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CATALONIA

Spain’s Senate passes controversial criminal code reform

Spain's Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a controversial criminal code reform that downgrades two charges used against Catalan separatist leaders over their involvement in the failed 2017 independence bid.

SPAIN-POLITICS-SEDITION-EMBEZZLEMENT
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez claps during Prime Minister's Questions session at the Senate in Madrid, on December 21st. Since taking over in June 2018, Sánchez has adopted a strategy of "defusing" the Catalonia conflict. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

The text, which was passed with the support of 140 of the 261 senators present, abolishes the offence of sedition and replaces it with a charge carrying softer penalties, and it also reduces the penalty for misuse of public funds.

Sedition was the charge used to convict and jail nine Catalan separatists over their failed secession bid, with several of them also convicted of misuse of public funds.

They were handed jail terms of between nine and 13 years, but later pardoned.

Analysts have said the move is aimed at courting Catalan separatist support ahead of next year’s general election.

Since taking over in June 2018, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has adopted a strategy of “defusing” the Catalonia conflict which threw Spain into its worst political crisis in decades, maintaining dialogue with the moderate separatists and pardoning those involved in the independence bid.

The reform could also soften any future sentence for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others who fled abroad during the crisis to escape prosecution.

The reforms have been fiercely criticised by the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP), which denounced the move as “tailor-made for convicts”, as well as some of Sanchez’s own Socialists who have denounced him for giving into separatist demands.

Another clause of the reform, which would have paved the way for renewing the mandates of four of the Constitutional Court’s 12 judges, was dropped from the text submitted to the Senate on Thursday following an unprecedented legal challenge by the PP earlier this week.

The move has sparked an institutional crisis in Spain which has been denounced by Sánchez’s government as “unprecedented”.

READ MORE: Why Spain is giving a ‘get out of jail free card’ to politicians

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POLITICS

Spain falls further in international corruption league tables

Spain has fallen in the international corruption index for a second consecutive year, coming in 35th place in the world, behind countries such as Botswana and Cape Verde. 

Spain falls further in international corruption league tables

Spain has fallen for a second consecutive year in the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by NGO Transparency International, a global ranking of countries based on their perceived corruption.

The CPI uses a 0-100 rating system, with 100 being ‘very clean’ and 0 being ‘highly corrupt’.

Spain dropped one point in 2022, from 61 to 60, and it now sits in 35th place in the world, behind countries such as Botswana and Cape Verde. 

Spain’s score represents a three-point decrease from its 2020 score. 

Within the EU, Spain sits in the middle of the pack in 14th position out of the 27 member states, two points below both Portugal and Lithuania (62/100) and only one point above Latvia (59/100).

Leading Europe (and the world) were Denmark (90/100), who took the top spot in the global ranking, followed by Finland (87/100), New Zealand (87/100), (Norway (84/100), Iceland (74/100) and Sweden (83/100).

The European countries with the lowest scores were Romania (46/100), Bulgaria (43/100) and Hungary (42/100).

Comparing Spain to its neighbours, France received a score of 72/100, Portugal 62/100, and Italy 56/100. Morocco scored 38/100.

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

Ten countries recorded the lowest score in their history, including the United Kingdom (73/100), which has fallen five points since last year.

Downward trend

According to the CPI report, a one-point decrease in a year is not necessarily statistically significant nor indicative of major institutional corruption, but consecutive annual falls, such as in Spain, are a “clear sign of risk and danger of continuing decline” in the following years.

Spain has been affected, the report states because it received worse scores due to irregular public service payments, exports and imports, and judicial decisions in cases of corruption. Broadly speaking, Spanish politics has been riddled with ongoing corruption scandals for some time, ranging from the national level down to small-town ayuntamientos (town halls).

READ ALSO: Spain to publish names of politicians who refuse to declare their assets

In 2022 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez defended two former Presidents of Andalusia for their alleged corruption in the ERE scandal, and the ongoing environmental scandal at Murcia’s Mar Menor has also been stained by corruption allegations.

Police forces across Spain are no better. The Catalan Generalitat has investigated several cases of corrupt Mossos in its police force in recent years, and port authorities and Guardia Civil agents across Spain, including Catalonia and Algeciras in Andalusia, have been arrested for taking bribes to turn blind eyes to drug trafficking. 

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, local mayors across Spain were caught out using their position and influence to queue jump and get vaccinations before vulnerable groups.

Juan Carlos I, the now exiled former King of Spain, has also had his fair share of alleged corruption scandals, including but not limited to the Saudi rail payoff scandal; money hidden in Swiss bank accounts; the mystery credit cards paid off by Mexican businessmen; the €10 million found in a Jersey bank account; and, finally, his goat hunting trip with the President of Kazakhstan in which Juan Carlos left with armfuls of briefcases containing over €5 million in cash.

Despite all that, however, in March 2022 Spanish prosecutors dropped all investigations into his finances.

Worldwide slowdown

The CPI report in general highlighted the fact that the fight against corruption in the world has stagnated, due in part due to the lingering effects of the pandemic at a legal and administrative level, something many governments around the world were able to capitalise on and reduce transparency.

According to the Index, 131 countries have not registered any significant progress in the last decade, and 27 received their lowest-ever scores in 2022.

The countries with the lowest scores in the ranking were Somalia (12/100), Syria (13/100), and South Sudan (13/100).

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