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January 30, 2018

Will Puigdemont be Catalan premier today?

This afternoon the Catalan parliament has scheduled a session for the appointment of Carles Puigdemont as regional premier. Will it come to pass, and how? The situation is that Spain's Constitutional Court has issued an injunction instructing the board of the Catalan parliament that the appointment of Puigdemont cannot happen if he's not present, that he needs a judge's authorisation to attend as long as there is an arrest order for him, and that the rest of the jailed or escaped MPs also cannot delegate their vote. This leaves open the possibility that Puigdemont might ultimately be appointed after receiving a court authorisation to attend the session because, despite the screams of Spanish nationalists, Puigdemont has his political rights intact so long as there isn't a firm guilty verdict for a crime punishable with a bar from public office.

Meanwhile, all the other Catalan MPs who fled to Brussels have given up their seats for alternates, so the separatists have a majority assured, for the appointment of Puigdemont or someone else if need be, as Oriol Bartomeus reviews. 

The Spanish political debate is becoming a case study in putting the logic of the state before the logic of the law. For instance, in its editorial last Saturday suggesting that the Constitutional Court should take in the government's appeal against today's Catalan parliament session, El País started by recognising that Puigdemont did have his political rights intact, only to then spend the rest of the article arguing as if he didn't. By today, we already have legal experts arguing that he doesn't have those rights because he's guilty as sin - never mind that only a firm court sentence can determine that. There has even been a debate over whether Puigdemont can be arrested at all, since according to Spanish law an MP - national or regional - cannot be arrested except if caught in the act. Argelia Queralt reviews the applicable law on parliamentary immunity and discusses whether it can be considered that Puigdemont is in a continuous act of evading a prison order (as a result of his ignoring a court summons to appear in a case against him). For Queralt, parliamentary immunity does not imply the right to ignore court summons, and the judge has the right to issue the appropriate legal measures resulting from non-appearance in court. All this may become relevant if Puigdemont is stopped by police on the way to the Catalan parliament, an event we cannot exclude.

But the Constitutional court injunction from Saturday was itself extraordinary. In an urgent session, the court had to decide just whether or not to hear an appeal brought by the Spanish government against the act of calling today's Catalan parliament session. On Saturday it became known that the constitutional court's legal experts also thought the appeal should be thrown out, as did the magistrate who had been drawn by lot as rapporteur. The court deliberated for many hours, with leaks to the press during the lunch break. Government sources have admitted to El País that members of the government consulted with the magistrates during the deliberations, but don't call it pressuring the court!

In the end the court put off the decision on whether to admit the government's appeal for ten days, to give the parties time to present allegations. But it accommodated the government's intent by issuing instructions to the Catalan parliament as outlined above. Miguel Ángel Presno Linera writes that the legal justification of all this appears written by the Marx brothers. 

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January 30, 2018

Some thoughts about the German car industry

The German car industry understood some time ago that the only way for diesel technology to survive in this day and age was through criminal activity. The reports about cheating on emissions test were only the tip of the iceberg. Then became the revelation that the industry operated illegal cartels, and now it is becoming known that it has conducted illegal experiments on humans and animals. The industry is hugely important for the German economy, but the companies themselves fit the description of a criminal organisation. We are not talking about isolated behaviour of rogue employees breaking ranks with the companies' leadership. This kind of behaviour has become part of the culture of these organisations.  

Spiegel Online has the latest update on the experiments with monkeys in the US, and with humans in Europe. Daimler, VW, BMW, and Bosch, have created what they called a research institute for the promotion of health in the transportation sector - known by its German initials EUGT - which, as it turned out, is similar to the research institutes set up by the tobacco companies to prove that smoking has no material impact on health. The institute carried out an experiment with 25 people who were exposed to nitrogen dioxide in different concentrations. Interestingly the result of the research was that no problem was recorded. 

The car companies were yesterday trying to distance themselves from those activities, which they funded. Even in Germany, where politicians tend to prioritise the health of the car industry over everything else, this is now going too far. The prime minister of Lower Saxony, Stefan Weil, who is also a member of the supervisory board of VW, said it was absurd to expose people and animals to toxins with the explicit goal to demonstrate that these are harmless.

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January 30, 2018

A short note on Italian coalition maths

A reader wrote to one of us to ask why we did not consider a Grand Coalition among the options for a post-electoral lineup in Italy. The problem is not so much getting the big egos of Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi to agree. It's the arithmetic. According to the latest poll in Corriere della Sera, the PD only has 22.7% - it's been sliding continuously. Forza Italia has 16.9%. Together, that's less than 40%. The two parties are a long way from a majority. The reality is more complicated than that because just over a third of the seats are determined in a first-past-the-post system, and we have yet to see which of the parties will benefit from this the most. But the polls are telling us that Five Star and Lega have more votes between them than Forza Italian and the PD. And the polls have traditionally understated the populists' share of the vote.

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