‘Catalan Gate’ puts Spanish government stability at risk ahead of crucial vote

“What has to do a state, a government, when someone violates the constitution, declares (unilaterally) independence, cuts public roads, creates civil unrest, (when someone) establishes (political) relations with political leaders of a country (Russia) that is invading Ukraine”, Robles stressed, responding a question from a pro-independence Catalan politician, El Mundo reported. [EPA-EFE/JUAN CARLOS HIDALGO]

Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles is “politically unfit” and should resign over her inability to clarify Spain’s “worst espionage scandal of the last decades”, the pro-independence president of the Catalan regional government Pere Aragonès said on Wednesday.

Last week, Citizen Lab revealed that dozens of pro-independence Catalan politicians had been targeted with the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware between 2015 and 2020, allegedly used by Spain’s secret services.

The espionage crisis has triggered a bitter confrontation within the executive. The parties providing “political oxygen” to the Spanish government, the left-wing Unidas Podemos (United We Can), Aragonès’s Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Basque pro-independence EH Bildu, on Wednesday demanded the resignation of the defence minister, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.

Last weekend, Aragonès issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his government, demanding he shed light on the alleged espionage case.

Aragonès decided on 19 April to temporarily freeze relations with Spain’s central government until the circumstances and background of the scandal were clarified. He also threatened to withdraw his party’s parliamentary support to the Spanish executive.

On Thursday (28 April), the Spanish parliament will vote on the government’s plan to tackle the negative impact of the war in Ukraine on the Spanish economy, and ERC’s support could be crucial, El Periódico de Cataluña reported.

However, Aragonès considered insufficient the explanations and information provided so far by the Spanish government on the scandal and said he felt “insulted” by the defence minister’s words in parliament on Wednesday.

“What has to do a state, a government, when someone violates the constitution, declares (unilaterally) independence, cuts public roads, creates civil unrest, (when someone) establishes (political) relations with political leaders of a country (Russia) that is invading Ukraine”, Robles stressed, responding a question from a pro-independence Catalan politician, El Mundo reported.

The socialist minister accused pro-independence Catalan politicians of acting as “victims” of (espionage) when they have never “defended the basic principles of the rule of law or the rights and freedoms of all citizens”, she said.

Roble’s comments referred to a referendum on Catalonia’s independence held on 1 October 2017, which Spain’s Constitutional Court declared that year illegal. About 90% of Catalan voters backed independence, but the turnout reached only 43%. The Catalan parliament then declared “independence” unilaterally.

In June 2021, nine Catalan separatists were released from prison after their sentences for their role in the referendum were commuted by the government.

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