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November 08, 2017

Spain's attorney general personally sought pre-emptive prison for Catalan rebels

The problem with an independent judiciary is that, once it is set in motion, it is a violation of the separation of powers to stop it. This is the dilemma facing the Spanish government on Catalonia. When ten days ago the Spanish government dissolved the Catalan parliament for regional elections on December 21, tensions in Catalonia seemed to relax somewhat. However, last week Spain's state prosecution indicted the Catalan cabinet and the board of the Catalan parliament for crimes ranging from rebellion to misuse of public funds, and asked the judges overseeing the cases to jail them pre-emptively. This inflamed public controversy again and opened the Spanish government to domestic and international criticism for heavy-handedness.

However, according to press reports, the attorney general José Manuel Maza personally took the decision to pursue the harder line against the wishes of the Spanish government, which would have preferred the courts to impose laxer precautionary measures so as not to disturb the political campaign for the Catalan elections. Government sources insist that the attorney general meets regularly with the minister of justice, but doesn't take instructions or discuss specific cases. The decisions on precautionary measures are taken by judges, not by the state prosecution. And in this case two different judges, in two different courts, have taken different decisions. Judge Carmen Lamela of the National Court went along with the prosecution and decided to jail nine members of the dismissed Catalan cabinet pre-emptively, all but one without bail. By contrast, Judge Pablo Llanera of the Supreme Court gave the five indicted members of the board of the Catalan parliament an extra week to prepare their defence, and just restricted them not to leave Spain.

Since last week, there have been suggestions that the Supreme Court might reverse the precautionary prison dictated by the National Court, by requesting the unification of the two cases. According to El Confidencial this could happen as early as this Thursday. ABC reports also that judge Llanera is studying the possibility of accumulating the parallel cases being heard in the Catalan courts. The High Court of Justice of Catalonia already has a case open against the members of the board of the Catalan parliament, while one of the ordinary courts of Barcelona is investigating the preparations for the October 1st vote - which went ahead despite a constitutional court injunction. If Llanera accumulates all the connected cases, there is a possibility that he might also release the grass-roots separatist leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, who were sent to pre-emptive prison by judge Lamela.

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November 08, 2017

Spain's finance ministry to control Madrid city spending

Since 2015 the Madrid city council has been one of the "councils of change", governed by a Podemos-aligned local list with an anti-austerity agenda. This has led to constant frictions with Spain's finance ministry over compliance with the law on budget stability and financial sustainability. Finally, after a series of warnings, and going back and forth over the city's economic and financial plan, the finance ministry of Cristóbal Montoro has decided to review the spending of the Madrid city council on a weekly basis. This is the first time this happens for any Spanish local authority, and the Madrid local council will appeal to the administrative courts. 

The budget stability law was adopted in 2012 in the throes of the euro government debt crisis, in order to rein in public finances and as part of Spain's efforts to comply with the EU fiscal compact. One of the key provisions of the law is an annual spending ceiling, which limits the year-on-year spending growth of local and regional administrations. As the Spanish economy has been growing since the end of 2013 tax revenues have increased, also in the case of local taxes, and in Madrid have led to a substantial budget surplus. The Madrid city council under Manuela Carmena has been protesting the fact that the law prevents it from spending its surplus on the needs of Madrid residents. The only legal options for a surplus are to accumulate it in a rainy-day fund or to accelerate debt repayments, and to lower local taxes.

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November 08, 2017

National identity with a new twist

National identity has been a theme for the Republicans ever since Nicolas Sarkozy launched a debate about it in 2009. Back then Sarkozy wanted the nation to consider what it means to be French, what the French should be proud of, and why they should regard Frenchness as an honour.

With Laurent Wauquiez, the most likely future leader of the party, this discourse is to continue. He is supported by the outcome of an internal questionnaire the Republicans sent to party members about what to do now after the defeat of François Fillon and the legislative elections. The result of this introspection, as revealed by Le Figaro, shows to forget unemployment, tax evasion, or climate change: the principal preoccupation is national identity. Out of 450 responses, 300 want to see a reflection on how to talk about religion in the public discourse, Islam in particular. They want French identity to be defined, not only in religious terms but more broadly emphasising its singular European roots as opposed to other continents. Some suggest to talk about culture rather than identity to make it sound more inclusive. The members list history, heritage, and catholic roots. Religion again, observes LeLab.

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