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Spanish report
by Euro Reporter
2014-11-13 11:17:44
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Catalonia Votes For Independence; Spain Says It Won't Happen

Residents of Barcelona and its surrounding region have voted overwhelmingly to break away from Spain and form their own country in Europe. But that doesn't mean it will happen anytime soon. The northeast Spanish region of Catalonia, where Barcelona is the capital, held an unofficial, nonbinding secession vote Sunday — in violation of Spanish law. The poll was administered by some 40,000 volunteers rather than civil servants. It was largely symbolic; Madrid did not recognize its results. Spain had ordered the voting halted, and there were fears that the Spanish government might send Civil Guard troops to try to block polling stations. But voting went off peacefully, with some 2.25 million people casting ballots. Barcelona was transformed into a giant get-out-the-vote rally all weekend, with outdoor concerts of Catalan folk songs, speeches and whole families draped in Catalan flags.

Initial results show nearly 81 percent of voters marked "yes, yes" on the two-question ballot, which asked: "Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If so, do you want that state to be independent?" But turnout was low, at least compared with Scotland's independence referendum back in September, in which more than 85 percent of residents participated. In Catalonia, less than half of eligible voters cast ballots, in a region of 7.5 million. Still, it was one of the biggest-ever expressions of support for Catalan independence. In regional elections two years ago, 1.7 million Catalans voted for pro-independence parties. "In my opinion, the turnout has been excellent, outstanding, even impressive," Catalan Premier Artur Mas told reporters. "Like Quebec, like Scotland, Catalonia also wants to decide its political future — and we have the same right to decide it." Organizers hoped a robust turnout might force Madrid to negotiate more autonomy for Catalonia. But Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catalá called Sunday's vote "a useless, sterile simulation." "The [Spanish] government believes we have seen a day of political propaganda organized by pro-independence forces, lacking any kind of democratic validity," Catalá said in a televised statement.

Catalans have long sought autonomy from the Spanish central government in Madrid, but this was the first time they voted explicitly on independence. Many were on the losing side of Spain's 1936-39 civil war, and suffered repression under the nearly four decades of military rule that followed, during which their language and local holidays were banned. More recently, in Spain's economic crisis, many Catalans believed their wealthy region was unfairly subsidizing poorer parts of Spain. It's unlikely Madrid would be willing to amend Spain's constitution to allow for Catalan statehood in a U.S.-style federal system, at least in the short term, said Sofia Perez, a Spanish political scientist at Boston University. "More likely, I think, is a return to negotiations over the way in which Catalonia is financed, and some sort of compromise that would allow Catalonia to retain a larger share of the income taxes that are raised in Catalonia," Perez said. A team of international observers led by a British member of European Parliament, Ian Duncan, visited several polling stations in Catalonia on Sunday and issued a report saying the process "took place in a calm and open manner where no one was coerced or intimidated."

Duncan had opposed Scottish independence, but said he thought Scots had a right to vote on their future, and felt compelled to visit Catalonia to ensure the same right here. He criticized Madrid for trying to block voting. "I don't believe voting is or should be a crime," he said. "But the important thing is, let the voice of the people be heard." Initial results showed 10 percent of voters endorsed the idea of Catalonia being a state but voted "no" on the second ballot question of independence. Another 4.5 percent of voters voted "no" on both questions. Because voters knew ahead of time that the poll's results would be nonbinding and unrecognized, experts said, results were likely to be skewed toward independence, drawing more participation by those in favour of change rather than the status quo. "Sometimes it seems like in Catalonia, there are only people who want independence. But it's not like this," said Susana Beltran, a member of Societat Civil Catalana, a local group opposed to Sunday's vote. "The problem is that people who don't want this are afraid to speak out. They don't want problems with their friends, with their jobs, in life in general." Beltran did not vote Sunday and encouraged others to stay home too. Among those who did vote was Clara Sen, 41, who took her two young daughters with her to a polling station in Barcelona's Gothic quarter. "We try to explain that this is a peaceful process, and that it's important to say what you think," she said.


Slow start for Spain's golden visa scheme

A total of 324 people had signed up to the scheme up to end of the September, according to new figures from Spain's foreign ministry and published by Spain's 20 minutos newspaper. That means around one person a day has signed on since the programme was launched in October 2013.  The total value of that real estate investment was €256.1 million, the ministry said.  As of May, the number of property buyers who has made use of the Golden Visa scheme was just 72, with Spain's national newspaper El País describing the Golden Visa scheme as a flop. However, the new figures show there has been increased take-up since that time, even if this is limited.   "The numbers are comparable with Portugal in the first year of their Golden Visa programme but given the current interest in Spanish property we believe that these numbers should increase significantly for the scheme to be classed as a success," Alex Vaughan, co-founder of property firm Lucas Fox told The Local.

He said he understood that official teething problems were now being addressed by the government, with a possibility that "tweaks" could be announced "by the end of the year".  "We are continuing to see interest, primarily from the Middle East and Asia,” Vaughan said. "We continue to believe that, as in Portugal, the main interest will come from China but the numbers of applicants have so far failed to materialize." The golden visa scheme — part of Spain's 2013 Entreprenuer's Law — gives foreigners who invest large sums in Spanish property, public debt and projects of general interest the right to reside in Spain. For property investors, the minimum investment before taxes and changes is €500,000, although the real cost rises to around €600,000 once extra costs are factored in.

While the law doesn't give people the right to work in Spain, it gives non-EU citizens access to the entire Schengen area. Aside from the 324 people who have been granted residency rights after purchasing property, a further 20 visas have been given to people investing capital in Spain to the tune of at least €1 million in shares of bank deposits, or €2 million in public debt. In the case of those investments, people are granted a one-year visa, which is then extended to two years "as long as investment" is maintained, Spain's foreign ministry said.  


Spain launches raid against local gov't offices in new corruption investigation

Law enforcement officers searched local government offices in 13 Spanish provinces today as part of a crackdown on corruption by politicians and officials. The operation, headed by an investigating magistrate from the southern city of Seville, targeted the city council offices there and in several other towns in the Andalusia region, the Guardia Civil said. Government offices in Barcelona, Valencia and several provinces in the Canary Islands were also among those raided as part of an investigation into whether municipal authorities took kickbacks from private companies to win contracts.

Officers were expected to make many arrests. The operation is the latest in a string of high-level cases which involve members of the royal family, politicians, bankers and trade unions, and encompasses backhanders at town halls to unchecked spending on credit cards. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last month apologised for corruption scandals affecting members of his ruling People's Party (PP). Politicians from across the spectrum have also been accused, damaging the popularity of mainstream parties.

A new anti-establishment party meanwhile, Podemos, or 'We Can' in Spanish, has surged in opinion polls on the back of voter disillusion over corruption and the government's handling of a six-year economic slump. Rajoy said he would announce further measures to tackle corruption in parliament later this month. More than 30 people could be arrested as a result of today's raids, the Guardia Civil said. Some would be charged with tax offences, money laundering and falsification of documents on the back of the operation, it said.


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