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SPANISH POLITICS

Spain’s PM to meet Catalan separatist leader next week

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will meet the head of Catalonia's separatist regional government to improve ties damaged by a phone-hacking scandal, the two sides said Friday.

Spain's PM to meet Catalan separatist leader next week
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is expected to meet with the Catalonian leader next week. Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP

Improving ties is key for Sanchez’s leftist minority government, which relies on Catalan leader Pere Aragones’ pro-independence ERC party to pass legislation in the national parliament.

They have been strained since Canada’s digital rights group Citizen Lab said in April that the mobile phones of over 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been the targets of Pegasus spyware after a failed
independence bid.

While the group said it could not directly attribute the spying operations to the government, the circumstantial evidence pointed to Spanish authorities.

Aragones, whose phone was one of the phones allegedly targeted, has since repeatedly demanded a meeting with Sanchez to discuss the affair.

The two leaders will meet on July 15 in Madrid, the Spanish and Catalan governments said following a meeting in Madrid between Parliamentary Affairs Minister Felix Bolanos and his Catalan counterpart, Laura Vilagra.

“Catalonia needs dialogue. No more tension. no more confrontation, we will never turn our backs again,” Bolanos told a news conference after the meeting.

The two sides also adopted a “framework agreement” to relaunch talks aimed at “resolving the political conflict” sparked by Catalonia’s failed independence bid, the Catalan government said.

Talks between Sanchez’s government and Catalonia’s were launched in February 2020 but were quickly suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

They resumed on September 2021 after the central government pardoned nine jailed separatist leaders serving jail terms over Catalonia’s 2017 independence bid but made little progress.

Although Spain acknowledged its intelligence services had spied on the phones of 18 separatist leaders — with court approval — it said the “vast majority” of numbers identified by Citizen Lab were hacked by “unknown
actors.”

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SPANISH POLITICS

Spain to splash out €1.2 million on free mobiles for MPs

The Spanish government has approved the purchase of 825 state-of-the-art mobile phones and other tech gadgets for its Members of Parliament in the midst of a cost of living crisis in the country.

Spain to splash out €1.2 million on free mobiles for MPs

As millions of Spaniards struggle with rising energy, food and fuel prices among other spiralling living costs, the Spanish government has given the green light to splurge €1.23 million of taxpayers’ money on mobile phones, tablets and laptops for its 350 MPs.

The 825 next-generation mobile phones include 550 iPhones and 275 Samsung devices with internal storage of up to 512GB and 6-inch OLED screens, all of which will be insured and include technical assistance as part of the deal.

Although it has not been officially confirmed, the Apple devices are likely to be iPhone 13s, which currently have a high street value of between €900 and €1,800 in Spain.

Lower House employees, parliamentary advisors and other civil servants working in El Congreso de los Diputados (the Spanish Parliament) are also set to receive a free mobile.

The parliamentary tech upgrade, published in Spain’s State Bulletin (BOE) on Wednesday September 7th, has been deemed necessary as mobiles are “elements of assistance to parliamentary duties” and the last free devices MPs were given were iPhone 8s that don’t reportedly have the necessary capabilities for current security standards, nor can they have the latest iOS and Android software installed.

Members of Parliament belonging to centre-right party Ciudadanos will not accept the free mobiles, according to their leader Inés Arrimadas.

“It’s madness that in the midst of the crisis Spain is undergoing, the Spanish Parliament will spend more than a million euros to give all MPs the most expensive mobile phones on the market,” Arrimadas tweeted, calling on the Lower House to “rectify” its decision.

When 350 Members of the Spanish Parliament received free mobiles, tablets and home internet in 2016, only five of them turned down the handout.

According to the latest data available on Spain’s Transparency Portal, Spanish Members of Parliament receive on average a base salary of €3,050 gross per month for their parliamentary work, which doesn’t include earnings they receive for their other political work.

MPs also have the right to claim financial aid, exemptions and expenses for their parliamentary duties, and depending on the Spanish region for which they carry out their duties, they can claim additional compensation.

Therefore, Spanish MPs have gross annual salaries of between €55,803 and €70,143 for their parliamentary jobs, twice or almost three times as high as the average gross annual salary of workers in Spain, which in 2022 stands at around €24,000.

READ ALSO: Is Spain as corrupt as it was a decade ago?

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