana) look likely to capture the largest number of seats in the regional parliament. Some polls even predict a three-way tie with Together for Catalonia (Junts per Catalunya), the party of ousted President Carles Puigdemont.

Caganers of politicians on display in a Barcelona store (Anna Gumbau)A shop displays typical Catalan Christmas nativity figures — called ‘Caganers’ or ‘poopers’ — in the form of prominent regional and national politicians including Carles Puigdemont (left wth tie) and imprisoned leader Jordi Sanchez (black suit with white shirt) and regional politician Anna Gabriel (with purple shirt)

High turnout, high uncertainty

Pollsters also have predicted a high turnout on Thursday’s election day. GESOP, a Catalan pollster, suggests that it could pass the 80 percent mark. That would be the highest turnout ever for a Catalan election since regional elections began in 1980 — the record according to official government figure stands now at 77 percent in the September 2015 election.

As secessionist and unionist forces face the election day neck and neck, uncertainty over the upcoming government is rising. Neither the separatist nor the unionist forces are predicted to secure a majority in the regional parliament — and the leftist, anti-austerity party Catalonia in Common (Catalunya en Comu) is said to “hold the key” that will disentangle the government formation. The pro-independence bloc has become increasingly fragmented in the last few months.

“A hung parliament is very likely,” says David Lopez, an economist, “so I do not think that the election will really unblock the current crisis.”

A big banner supporting the release of Catalan civil society leaders on Barcelona streets (Anna Gumbau)A big banner supporting the release of Catalan civil society leaders on Barcelona streets

David used the day prior to the elections — the so-called “reflection day” — to make up his mind: “I do not support independence, but I do not feel that either [of the unionist forces] really represents me. So I really do not know who I will vote for tomorrow.”

Many believe that Thursday’s elections will lead to nowhere: “I fear that we will come back to square one after the election,” admits Marta.

What it is also yet to be seen is whether voters themselves will be able to wear yellow inside the polling stations. While the Spanish Electoral Commission has not forbidden this, a yellow ribbon is likely to be seen as a partisan symbol. Individual voting stations will be able to decide whether to ask people to remove yellow ribbons.  “I will certainly wear it tomorrow,” concludes Abel. “If I am asked to remove it, I will decide what I will do.”

Spain’s Rajoy vows to defeat separatists in Catalan election

November 14, 2017


Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for “massive participation” from voters in next month’s election

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Tuesday he hopes to defeat separatists in next month’s Catalan election, which will be dominated by regional lawmakers’ independence drive, calling for a “massive” turnout by voters.

“We’re going to work so that independence groups don’t win,” Rajoy told Spanish radio.

The Catalan independence crisis has triggered alarm in Brussels as the European Union deals with the fallout of Brexit and more than 2,400 businesses have moved their legal headquarters out of the region as uncertainty persists.

Rajoy dismissed the government of Catalan ex-leader Carles Puigdemont last month over his independence bid, suspending the regional parliament and organising a new election.

The prime minister has been rallying support for his Popular Party (PP) in the December 21 election in Catalonia — a region that remains deeply divided over independence despite its parliament’s declaration.

The PP only managed to finish fifth in Catalonia’s 2015 election, which saw pro-separatist groups gain power in the region of 7.5 million people.

On Tuesday Rajoy issued “a call for massive participation” from voters on December 21 in the hope that parties in favour of keeping Catalonia part of Spain put in a strong showing.

Several former Catalan cabinet members are currently in jail over their role in agitating for independence, which is illegal under Spain’s constitution.

Rajoy said that there was no ban on detained officials contesting the regional vote but added that they “need to respect the law”.

“They can all run as candidates since they’ve not been declared ineligible” by a judge, Rajoy told COPE radio.

But he accused deposed Catalan officials of being “political delegitimised” after “tricking Catalan citizens” by claiming independence.

Puigdemont himself is in self-imposed exile in Brussels and has said he wants to run as a candidate next month.

With fallout from the crisis affecting his own PDeCAT party’s standing in polling, he had hoped to form a united separatist ticket with his former government ally, the leftwing ERC.

But the ERC said last week that it would not allow its candidates to run alongside PDeCAT hopefuls.

Puigdemont accuses Madrid of readying a “wave of repression” against separatists, but EU officials have staunchly backed Rajoy over the crisis.