Aragonès demands Defence Minister resign

Parliament files a complaint against surveillance of independence movement with the Socialists' support

3 min
The president, Pere Aragonès, during the control session of the Parliament on Wednesday

BarcelonaIf anything marked this Wednesday's parliamentary control session, both in Barcelona and Madrid, it has been the use of Israeli spyware Pegasus to hack into pro-independence leaders' phones. Catalangate, as it is known, has monopolised the discussion in the Catalan parliament, where Catalan president Pere Aragonès demanded Spanish Minister of Defence Margarita Robles's resignation. This came shortly after Robles tried to justify the espionage operation in the Spanish parliament. "The statements make her politically unfit to continue in office. She has said that just because we are pro-independence there is a free hand for them to spy on us. The minister should resign," he said in response to a question from his own parliamentary group, calling the minister's position "insulting" and "extremely serious".

Spanish president Pedro Sanchez also closed ranks with the Ministry of Defence and did not offer new gestures regarding measures already announced by on Sunday: there will be an internal investigation and the committee of official secrets will be set up. Yet Aragonès insisted that explanations are "insufficient" and that "transparency" is needed to clarify the facts. In this sense, he reaffirmed that now there are insufficient conditions to "advance" in negotiations with the Spanish government, putting the dialogue table on halt (although in practice it hasn't met for months).

Aragonès has responded to pressure from his partners, who closed ranks with the complaint against espionage but asked ERC to go a step further by withdrawing parliamentary support for the PSOE in Madrid. JxCat leader in the Catalan parliament, Albert Batet, demanded "forcefulness and unity", and once again demanded all ties with the Spanish government be broken until a public inquiry be set up.

CUP was even harsher: "They piss on us and tell us that it's raining," said MP Eulàlia Reguant. "We need concreteness," she added, reminding the president that the negotiating table has been at a standstill for some time: "You are not the ones putting the dialogue table on hold". For the CUP the "policy of agreement" with the State they consider that the Catalan government is pursuing must come to an end.

On the other hand, the leader of the opposition and head of the PSC, Salvador Illa, has pressed Aragonès in the opposite direction: "Don't mix things up". After remarking that he is against any "illegal" activity and that he wants the facts to be clarified, he urged the president to support the validation of the Spanish government's decree to counter the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine. "We must avoid falling into obstructionism and blocking policy", said Illa, "I find it hard to believe that you think that I or any member of the Spanish government has had anything to do with political espionage", he finished.

"Are we good enough to vote in favour of the Spanish government's initiatives and yet bad enough to be spied on?", Aragonès retorted, although he has not clarified whether ERC will support the bill. Aragonès believes the Catalan Socialists ought to support the Government when it comes to denouncing spying. "Spying is also a problem for Catalonia. If you say that as a minister you knew nothing [Illa was in the Spanish government when Pegasus was used], then resignations are well overdue," said the Catalan leader.

The leader of the PSC, Salvador Illa, during the control session in Parliament

Legal action

At the beginning of the plenary session, the Catalan chamber also agreed to file a complaint in the courts against spying on the independence movement with a large majority and with the aim of clarifying the facts and forcing resignations. The proposal was backed by ERC, JxCat, CUP, En Comú and also the PSC, who have left the three right wing parties alone in voting against it. However, the socialists did not go all the way: they have supported this denunciation –which is not directed against anyone in particular– but they have dissociated themselves from the institutional declaration condemning espionage made by the board of spokespersons.

The socialist MP Ferran Pedret intervened to make it clear that his party is against using Pegasus programme without judicial authorisation and that, therefore, if this is the case it must be investigated by the courts. "We are in favour of clarifying the facts and taking responsibility. We are against the intervention of communications without a judicial supervision", he said, criticising espionage and at the same time closing ranks with the Spanish government: "We will contribute to unblock the commission of secret affairs in the Spanish parliament, which is where explanations must be offered".

The independence movement, on the other hand, has again demanded a public inquiry, while other parties have been very critical. Ciutadans was against filing a complaint in court and has also justified the spying on the independence movement: "If you have broken the institutional consensus, the least the CNI can do is to intervene in the matter". Vox, on the other hand, backed the use of spyware and even demanded pro-independence parties be outlawed. Finally, the PP labelled the Socialists as irresponsible, saying it was a contradiction to invite the same parties it has reason to believe were committing crimes and therefore needed spying on into the committee of official secrets.