The Day in Spain #19


  • Ciudadanos concerned about the confidence debate negotiations
  • Basque elections:PP and Ciudadanos appeal Otegi’s nomination


Ciudadanos concerned about the confidence debate negotiations

Ciudadanos spokesman at the Parliament, Juan Carlos Girauta, said today that his party is concerned that the negotiations with Rajoy’s PP are stalled. Girauta accused the conservatives of rejecting every proposal from Albert Rivera’s negotiating team. José Luis Ayllón (PP) said that he didn’t think there are major concerns and that PP is busy finding ways to get closer to Ciudadanos.

Reportedly, the main conflict between the two right wing parties is the institutional model. Ciudadanos asks for a deep reform that would eliminate the Senate and the provincial management boards (Diputaciones). PP rejects both options, although would agree to a slight reform of either.


PP and Ciudadanos are negotiating the support of the 32 C’s MPs to Rajoy’s re-election. While this is not enough to secure Rajoy’s second term at the Moncloa, it would put pressure on PSOE, whose abstention Rajoy needs to be re-elected. Ciudadanos‘ leader Albert Rivera, who had said during the campaign that they wouldn’t support Rajoy in any case, changed his mind two weeks ago, when offered the conservatives to open a round of negotiations, provided Rajoy accepted six conditions, mostly related to political corruption.

After the conservative leader mocked the conditions live, later changed them and finally redefined the term corruption, Ciudadanos‘ patience seems to be running out. They had already clashed with PP in labour a social policies, and now are finding problems with the institutional model.

Ciudadanos argues that there are too many layers in Spain’s administration. Considering that this large apparatus drains resources that could be spent elsewhere, Rivera’s party proposed the elimination of the provincial “Diputaciones”. Spain is divided in 50 provinces which are then grouped in 17 regions (or “Autonomous Communities”), plus 2 autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla, in Northern Africa).

While Autonomous Communities have their own government and great powers (think that Catalonia, Andalusia and the Basque Country, for example, are Autonomous Communities), provinces are only administrative divisions and don’t have power of their own. However, the city halls of all the towns and villages in each province are represented in management boards which dominate provincial budgets and take care of balancing them so the smaller municipalities don’t get swallowed by larger cities. They also take care of some social services.

The Diputaciones have acquired a bad reputation lately, as their competencies dwindled and their debt rised. The fact that their members are not elected directly (only city halls choose them) reduce the citizens’ knowledge about them. Corruption cases and an image or being self-serving have added to the mix, which exploded with the financial crisis. Ciudadanos argues that those functions could easily be assumed by regional governments, saving these institutions’ cost. However, PP, whose voters are mainly from rural areas, rejects this option. PM Mariano Rajoy was, himself President of the Provincial Diputación of his province (Pontevedra). Obviously, Ciudadanos‘ voters are mostly urban.

The other institution under fire is the Senate. Spain’s legislative power is bi-cameral. The lower chamber is called the Congress of Deputies (that’s what I call Parliament in this blog). The other one is the Senate.

The Senate is, theoretically, an organ of territorial representation. Each electoral district (provinces, islands and autonomous cities) elect a number of senators (4 for provinces, 3 for large islands, 2 for autonomous cities, 1 for small islands). The senators then supposedly exercise a legilative function. They can propose laws, amend bills from the Parliament, question the government, amend bills proposed by the Parliament, etc.

The criticism of the Senate comes because it’s perceived as useless, as all power finally rests in the Parliament. For example, the Senate can ban a bill, but then the Parliament has the power to ignore the ban (by absolute majority). The Senate has few exclusive functions, and they are rarely used.

However, PP‘s popularity in rural areas (which have a disproportionate fraction of power at the Senate) makes the conservatives strong in the chamber. Perks such as parliamentary immunity and the election of a number of members of the Judicial Power would be given up by the conservatives if the Senate was eliminated, so they resist that idea. They have vaguely accepted the possibility of a reform, though, but no details have been provided.

Basque elections:PP and Ciudadanos appeal Otegi’s nomination

Centralist parties PP and Ciudadanos appealed today against the elegibility as Lehendakari (Basque PM) of EH Bildu‘s candidate, Arnaldo Otegi. Both groups have filed documents at the Electoral Board, although the institution already announced yesterday that it would ban Otegi from running.


This is a great example of the political nature of Otegi’s elegibility. The Guipuzcoa electoral board had already announced that EH Bildu‘s candidate wasn’t elegible to run for Lehendakari, but the decision will not be official until Monday 29 August. That eventuality was used by PP and Ciudadanos to appeal against a decision that has not existed and will not exist. This is just a campaign move.

To understand the move, you need to understand the nature of each of the parties at play, the nature of the Basque Country’s case and ETA’s decades long armed fight.

ETA was a terrorist group that fought to create a socialist republic in the Basque Country (with territories both in Spain and France). The group is still active, but announced a definitive end to armed struggle in 2011. Arnaldo Otegi was a member of ETA until the early 90’s, after which he became one of the main political leaders of the Basque nationalist left.

It’s important to keep in mind that, until 1978, Spain was a dictatorship, and strictly centralist. Public use of languages such as Basque and Catalan were banned. Police brutality, murder and torture were common, which gave ETA wide social support. Even in democracy, the state has used terrorist tactics and torture against ETA members (real or suspected) and what is known as ETA’s surroundings (family, friends and other left-wing groups). Recently, institutions such as the United Nations, the European Court of Human Rights and Amnesty International have denounced Spain for not investigating allegations of torture. ETA’s prisoners are kept away from the Basque Country in what is known as “Dispersion policy”. This is perceived by the left-wing as a way to punish their relatives, who can’t visit them. “Dispersion policy” has also been internationally denounced.

ETA, on the other side, has killed at least 829 people, of which the great majority (715) were murdered after Franco’s death. More than a hundred were civilians (mostly business people and politicians), while the rest were members of different police departments, the army, judges and jail guards. ETA’s social support started to disappear after an attack in a department store in Barcelona in 1987, in which they killed 21 civilians (although the group allegedly gave notice of the bomb 35 minutes before it exploded, with the police considering it a false alarm).

Apart from killing, ETA has used kidnapping, extortion, robbery and blackmail to fund itself.

Arnaldo Otegi, as said above, was a member of ETA until the early 90s. He allegedly participated in at least one kidnapping (although a court declared him not guilty for lack of evidence). After that he became one of the main political figures in the Basque nationalist left. He has repeatedly said that he supports peace and that ETA’s armed years are over, but he has never openly condemned ETA’s violence.

On the other side, ETA’s victims have established various powerful associations, the most important one being AVT. Most of the victims come from conservative sectors of the administration (army, police, conservative parties, business), and have often made a political use of their social standing and moral ground, typically to favour conservative and centralist parties. Some of the victims have joined minority extreme-right movements such as VOX.

Otegi was imprisoned (for the last time) in 2010 for trying to rebuild Batasuna (a political party illegalised for allegedly supporting ETA), and spent six years in jail. He was freed in March. However, associated to this sentence, his right to run for office was suspended until 2021, a fact that has been taken into account by the electoral board of Guipuzcoa. Otegi claims that there are precedents that allow him to run, because his sentence is not specific about the positions he’s not allowed to hold.

Please note that Otegi’s imprisonment is considered politically-motivated by many. After all, he was building a political party (if at all).

Now, the different parties represent not only conservative, liberal, right and left positions. They represent unionist or independentist options. Seeing who’s appealing against Otegi’s candidature says a lot about their position. Here, PP and Ciudadanos are not in competition with any voters in the left or pro-independence, so they can safely assume that their voters will approve an appeal against Otegi. Podemos, for example, although not pro-independece, holds a position that supports self-determination. PNV is not left wing, but competes with EH Bildu for the pro-independence vote. PSE (PSOE‘s Basque branch) has criticised Otegi’s nomination, but at the same time refuses to appeal against it, because it would be seen as too centralist, and associated with the right.

At the center of it all, EH Bildu is in a win-win situation. If Otegi is allowed to run, his charisma and popularity will be surrounded by a winners’ aura among young left wing voters draining Podemos. If he’s banned, he can easily be protrayed as a martyr, a victim of political reprisal, galvanising pro-independence and left-wing voters around whatever option EH Bildu presents. I bet they’re going to obtain excellent results. Their strategy is genius.



One thought on “The Day in Spain #19

  1. Pingback: The Day in Spain #20 – Santiago Saez

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