Spain is boosting its cybersecurity preparedness and ramping up its efforts to fight the spread of disinformation ahead of national elections this weekend. The April 28 general election in Spain may act as a testing ground for measures to protect the integrity of the European Parliament elections in late May, the Associated Press reports. Europe-wide election security efforts include a “rapid alert system” linking specialized coordination units across all EU member states, as well as a plan to get internet firms to team up and share intelligence on disinformation campaigns. The Spanish government has tasked a division of its National Cybersecurity Institute, or INCIBE, to coordinate defenses against cyber-attacks and combat fake news. A national security report released in March described a rising tide of disinformation amid a myriad of “hybrid threats”, some stemming from international political intrigue. Allegations of foreign interference in Spain have centered on events around Catalonia’s highly contentious independence referendum back in October 2017. Allegations of cyber-spying have also been a factor in a number of domestic cases. “Espionage is now a huge issue in Spain because of three different scandals: these are the Villarejo case, the Pablo Iglesias case, and the Catalan independence protest,” Joe Haslam, a professor at the IE Business School in Madrid and executive director and chairman of hot.es, a mobile hotel booking app, told The Daily Swig. “The spooks are active, but little attention is being paid to threats from outside Spain.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday called on all political forces in the country to back a new national cybersecurity fight against “attempts to hack democracy and undermine citizens’ trust in the political system.” Spain’s April 28 general election is seen as a testing ground for new measures that the European Union is adopting to shield elections to the European Parliament a month later. The Europe-wide efforts include a “rapid alert system” linking specialized coordination units in all EU member states and require internet companies to share regular updates on their efforts to eradicate disinformation campaigns. Spain joined the Europe-wide initiative in early March, establishing a high-level unit to coordinate the fight against cyberattacks and fake news. The experts report directly to Sánchez, who on Tuesday equated disinformation to attacks on “the quality of democracy.” “We need to protect Europe in order for Europe to be able to protect its citizens,” the Socialist leader said during a visit to the national cybersecurity institute, or INCIBE, in the northern province of León. Sánchez also called for new cybersecurity guidelines that are currently being designed to be backed by all national parties, regardless of who wins the upcoming election.
Spain looks set for a snap general election — or slow agony for Pedro Sánchez. The Socialist prime minister had his 2019 budget plans rejected by parliament on Wednesday, prompting his office to say that on Friday he’ll announce if there will be an early ballot — which could be as soon as April. Catalan pro-independence lawmakers joined forces with the right-of-center opposition to defeat the budget proposal — paving the way for an electoral test that polls predict Sánchez will win but fall short of being able to put together a coalition. The news follows days of speculation about election dates, ranging from April 14 and 28 to May 26. The latter has already been dubbed “Super Sunday” because it would coincide with European, regional and local ballots.
Spain’s minority Socialist government plans to announce an early general election after its expected defeat in a budget vote on Wednesday following its refusal to negotiate Catalan self-determination, political sources said on Tuesday. Two small Catalan pro-independence parties, on whose votes the government has been relying to pass legislation, have so far maintained their blanket rejection of the budget. They said they were open to negotiate until the budget vote if the government promised them a dialogue on the right to self-determination, but that right is prohibited by the Spanish constitution.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s budget plans are threatening to unravel amid reports that he’s considering calling a snap election for April. After his conservative rivals staged a show of strength by bringing tens of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets of Madrid, Efe news agency reported that Sanchez is considering calling elections for April 14. A press officer for the premier said the government is focused on getting its budget passed this week. Protesters in the heart of the Spanish capital on Sunday were demanding an election and accused the prime minister of being soft in talks with Catalan separatists. They waved Spanish flags and shouted “Long Live the Constitution, Long Live Spain.”
The footsteps of a snap election have been getting louder in Spain amid the country’s socialist minority government’s unrequited efforts to find necessary support from other political parties in Parliament for the government’s 2019 budget. Jose Luis Abalos, the minister of public works in Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s administration, said in a meeting Monday in Madrid that early general elections cannot be ruled out as “one of their options” and may be held on the same day as municipal, regional and European elections on May 26, 2019. “You can’t venture anything, between now and May there is a lot of time,” he said.
Tens of thousands of Catalans congregated in Barcelona on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the region’s unilateral and illegal independence referendum as groups of pro-independence activists blocked roads, motorways and a high-speed rail line and surrounded the Catalan parliament. Police in the city estimated that about 180,000 people took part in a rally in the city on Monday evening. Tensions flared between police and protesters as some hardline demonstrators jumped over barriers at the entrance to the parliament. There were similar scenes outside the Barcelona headquarters of Spain’s national police. Crowds of students filled the city’s central square on Monday afternoon, waving yellow, red and blue separatist flags and chanting “1 October, no forgiving, no forgetting”. Nearby, others let off smoke bombs and fireworks.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez dropped his pledge to call an early election in Spain less than three weeks after taking office. In his first interview since ousting Mariano Rajoy with a no-confidence vote on June 1, 46-year-old Sanchez said he aims to see out the final two years of the parliamentary term. “I plan to call elections in 2020, and so to see out the legislature,” Sanchez told state television broadcaster TVE Monday. “After the confidence motion, we need a period of time to get back to normal before calling an election.”
Spain has a new prime minister after a parliamentary vote Friday led to the ousting of incumbent Mariano Rajoy. Speaking to the Spanish parliament just before the vote, Rajoy said he would accept the result and wanted to be the first to congratulate the leader of the opposition Socialist Party, Pedro Sanchez, as his successor. A long-running corruption trial — known as the Gurtel case — found dozens of people linked to Rajoy’s governing People’s Party (PP) guilty of benefiting from illegal kickbacks. That prompted Sanchez to push for a vote of no-confidence against Rajoy.
Lawmakers in Catalonia elected a fervent separatist as the new chief of the restive region Monday, ending a leadership vacuum of more than six months and setting the scene for more confrontations with the Spanish government. Quim Torra, a former corporate lawyer who went on to lead a prominent pro-secession group, vowed to build an independent Catalan republic by working under the leadership of his fugitive predecessor, Carles Puigdemont. Puigdemont is in Germany fighting extradition to Spain, where he is wanted for allegedly using public funds and orchestrating an “insurrection” to get the wealthy northeastern region around Barcelona to break away from Spain. Torra was elected 66-65 in a second round vote after he failed to secure an absolute majority in the 135-strong Catalan Parliament over the weekend. Four lawmakers with the far-left anti-establishment CUP party abstained.
Plans by Catalan separatists to re-elect their region’s former president in absentia were blocked Wednesday by Spain’s Constitutional Court. The court agreed to consider the Spanish government’s challenge of a legal change approved by Catalonia’s separatist-dominated parliament that paved the way for Carles Puigdemont’s election while he fights extradition from Germany to Spain. By accepting the case, the court effectively ended Puigdemont’s chances of being re-elected to the post the Spanish government removed him from in October. A ruling will take months, but pro-independence parties in Catalonia need to elect a new chief by May 22 or risk the calling of a new election.
The former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, whose push for regional independence plunged Spain into its worst political crisis for 40 years, has abandoned his attempt to return to office and is stepping aside in favour of a candidate who is currently in prison. Puigdemont used a 13-minute video shared on social media on Thursday night to confirm reports he was no longer seeking the presidency. He said that “with the greatest sadness” he had informed the speaker of the Catalan parliament that he was unable to retake the post and that an alternative candidate should be chosen.
Catalonia’s parliament speaker on Tuesday postponed a session intended to re-elect the region’s fugitive ex-president, saying the planned meeting would not take place until there were guarantees Spanish authorities “won’t interfere.” The decision comes after Spain’s top court ruled Saturday that Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Belgium and faces arrest if he returns, could only be re-elected if physically present in the parliament in Barcelona. The court also ordered that he must obtain permission to appear at parliament from the judge investigating him over Catalonia’s independence bid. Puigdemont is one of more than a dozen Catalan political figures facing possible rebellion and sedition charges following the previous parliament’s illegal and unsuccessful declaration of independence in October, which brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades to a head. The decision leaves the future government of the prosperous region in something of a limbo.
Spain’s top court said Saturday that Catalonia’s fugitive ex-president must return to the country and be present in the regional parliament to receive the authority to form a new government. The Constitutional Court ruled that a session of Catalonia’s parliament scheduled for Tuesday would be suspended if former leader Carles Puigdemont tries to be re-elected without being physically present in the chamber. The court also said that Puigdemont must seek judicial authorization to attend the session. Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers have been considering voting Puigdemont back in as regional chief without him returning from Belgium, weighing options that included another parliament member standing in for him or him addressing the lawmakers via video.
A new report says that Russian hacking operations to support Catalonian independence continue and could intensify. The Spanish Defense Ministry’s Center for Strategic and Defense Studies published the report this week. It says Russia is destabilizing Spain as tensions grow in the northeastern region. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hoped to ease tensions by holding local elections last month. Instead, the voting returned the pro-independence majority to the regional parliament. In another protest of the Spanish government, the party then nominated exiled leader Carles Puigdemont as president. Spanish defense minister Maria Dolores Cospedal, as well as EU and NATO officials, have expressed suspicion about Russian interference in Catalonia.
Catalonia’s new parliament on Wednesday elected a pro-secession speaker, virtually guaranteeing that the push for independence for Spain’s northeastern region will continue as its lawmakers prepare to elect a new government. The opening session of the new Catalan assembly came amid looming questions about the role that fugitive and jailed politicians will play within the chamber’s separatist majority and the future regional government. Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in October dodging a Spanish judicial probe over a foiled secession attempt, wants to be reinstated to his old job. But he faces arrest if he returns to Spain and legal hurdles if he wants to be voted in from abroad by the regional assembly.
Spain: Madrid to maintain direct rule if self-exiled Catalan separatist reelected: Prime Minister | Reuters
Spain rejected as absurd suggestions that Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont could lead the region from exile if elected president by the new Catalan parliament, and said if he were chosen Madrid would maintain direct central rule. Puigdemont fled to Brussels in October after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired him as Catalonia’s leader for declaring an independent republic following an illegal referendum. He faces arrest and possibly decades in jail if he returns to Spain. With only days before Catalonia’s parliament convenes to elect a new regional government, separatists said Puigdemont was their candidate to lead the region again. They are exploring the possibility he could do so by video link from Brussels.
Catalonia’s two main separatist parties have agreed to support the re-election of ousted leader Carles Puigdemont as president, in a sign that pro-independence groups are eager to ratchet up the tension with Spain’s central government. The separatists’ agreement is the first significant step toward forming a new government in the restive Spanish region following regional elections Dec. 21. That vote was called after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on the region in October in an attempt to quell the separatists’ push to secede from Spain. When a new and law-abiding government is seated in Catalonia, Madrid has said it would end direct rule.
Spain’s King Felipe VI has urged Catalan leaders to respect their region’s diversity and avoid another confrontation over independence in a Christmas speech. Felipe’s remarks on Sunday came three days after separatist parties in Catalonia, led by ousted president Carles Puigdemont, won an absolute majority of seats in a parliamentary vote. The wealthy north-eastern region’s newly elected parliament must “face the problems that affect all Catalans, with respect to plurality and bearing in mind their responsibility to the common good”, the monarch said. “The road cannot lead again to confrontation and exclusion, which as we already know generate nothing but discord, uncertainty and discouragement.” Spain’s central government called the election after sacking Puigdemont’s cabinet, dissolving the Catalan parliament and stripping the region of its treasured autonomy following an independence declaration on 27 October.
Catalonia’s separatists look set to regain power in the wealthy Spanish region after local elections on Thursday, deepening the nation’s political crisis in a sharp rebuke to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and European Union leaders who backed him. With nearly all votes counted, separatist parties won a slim majority in Catalan parliament, a result that promises to prolong political tensions which have damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus from the region. Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking the previous secessionist government, had hoped Catalonia’s “silent majority” would deal separatism a decisive blow in what was a de facto independence referendum, but his hard line backfired.
Catalonia’s pro-independence parties won a major victory Thursday: Together, they secured a five-seat majority over all other parties in the Catalan Parliament. Separatists were triumphant about their victory. But here’s the problem: The separatist victory is a manufactured product of Catalonia’s electoral system, in which voters cast their ballots for a single party list and seats are awarded to parties proportionally using the d’Hondt formula within each of Catalonia’s four provinces. As I’ve explained before, this system is stacked in favor of the separatists — which is how the three pro-independence parties won a parliamentary majority while receiving just 47.7 percent of the vote. Three factors skewed the results. First, Catalonia gives the three more rural provinces, where separatist parties do well, 15 more of the 135 total deputies than they merit based on population. Conversely, Barcelona, the most unionist province, is underrepresented. This is known as “malapportionment.” Had Catalonia allotted seats fairly among the provinces, pro-independence parties would have fallen one seat short of a majority.
Catalans flocked to the polls on Thursday for an election that could strip pro-independence parties of absolute control of the region’s parliament, though prospects of it ending the country’s worst political crisis in decades appear slim. Final surveys published last Friday showed separatists and unionists running neck-and-neck, though the same data suggests the pro-independence camp may still be able to form a minority government. That would keep national politics mired in turmoil and raise concerns in European capitals and financial markets. However, the secessionist campaign has lost some momentum since it unilaterally declared independence in October to trigger Thursday’s vote, and one of its leaders took a conciliatory tone towards Madrid in comments published this week.
The cops smiled a lot at first. The six plainclothes officers from Spain’s civil guard arrived in the morning at the Barcelona offices of Fundació PuntCat, the Internet registry that manages the .cat extension, popular in Spain’s Catalonia region. Employees were politely told to unlock their computers and step away. A search warrant would arrive soon. The mood darkened when a squad of riot police turned up, and executives learned that the police that morning had gone to the home of Josep “Pep” Masoliver, the group’s chief technology officer, and arrested him on charges that included perversion of justice. This was September 20, fewer than two weeks before voters in Catalonia were scheduled to decide whether the region should declare independence from Spain. Responding to the country’s worst political crisis in a generation, the Spanish government declared Catalonia’s referendum on self-determination illegal. Many elsewhere in Spain considered the vote treason.
After Catalonia declared independence two months ago, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain took extraordinary control of the region and called elections, gambling that voters would punish the separatists who had propelled the nation’s worst constitutional crisis in decades. That election now comes Thursday, but far from solving the conflict, it could just as easily complicate the task of governing the first of Spain’s 19 regions to have its autonomy stripped, placing the country in uncharted political terrain. While Catalonia’s volatile politics have made predictions treacherous, polls indicate a potentially fractured result that may prolong the deadlock over the prosperous northeastern region’s status, even if it denies the separatists a victory.
Catalonia votes on Thursday for a new administration in an election many hope will resolve Spain’s worst crisis in decades after the region declared independence leading Madrid to sack local leaders. Polls suggest neither the pro-independence nor the pro-unity camp will win a majority. The likely outcome is a hung parliament and many weeks of wrangling to form a new regional government. In the separatist heartland of rural Catalonia, fireman Josep Sales says he hopes the results will endorse the result of an Oct. 1 illegal referendum on independence from Spain and lead to the creation of a republic. “If we get a majority, something will have to be done. And if the politicians don’t do it, the people will unite,” he said, speaking from the town fire station where many of the red fire engines bear the slogan ‘Hello Democracy’.
When Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy forced an election in the rebel region of Catalonia, the aim was to halt the political chaos after a declaration of independence by separatists that reverberated across Europe. Instead, more upheaval looks set to emerge. It’s going to be tough to discern any real winner from the vote on Thursday following a campaign riddled with mutual suspicion and infighting. The final polls before a blackout period began on Dec. 16 showed the three parties pushing to break away from Spain may win the slimmest of majorities in the 135-seat parliament in Barcelona. The likelihood of securing more than 50 percent of the vote is more remote, though, as is an agreement on who might actually form a government.
A Spanish judge on Monday ordered the release on bail of six former government officials in Catalonia, but ruled that the former Catalan vice president and three other separatist leaders must remain in jail while prosecutors investigate them for their independence drive. If the six ex-officials, who had been cabinet members under former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, post the €100,000 ($118,950) bail ordered by the judge, they will be able to campaign in events ahead of the regional parliamentary elections that are scheduled for Dec. 21. The officials were jailed on Nov. 2 pending an investigation by state prosecutors on charges of sedition, rebellion and misappropriation of public funds for their sustained bid to split with Spain.
Madrid believes Russian-based groups used online social media to heavily promote Catalonia’s independence referendum last month in an attempt to destabilize Spain, Spanish ministers said on Monday. Spain’s defense and foreign ministers said they had evidence that state and private-sector Russian groups, as well as groups in Venezuela, used Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sites to massively publicize the separatist cause and swing public opinion behind it in the run-up to the Oct. 1 referendum. Catalonia’s separatist leaders have denied that Russian interference helped them in the vote.
Lacking the resources necessary to be able to achieve their objective of breaking away from Spain, pro-independence forces in Catalonia put their messages and fake news at the service of a pro-Russian meddling machine, which amplified them via thousands of profiles on the social networks with links to the Kremlin and Venezuelan chavismo, with the link of activists such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. According to a number of studies about the social conversation on the internet, this conscious strategy convinced international public opinion, given that it received no kind of resistance on the part of the institutions of the Spanish state. Neither the government, nor the political parties nor public media outlets responded in an organized manner to the attack against them on social networks. One part of the evidence: according to an analysis carried out by George Washington University of the social conversation that took place in the days prior and subsequent to the referendum of October 1, two narratives were created. Some 78.2% of messages defended the independence of Catalonia and portrayed the Spanish state as repressive for encouraging police brutality. Meanwhile, 19.2% defended the legitimacy of the Spanish state to be able to stop the referendum from going ahead given that it was unconstitutional.
Spain: Will Catalonia’s separatists win in December? The voting system is stacked in their favor. | The Washington Post
Catalonia’s Oct. 27 unilateral declaration of independence from Spain has gained the region a lot of attention — perhaps more so than at any time since the Spanish Civil War. How did Catalonia end up declaring independence? Like the U.S. electoral college, Catalonia’s electoral system can turn a popular vote loser into a winner. In fact, the strong biases built into the Catalan electoral system elevated the crisis by inflating the secessionists’ parliamentary majority. And these same rules may perpetuate the crisis. After the declaration of independence, Spain’s central government used its powers under Article 155 of the constitution to take control of the regional government. Madrid called for fresh regional elections on Dec. 21. But Catalonia’s separatists may win a parliamentary majority again, even if they lose at the polls. The Catalan parliament is elected via proportional representation, which is commonly used around the world. Why did this “proportional” system lead to a surprise advantage for separatists? It’s all in the fine print.