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POLITICS

Spanish PM reshuffles government

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday reshuffled his government for the first time since the left-wing coalition came to power in January 2020.

Spanish PM reshuffles government
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to announce government reshuffle. Photo: PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP

Sánchez said it represented “a generational renewal” because the mean age of the ministers was now 50 instead of 55.

And women now make up 63 percent over 54 percent in the previous government.

“This will make our country once again the reference for women-men equality,” Sánchez said.

His minority coalition is composed of Socialists and the radical-left Podemos party. Podemos kept their five portfolios in the 22-member cabinet.

Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha González Laya was replaced by Jose Manuel
Albares, who was Spain’s ambassador to France. Socialist Carmen Calvo, who was
number two in the government, has also left the cabinet.

Sánchez presented the reshuffle to the king earlier in the day.

The Spanish government had been weakened over the past several months.

Early in May, Podemos and the Socialists were routed in regional elections in Madrid by the conservative Popular Party (PP).

The PP has surged ahead of the Socialists in opinion polls following that election – at the end of May, polls showed the PP and the far-right Vox together would win an absolute majority in parliament if a general election were held.

The government’s decision in June to pardon nine Catalan separatists has also drained support.

The pardons have been condemned by Spain’s right-wing opposition as well as
by the Supreme Court, but Madrid hoped they would give impetus to talks with
Catalonia’s new leader, Pere Aragonès, who was more open to dialogue than his
hardline predecessor.

Since Sánchez’s coalition came to power, it has relied in part on the support of ERC, a leftist Catalan separatist party, which in return demanded talks on resolving the separatist conflict in wealthy Catalonia.

A week after the pardons,  Aragonès said separatists would resume talks with the government in the second half of September.

An Ipsos poll in June found that 53 percent of Spaniards opposed the pardons, but 68 percent of Catalans were in favour.

READ ALSO: Spain will ‘never’ allow independence vote in Catalonia: PM

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POLITICS

Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions

Catalan separatists hold their annual march in Barcelona on Sunday, but won't be joined this year by their leader, whose support for dialogue with Madrid has divided the movement.

Catalan separatists to march on national day despite divisions

The annual “Diada” on September 11 marks the fall of Barcelona to Spain in 1714 and has traditionally drawn vast crowds.

Under the slogan, “We’re back to win: independence!” organisers hope to mark the comeback for a movement still reeling from the failed 2017 independence bid and then the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our reliance on political parties is over, only the people and civil society can achieve independence,” said the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), an influential association which, over the past decade, transformed this once-minor anniversary into a massive annual event.

READ MORE: Why does Catalonia have its own ‘embassies’ abroad? 

But the ANC, the region’s biggest grassroots separatist movement, has been very critical of dialogue started between the Catalan government of Pere Aragones, a moderate separatist, and Madrid.

It said the “October 1 victory,” when separatists organised a 2017 independence referendum despite a ban by Madrid, and the pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament “must not be wasted in dialogue with the Spanish state and on internal squabbles”.

This year, Aragones has decided not to attend the march.

Last year, his presence drew derisive whistles from some of the 108,000 people who turned out to demonstrate at what was one of the smallest turnouts in a decade, police figures showed.

“It wouldn’t make much sense if my presence there was used against the government I run,” he told regional public television on Wednesday, referring to his separatist coalition which groups the left-wing ERC and hardline JxC.

Aragones belongs to ERC, which favours a negotiated strategy to achieve independence via dialogue with Madrid, while JxC wants to maintain a confrontational approach.

Other ERC government members won’t attend Sunday’s march, while JxC representatives will.

A movement in crisis

Gone are the years when vast crowds would paralyse the streets of Barcelona, when the Diada drew more than a million participants in the run-up to the 2017 independence bid. 

Five years on from that frenetic autumn, when the Catalan government made a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, the context is very different.

Those behind the bid were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain’s top court, although they were later pardoned.

READ MORE: Spanish intelligence did spy on Catalan separatists with court approval: report

Others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the separatists sharply at odds over how to move forward.

ERC — a small player in Spain’s national parliament, but which has offered crucial support to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government — says it is fully committed to dialogue.

That hasn’t changed despite recent revelations that the Spanish intelligence service had spied on separatist politicians. But the hardliners are running out of patience, disappointed with politicians whom they see as reneging on their promises.

“We at the ANC don’t understand how the Catalan leader is happy to pose for photos with the leadership in Madrid but doesn’t want to do the same with hundreds of thousands of Catalans who want independence,” the group said.

Sunday’s march will be a delicate moment for a very weakened movement.

“The context has changed radically following the pandemic and now with the war in Ukraine,” said Ana Sofia Cardenal, a political scientist at Catalonia’s Open University, suggesting people have more immediate preoccupations.

“The mood among the people is different now, even among those who back Catalan independence,” she said. They want “the politicians to resolve the problems” that people are facing in daily life.

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