Unidas Podemos also calls for Margarita Robles's resignation for the sake of "the government's dignity"

Defence Minister again points to 2019 riots to justify spying

3 min
The Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, at the Defense Committee of the Congress

MadridFar from making clarifications, Margarita Robles kept all questions open around spying on the independence movement and members of the Spanish government, including the president and herself. The Spanish government said the Minister of Defence would give explanations over Catalangate in her appearance, but she has not given the details expected by much of parliament. In fact, some paties, such as Unidas Podemos and ERC have been particularly forceful in demanding her resignation. "You know what you have to do. Not only for the sake of your own dignity, but for the government's dignity," said Unidas Podemos spokesperson Pablo Echenique.

Robles has avoided responding to Echenique's request, but has made the tension between the government partners evident. There has never been much love in Unidas Podemos for the Defence minister, and now they have found a pretext to make it explicit. From outside the lower house, the Minister for Social Rights, Ione Belarra, has added fuel to the fire: "We know for certain because it has been confirmed by the Ministry of Defence that part of the spying on the Catalan independence movement comes from the [Spanish National Intelligence Centre] CNI. From my point of view, it is not compatible with the rule of law".

Despite not doing so directly, it is clear from Robles's words that the CNI spied on the independence movement with judicial authorisation and she has justified it, as she did last Wednesday in Parliament. "All I'm saying is that within the rule of law situations where people could be subject to violence, barricades are put up and access to an airport is cut could possibly constitute a crime...", she said. At this point, he also took the opportunity to criticise exiles: "Some people had the democratic courage to stand trial, while others have not".

Robles left the clarification of events in the hands of the justice system and the director of the CNI, Paz Esteban. This Thursday the head of the CNI will appear before the committee of official secrets and the information she gives will be kept secret, as will the court investigation into the espionage on Spanish president Pedro Sánchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles. The investigating judge, José Luis Calama, has decreed the investigation's contents secret. Despite parties' insistence, Robles has not relented and has reiterated that the law prevents her from giving more explanations and that she cannot accept accusations against the CNI "without evidence". The focus is on Esteban, although Robles has stressed that he is "stoically enduring accusations that do not correspond to reality".

The minister insists that it is necessary to wait for the information provided by those who have the competence to give it, that the CNI acts under court supervision and that unauthorised phone hacking must be prosecuted. As long as there is no official confirmation, Robles indirectly says that the secret services had legitimacy to spy –with court authorisation– on people linked to the independence movement. EH Bildu MP Jon Iñarritu and ERC MP Montse Balsa have pointed out that some, including Robles herself, had their phones hacked without authorisation. The minister was inflexible and stressed that what prevails is "judicial truth" and that, therefore, we must wait.

Who is responsible for the security failure?

Despite the fact that in the Spanish government the socialist party coincides in boasting about the exercise in "transparency" of making spying on Sánchez and Robles public, there are nuances in the discourse. The government accepts "mistakes" in security were made and does not rule out resignations when the facts are clarified. The right is trying to pour salt on the wound, claiming the Minister of Defence is the only one who closes ranks with the secret services, unlike the Minister of the Presidency, Felix Bolaños, who "apologises to ERC", in the words of Cs spokesman Edmundo Bal. "They are leaving her alone," he has noted, and PP spokesman Carlos Rojas has assured that Robles would not have appeared on Monday as Bolaños did to expose in public the vulnerabilities in the State's cybersecurity.

This Wednesday, El Confidencial published that Bolaños, currently Minister of the Presidency and former Secretary General of the Presidency, was the person in charge of guaranteeing Sánchez's communications' security when the hacking took place. Journalists have asked Robles on this issue before her appearance and she urged them to take "a minute" to look at the law. "It's all in the rules," she said. In some sectors of the executive there is unease about the Minister of Defence's role in the case, although publicly the government expresses "full support" for her and the director of the CNI.