"Once independence plans are dropped, we can talk”, Economy Minister tells FT.
The suspension of home rule in Catalonia beckons. Will Rajoy go for it?
Journalists covering a conference given by Pablo Iglesias at Madrid's Complutense University abandoned the lecture hall after he singled out El Mundo reporter Álvaro Carvajal for commentary.
"I have to avoid Álvaro Carvajal, who looks like an epistemologist but who is an El Mundo journalist, coming out with a headline for me like "Pablo Iglesias, let's make Spain masturbate with us", said the Podemos leader, who explained he would talk about the Freudian aspects of the relationship between the media and politicians.
"The journalists look scared for the first time", he suggested with a grin.
He later singled out Mr. Carvajal for a second time: "Álvaro Carvajal, or someone who wasn't Álvaro Carvajal, or Álvaro Carvajal's internal sources, came to report something that wasn't true like so many other things that are not true but that get published".
He was attempting to describe how newspapers publish negative stories about Podemos.
In its story on the incident, El Mundo described Mr. Iglesias's comments as an "attack" on Mr. Carvajal, and Spanish journalists criticised the Podemos leader heavily on Twitter. He later tweeted an apology but said "I told the truth".
Podemos got a "very explicit rejection" from the PSOE to exploring a progressive coalition together, Pablo Iglesias said during a group press conference on Friday: "the only frame of reference they are not going to budge from is their agreement with Ciudadanos".
He said Podemos was "very disappointed" and that he thought the PSOE had been "kidnapped".
The reply from Ciudadanos was no more positive, he added, with Albert Rivera's party only being ready to offer "very minor changes, nothing else".
The Podemos leader said his party would ask grassroots members two questions in a ballot between April 14-16. The first question will be: "Do you want a government based on the Sánchez-Rivera agreement?", and the second: "Do you agree with the proposal for government presented by [Podemos]?".
Asked if he would resign, Mr. Iglesias said that if grassroots members voted in favour of supporting a PSOE-Ciudadanos agreement, "the entire leadership of Podemos" would have to take responsibility for that outcome.
Attempts by political parties in the northern Spanish region of Navarra to issue a joint statement condemning the terror attacks in Brussels were frustrated after left-wing parties refused to sign because of references to Spanish and EU flags in the wording of the communiqué.
Podemos, EH-Blidu and Izquierda-Ezkerra (a coalition between United Left and the greens) signed a separate document, which also condemned the attacks in Brussels but withdrew any mention of Spanish and European flags.
Point three of the original document reads: "The Parliament of Navarra agrees, as a sign of mourning and grief, to fly the flags of Europe, Spain and Navarra at half-mast on the main façade and the official areas of the chamber".
The alternative left version reads: "The Parliament of Navarra agrees as a sign of mourning to fly the flags on the main façade at half-mast".
The regional parliament agreed to remove the European flag a few days ago in protest at the EU's new migrant deal with Turkey.
Pablo Iglesias announced a "new era" in Podemos during a press conference on Friday evening, and named Pablo Echenique as the party's new Organisation Secretary, after sacking Sergio Pascual late on Tuesday evening. Mr. Echenique, the Podemos regional leader in Aragón, said he had accepted Mr. Iglesias's offer out of "responsibility, but also hope". "As such a young organisation we have the chance to open up new paths and get rid of the old political forces in our country". Pablo Iglesias said he did not want factions in the party based on different senior leaders, and announced he had told all the members of the party's Citizen Council of his decision to appoint Mr. Echenique all at the same time. *Podemos number two Iñigo Errejón, considered close to Mr. Pascual, was not at the press conference and the normally prolific MP has not even tweeted for the past two days, save for a brief message of support to a colleague, Rita Maestre, ordered by a judge to pay a fine on Friday for a protest in a church. Mr. Iglesias said Mr. Errejón was "working".
Podemos announced in a statement that it had sacked Sergio Pascual, the party's Coordination Council Organisation Secretary, late on Tuesday night, citing "deficient management": "We are grateful for the good work carried out but events lately are proof of deficient management whose consequences have seriously damaged Podemos at such a delicate moment as the negotiation process to put together a government of change".
Mr. Pascual, considered the party's number three most senior leader, tweeted that he had spent two years "giving it my all to build organisation and popular participation" and that he was "still committed to a project of majorities for change". He will remain an MP in the Podemos group in Congress.
Earlier in the day, Pablo Iglesias had published an open letter to members, titled "Defending Beauty", in which he warned there was no room in the party for "movements or factions who compete for control of the structure and resources", arguing that would make Podemos "just like any other party". The establishment parties, he wrote, were set on sowing internal divisions in Podemos.
In a internal letter to members, Podemos number two Iñigo Errejón suggested the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) was behind a media onslaught against his party after ten members of the its regional citizens' council in Madrid resigned this week, citing an absence of party leadership in the Spanish capital. The leader of Podemos in Madrid, Luis Alegre, is considered to be an ally of Pablo Iglesias. "The attack we have suffered today, which appears to be an ongoing offensive", said Mr. Errejón: "has some precedents but not many, which reveals that the PSOE needs something with which to cover up its recent shift towards the PP dragged along by Rivera". Some media outlets, he wrote: "mean to trace a fictional line between 'moderates' and 'radicals' […] in order to create a soap opera that doesn't correspond to reality". He said had spoken to Pablo Iglesias about the matter and that the pair had decided on a plan to respond to the attack. On Thursday, almost the entire top half of the El País home page was dedicated to articles about Podemos, as was the home page of Libertad Digital.
Whilst Mr. Rajoy was being interviewed on COPE radio, Pablo Iglesias was enjoying a chat with Ana Rosa on Telecinco. "I don't speak very much with Rajoy", he admitted: "There are two options: a three-way establishment coalition or a coalition of change". He said he would like the PSOE "to rectify and understand it is more reasonable to form a government like the [left-wing coalition] one in Valencia". Asked what he thought of the El País headline suggesting the PSOE might withdraw support for Podemos in city halls around the country, he replied it seemed "more of a threat". Mr. Sánchez said over the weekend that Mr. Iglesias had been full of hatred and contempt during the confidence vote debates last week, as an electoral tactic. "There is no political force in Spain that has been more insulted than ours", replied Mr. Iglesias: "the PSOE is the party of my grandfather, the party of his life […] admitting some things happened does not imply hatred". He agreed with Ana Rosa that coming to an agreement meant giving way: "especially the PSOE, even Albert Rivera said 80% of the Ciudadanos programme was in the agreement".
Pablo Iglesias, speaking for Podemos, began by talking about his kiss with Xavier Domenech in front of Economy Minister Luis de Guindos on Wednesday, on the floor of the house.
Pablo Iglesias touched a raw socialist nerve by saying Felipe González had "dirty hands". The shouting began. Nothing of sense could be heard amid the noise. The new PSOE Speaker, Patxi López, attempted to call the house to order and ended up using the informal version of 'you' to address Pablo Iglesias: "your time is up". Mr. Iglesias responded in kind, using the Speaker's first name: "Mr. Patxi, if we're going to use the informal version of 'you'…". He was sent to his seat and the telling off began. "I did not withdraw your use of the tribune", said Mr. López: "your time was up, and I was very generous earlier […] Neither insult or disqualifications or shouting for shouting's sake can be allowed in this house […] the time will be used by those who's turn it is".
Pablo Iglesias kissed Xavier Domenech on the mouth in parliament, right in front of Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and Health Minister Alfonso Alonso, two PP politicians who looked on with shock and disgust evident on their faces. As MPs, journalists and viewers recovered, Pedro Sánchez began his reply to the Podemos spokespersons.
Cheekily, given the tone of his own speech, Pablo Iglesias said, to Mr. Sánchez: "allow me to remind you that this is a confidence vote debate, not an election campaign".
Xavier Domenech, the spokesman for En Comú Podem (Podemos in Catalonia) said with a much less angry tone than Mr. Iglesias that this is "the moment of a great opportunity". Mr. Domenech has something of an image problem this early into the new parliament, with political journalists struggling to remember who he is or who he is speaking for, or discerning the ideas he is trying to express.
In his reply, Pablo Iglesias accuses Pedro Sánchez of putting together a "capitulation" with the PSOE's Ciudadanos deal. Mr. Iglesias's tone is one of apparently wishing to troll all of the other parties with political attacks, a hard left-wing rhetoric and reminders of the country's dark past. He announced Podemos would also be voting 'no' to Mr. Sánchez as Prime Minister.
The former long-time Popular Party Mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberá, denied during a press conference on Thursday morning that she had ever committed fraud during her time at City Hall. "I have not contributed to, ordered or ever known about money laundering or hidden accounts anywhere. It is all absolutely false", she said, denying that she was "an all powerful figure who controlled everything" in the eastern coastal city: "I never took anything, I live in a rented flat". She accused her opponents and the media of mounting a political attack on her, complained about leaks from judicial investigations that are supposed to be secret, and railed against Spain's new alternative left parties: "I do not want to waste a single minute of my life with the anti-system radical left…rancid communism". Resigning, she said, "would be an admission of guilt". "I am not resigning. I'm not even thinking about it". She said her plan was to "abide by the law and the [party's] statutes", and not to pay any attention to "popular, unconstitutional and totalitarian courts". She thanked several senior Popular Party leaders, including Mariano Rajoy and María Dolores de Cospedal, for their ongoing support.
The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) told The Spain Report on Monday morning that no date had yet been set for the members' ballot promised by Pedro Sánchez on any coalition deal agreed upon with other parties, and nor is there any sign of the deal itself appearing for the moment. "Podemos is due to present its version of the deal later today", said a spokeswoman. The Speaker of the Spanish Congress, Patxi López (PSOE), announced a first confidence debate, in Mr. Sánchez, would begin on March 2, 11 weeks after the general election on December 20. Congress said the first confidence vote, requiring an overall majority, would likely take place on March 3 and, if needed, a second vote requiring only a simple majority would probably happen on Saturday, March 5, meaning Mr. Sánchez now has just 16-19 days to do a coalition deal, present it to PSOE members, organise the ballot and win the vote.
The Public Prosecutor's Office in Madrid reversed its initial position on Wednesday and asked judge Ismael Moreno Chamarro to free two puppet masters jailed on Saturday without bail on accusations of glorifying terrorism, multiple Spanish media outlets reported. The prosecutor alleges that the risk of Alfónso Lázaro de la Torre and Raul García Pérez committing the same crime again has diminished since the weekend, given police "impounded all of the material used in the play". The prosecutor now recommends bail for the two men but also wants the judge to order them to specify a home address, to order them to appear before the court every day, to confiscate their passports and to prohibit them from leaving the country. The two men were arrested on Friday evening after parents reported them to police for the tone and content of their infants' puppet play, and Judge Moreno ordered them behind bars on Saturday on suspicion of glorification of terrorism, alleging a small sign pinned to one of the puppets read "long live Al-Qaeda-ETA". A media and legal outcry followed.
The Podemos Twitter account in the northern city of Zargoza (Aragón) tweeted—and then deleted—a proposal for a new left-wing government for Spain on Monday evening. It claimed in a later tweet that "it was in no case an official proposal of the party", but the collage set tongues wagging anyway, suggesting United Left's Alberto Garzón as Economy Minister and Podemos number two Iñigo Errejón as Home Secretary.
The new Podemos MPs in the Spanish Congress have been banished to the back of the chamber by the other parties (PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos) on the Speaker's committee, Podemos number two Iñigo Errejón complained on Tuesday morning. "They have sent 5 million voters to the Gods", he said, using the theatrical term (in Spanish) that refers to the highest, cheapest seats located furthest away from the stage: "it is a shameful decision". Europa Press reported that the Speaker of the house, Patxi López, was in favour of solving the disagreement over seating arrangements—the measure was proposed by the Popular Party Deputy Speaker Celia Villalobos—in a later meeting but that the PP and Ciudadanos, who hold a majority on the committee, had forced a vote on the issue. Podemos immediately began a hashtag campaign in response (#5MillonesAlGallinero or "5 Million To The Gods") which quickly rose to the top spot on Spanish Twitter.
Josep Gargantè, a Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) councillor in Barcelona City Hall, said during a session to debate withdrawing the Catalan capital's gold medal from Princess Cristina—in the dock in Palma de Mallorca on fraud charges this month—that: "If the King wants the crown, we will give him the crown: let him come to Barcelona, and we will slit his throat". In the Catalan tune, described variously as an "anonymous" or "popular" hymn, the verses rhyme. The local CUP group later told Europa Press that Mr. Gargantè "had not meant to threaten the monarch", that the song's lyrics "are harsh, but the life of a subject is also very harsh", and that his statements had been taken out of context. The council approved the motion, proposed by Republican Catalan Left (ERC, Esquerra), to withdraw the gold medal from Princess Cristina.
The editor of right-wing online news site Libertad Digital, Federico Jiménez Losantos, who also hosts a weekday morning radio show on esRadio, said during Thursday morning's programme that he would shoot Podemos leaders Iñigo Errejón, Carolina Bescansa and Rita Maestre if he had an Italian mafia sawn-off shotgun known as a 'lupara' to hand. After warning during the show that Spain was headed "towards a Popular Front government just like the one in 1936, with socialists, communists and separatists", and railing against Podemos for being posh progressives, he said "it is the only party that generates class hatred in me. I mean, I see them and I feel like doing the French Revolution, without the guillotine, right, because I'm against slitting people's throats. But, I mean, when I see Errejón, Bescansa, Rita Maestre, and I feel like […] I mean, if I were carrying a lupara, I'd shoot. I mean, thank goodness I'm not carrying one". There have been a number of instances in Spain over the past year where Twitter users suggesting violence against public or political figures have been investigated by the police.
The political story of the morning so far in Spain is Carolina Bescansa's baby son Diego. The new Podemos MP, who is being proposed by her party as an alternative candidate for Speaker, decided to take her six-month old son along to today's opening session, despite the Spanish Congress having a nursery school service. He immediately became the focus of media attention, at turns appreciative and cause for serious comment on babies in the workplace, or joking (especially with regard to Podemos number two Iñigo Errejón, himself the butt of many infant jokes due to his youthful appearance). Europa Press reported Mrs. Bescansa has breastfed young Diego inside the chamber as other MPs began voting for Speaker. She also took him with her to deposit her vote. Pablo Iglesias was photographed holding the babe.
Briefing his parliamentary group on Wednesday morning before the voting began, interim Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said "the position of the PP is very clear, very understandable: this is a legislature that is beginning that is different from all of those we have had since 1979". He said the PP wanted a four-year deal for government, to provide "stability". "The Popular Party must accept the responsibility of government". He admitted, though, that the numbers after the general election would allow for a PSOE-Ciudadanos-Podemos deal or a PSOE-Podemos-Everyone Else deal. The 'grand progressive coalition' Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) is proposing "would generate more uncertainty", said Mr. Rajoy.
In an interview on Cadena SER, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who was overacting as if the election campaign were still taking place, said the deal between the Popular Party (PP), Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos was "shameful, shameful", adding that he did not "believe the voters of Mr. Sánchez's party want deals for seats", suggesting the real deal was "one seat for another, Patxi López's for Rajoy's", or the Speaker's job for the Prime Minister's job. He backed off a bit when asked if Podemos wouldn't negotiate with the PSOE for the rest of the parliament: "We are talking about anger, but today is also a day of smiles". Asked several times exactly how many MPs Podemos had, given the national version and the three regional branches, Mr. Iglesias dodged the question before admitting: "there are 69 MPs of change, Podemos has 42". Podemos also announced it would be presenting an alternative candidate, Podemos MP Carolina Bescansa (in the chamber with her baby this morning) for Speaker.
Anna Gabriel, speaking for the CUP (the party that has done the separatist deal with Junts Pel Sí) said her party had not given up its core values to do the deal and that Mr. Puigdemont now had the "enormous responsibility" of steering Catalonia towards a republic.
Lluis Rabell, speaking for Catalunya Sí Que Es Pot (Podemos), slammed the Catalan independence project as a dreamy "bluff" and said that after not winning the "plebiscite" at the September 27 elections, "everything has been outrageous".
Regional newspaper La Voz De Galicia published a poll on Saturday that demonstrates the four-way split within what is being described as a generic "Podemos" in most other national polls. The 56 seats forecast overall for Pablo Iglesias are broken down into 33 for the national brand, nine for En Común Podem in Catalonia, eight for Compromís-Podemos in Valencia and six for En Marea in Galicia.
It is important to note that the Podemos results in the latest polls are the sum of the national Podemos brand and the regional alternative-left Podemos options in Catalonia (En Comú Podem), Valencia (Compromís-Podemos) and Galicia (En Marea), being referred to as "confluences". This is a non-trivial point given the power-sharing agreements the different groups have reportedly signed with the national Podemos brand (which have not been made public). If they all receive a large enough share of the vote, there could be up to four Podemos-based parliamentary groups in Congress. If the numbers do not add up, they might all be grouped under a single Podemos parliamentary group. Four different Podemos groups would make any possible coalition agreement more difficult to reach, but would give them more parliamentary spokespersons and other institutional goodies.
United Left (IU), running as Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) at the general election alongside a bunch of other left-wing parties and platforms, also launched a new campaign ad on Saturday evening, starring candidate Alberto Garzón, two children playing football and a bunch of ordinary-looking working class Spaniards, standing on an empty road somewhere in Spain. "We're alone in the fight against this reality, men and women both, for loving each other as we are, for wanting to imagine another country", which according to the ad would include, among other things, no "chauvinist terrorism", a public bank "for its people", no "privileges for politicians", no revolving doors or "astronomical salaries", and has universal public healthcare and education, an independent judiciary, a Guaranteed Jobs Act, an elected head of state, and is secular and pacifist: "we are the normal people, the workers, the rebels, those down below, those who won't accept the status quo, those who won't give up".
The nationwide pre-election CIS survey, one of the most trusted in Spain, suggested on Thursday that the Popular Party would likely win the general election on 28.6% of the vote and with between 120-128 seats. This result is generally in line with the poll-of-polls average in recent weeks, notwithstanding some polls that suggest Mr. Rajoy's governing party could win less than 23% of the vote and fewer than 100 seats. The PSOE and Ciudadanos are placed very close to each other in second and third places respectively and Podemos, while still fourth, is shown—in contrast to other polls—with a more detailed split vote between the different Podemos options. The national Podemos brand is awarded 9.1% of the vote and 23-25 seats in Congress; "En Comú Podem", the regional brand in Catalonia, 3.2% of the vote and 10-11 seats; "Compromis-Podemos-Es El Moment", in Valencia, 2.1% of the vote and 7 seats; and "En Marea", in Galicia, 1.3% and 5-6 seats.
A new Metroscopia poll for El País for Spain's general election shows the Spanish Socialist Party nudging past the Popular Party into the lead, on 24.6% of the estimated vote. While all four leading parties improved their result slightly compared to the July edition of the poll, the split between the PSOE and the PP, and then further back Podemos and Ciudadanos, was confirmed. The poll also suggested a slight rebound for Union, Progress & Democracy (UPyD), up to 0.9% from a record low of 0.3% in July.
As the new Ahora Madrid government in Madrid City Hall—led by Manuela Carmena—celebrated its first 100 days in office, ratings agency Standard & Poor's said it was lowering the Spanish capital's overall creditworthiness rating from "stable" to "negative" on Friday evening. In a statement, the company said: "Madrid's new government, in place since May 2015, has announced that it will audit the city's debt. We are uncertain at this stage about the scope, timeline, and possible implications of this audit. We are revising our outlook on Madrid to negative from stable and affirming our 'BBB/A-2' ratings. The negative outlook reflects our view that the audit's outcome might have negative implications on the city's willingness to service its debt when due". An S&P BBB/A-2 rating mean the ratings agency believes the City of Madrid is susceptible to "adverse effects of changes in circumstances and economic conditions". The "negative" outlook means it could be revised down further in the future.
Former star investigating judge Baltasar Garzón, along with a former Spanish Director General of UNESCO, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, and a former anti-corruption public prosecutor now on Podemos's Citizens' Council, Carlos Jiménez Villarejo, have called for left-wing parties to form a new popular front in Spain to "achieve the clear defeat of the conservative PP" and those who defend "neoliberal ideology in the Spanish state", which have "contributed to the degradation" of Spanish democracy since Mr. Rajoy came to power in 2011 and introduced "ultraconservative austerity policies". "The only way to avoid the triumph of the right", says the document: "is to constitute a united front that agrees on and proposes progressive candidacies for the elections". The three signatories say unity is necessary to overcome the "specific strategies of each party" and that "unity and popular participation must not be a mask for any mendacious tactic". They did not mention any party in particular.
Madrid City Hall announced it would dedicate €10 million out of its 2016 budget to a "welcome plan for refugees" to include housing, integration, psychological support and legal aid, City Hall spokeswoman Rita Maestre (Ahora Madrid) said during a press conference on Thursday. Ms. Maestre said a budget had been decided upon but that specific numbers had not: "We want to welcome all those who are fleeing from war", adding that given their situation "a permanent housing solution" would be needed in the city. The Mayor of the Spanish capital, Manuela Carmena, said on Wednesday that a decision would be taken at the city government meeting today: "The city of the hug must, of course, be ready to welcome refugees".
Two new Metroscopia polls for El País unexpectedly gave the Podemos-like options in each city a chance of winning or drawing next Sunday, which would be a huge story. If voters cast their ballots in line with the polling data, it would show they believe the new parties, borne of the 15M movement, have a chance of governing and guarantee lots more media coverage before the general election later in the year.
In the Spanish capital, Ahora Madrid and the Popular Party are close to a draw, on 17 and 19 seats respectively, in a 57 seat City Hall. The forecast for the PSOE is 11 seats and for Ciudadanos 10. In percentage terms, the difference between the two parties is 1.9 percentage points, well within the poll’s margin of error. El País reports a 10.3 point drop in support for the PP and Esperanza Aguirre since the last survey two weeks ago. The Ahora Madrid candidate, Manuela Carmena, tweeted: “Happiness is a duty because it’s what scares them most. The polls are starting to draw a smile in Madrid. 8 days left”.
In the Catalan capital, Ada Colau’s Barcelona en Comú, a grouping of four different parties including the Barcelona version of Podemos, is set to take the lead with 12 seats from CiU incumbent Xavier Trias, on 10, out of a total of 41 council seats at City Hall, according to the El País poll. A video has appeared of a Comú supporter handing out flyers insulting and attempting to assault some PP supporters, who called the police.
In its editorial, El País says “electoral fragmentation [is] about to become a reality”, and that overall majorities now seem “very problematic” in Spain’s big cities, notwithstanding the 25% (Madrid) or 32% (Barcelona) of still undecided voters. After the election next Sunday, parties will have 20 days to sort out some kind of coalition or minority option to govern towns and cities across the country.