The two main themes which have dominated Spanish politics for the past few weeks – the new Catalan Statute and the anti-smoking legislations – continue to do so, and now that the cold stormy weather which has affected most of Spain over the past few days seems to be letting up, once again media attention is firmly fixed on the outcome of the former, and the effects of the latter.
The Popular Party has started its campaign to collect signatures for a petition designed to force the Goverment to call a national referendum on the issue of constitutional reform and, in particular, the proposed new statute for Catalonia. Yesterday a Euroresidentes colleague received a text message in her mobile phone informing her that it was now possible to vote “in favor of Nation Spain” and encouraging her to do so by entering the Popular Party website, clicking on the appropriate link and electronically signing the petition for a referendum which the PP word in the following way: “Do you believe that Spain should continue to be one nation in which all citizens enjoy the same rights, obligations and access to public services?”.
According to the website, 242.000 people have electronically signed the petition in 3 days. Detractors argue that it is relatively easy to inflate the numbers of supposed electronic signatures, especially since the form does not require people to include their address. Yesterday PP leader Mariano Rajoy travelled to Cadiz where he and his fellow party members set up tables to collect signatures in what they announced to be the start of a nationwide campaign.
The implication behind the wording of the petition is, of course, that if the Catalonian statute is passed, then the rights of fellow Spaniards are at risk.
And indeed the whole strategy of the Popular Party is centred around the accusation that in acknowledging Catalonia’s desire for increased autonomy and negotiating the terms of a new statute, the present Government is putting the whole concept of “Spain” at risk. Not all PP party members are happy with this scaremonger strategy. The leader of the PP Catalan party, Josep Piqué (a “moderate” who served as Minister of Industry and Foreign Secretary under previous PP governments), while criticising the way Zapatero had opted to personally intervene in the process by holding individual meetings behind closed doors, did actually admit last week that the wording of the new proposed statute negotiated by President Rodriguez Zapatero and CiU leader, Artur Mas, the previous weekend was much more feasible than the original proposal.
When his opinion was challenged by one of the national PP leaders, Piqué went to Madrid to hand in his resignation, but the PP leader, Mariano Rajoy, persuaded him to stay on as leader. Since then Pique appears to have been silenced, but most commentators allege he is still uneasy with the hardline his party is taking with regard to the whole process of constitutional change.
Meanwhile, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero appears to have put his foot in it once again, this time with respect to the recent anti-smoking laws in Spain. Even though the general opinion regarding the new legislation seems to be more or less favourable, the extent to which the law restricts smoking in all places of work, public places and restricts the right of newsagents and unlicensed shops to sell tobacco has inevitably been criticised by pro-smoking groups and trade unions. Last week it emerged that during the meeting held between President Zapatero and Artur Mas, both party leaders spent the whole afternoon smoking while they negotiated. Apparantly it was Artur Mas himself who spilt the beans when he told colleagues in surprise that they had “smoked all afternoon” in the Moncloa (headquarters of the Spanish presidency and home to the President and his family) despite new the anti-tobacco restrictions.
The PP have jumped on this latest apparant blunder of the Spanish president and have promised to put a number of questions to the government in a parliamentary session in the near future. A government spokesman, while not denying that “mucho” smoking went on during the meeting, claimed that the meeting was held in private quarters of the Moncloa, in a meeting room looking out onto the gardens on the ground floor of the private presidential residence. Meanwhile, the Popular Party allege that the Moncloa is a place of work, and if Rodriguez Zapatero smokes there during meetings, he is violating the new anti-tobacco laws. The opposition members are expected to ask Elena Salgado, Spain’s Health Minister, what measures the government plans to take against people who occupy positions of power within the public administration and continue to violate the new law by smoking while they work.