Spanish government rejects inquiry into Catalangate scandal
The executive intends to refer the case to the committee for official secrets and manoeuvres for it to be constituted
Madrid"An inquiry does not make any sense". These are the words Minister of the Presidency Félix Bolaños used to dismiss requests made by Catalan pro-independence parties but also the Socialists' coalition partner Unidas Podemos for the Catalangate espionage scandal to be dealt with by a parliamentary inquiry. The Socialists argue that participants in this inquiry would not be obliged to testify under the official secrets law. On the other hand, if they were called to the committee for official secrets they would be. The problem is that this committee is not public and the MPs who take part have to maintain confidentiality. Therefore, the public would not have access to any information about the case. And this is exactly what the groups demanding an investigation want to avoid.
Today Unidas Podemos, ERC, Junts, PDECat, Bildu, Más País, Compromís and BNG gave a joint press conference precisely to demand a public inquiry. "We ask all parliamentary groups in Parliament, and especially the socialist party, to allow the creation of an inquiry to advance in the clarification of this case in a transparent manner." These groups also demand an internal parliamentary investigation and recall that the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) answers to the Ministry of Defence, led by Margarita Robles. Regarding the question of whether secrets can be revealed in an inquiry, there are precedents that show that they could be, as long as this is authorised by the government. This happened, for example, in the inquiry into the 2004 Madrid train bombings, where documents of the Ministry of Home Affairs were declassified. Even so, on that occasion the Minister of Defence, José Bono, also refused to make CNI reports public.
Bolaños insisted that now the important thing is to "clarify the facts" to demonstrate that the secret services have always acted within the law. The minister has defended the task of the CNI and has assured that its director, Paz Esteban, will be in charge of informing groups about the internal investigation the secret services are carrying out at the committee for official secrets. "The government has a very clear conscience," the minister insisted.
Following the Socialists' strategy, Speaker Meritxell Batet has proposed the majority required to constitute the committee for officials secrets be lowered from the current 60% of MPs to only 50%. This would allow the committee to be set up, as for the past three years right wing parties have been blocking it over their opposition to pro-independence groups being included. Several sources have told ARA the resolution proposed by Batet will be voted on this Tuesday afternoon by the parliamentary bureau and the board of spokespeople, where it ought to be passed despite the PP's opposition. With this change, ERC and EH Bildu would avoid right-wing parties veto and could sit in the committee.
Sources close to the Speaker explain that Batet has promoted this change to adjust to current regulations, which establish that all the parliamentary groups represented in the chamber must have a representative in the committee for official secrets. Faced with a veto from the right, this change became the only option. Meritxell Batet herself said this was needed to put an end to a "democratic anomaly: the fact that the committee has not met since the beginning of this parliament. Parliament is there to control the government," she said. In this sense, she explained that the change involves "reconciling" the requirement that it is the plenary who chooses MPs by a "qualified majority" with the fact that each group "must have a representative" in the committee.
When could this commitee be constituted? Once the resolution is validated by the bureau and the board of spokespersons, the members that will form part of the committee must be chosen and voted in by parliament. In this sense, the same sources point out that this week an extraordinary plenary session could be called to incorporate this point to the agenda and reactivate a committee held behind closed doors and whose contents cannot be revealed by its members. The regulation also establishes that it is in this commitee that parliamentary control of the activity of the CNI must be carried out.
The independence movement, however, does not believe that the explanations that could be given in this committee would be sufficient. ERC's spokesman in the Spanish Parliament, Gabriel Rufián, has referred to the experience of ex ERC MP Joan Tardà, who said the type of information given in the committee would be not be useful to hold those responsible to account. Rufián, in fact, has given the Spanish government 48 hours to take responsibility. "We do not demand a committee of official secrets, but a public inquiry", added JxCat spokesperson Míriam Nogueras, who also insisted on those responsible being held to account. Similar ideas came from CUP MP Mireia Vehí: "Where is the government? Why does not it explain anything?" she asked.
All this is taking place 48 hours before the vote in the Spanish Parliament on the validation of measures to counter the effects of the war in Ukraine which, among other things, lowers the price of fuel and freezes rent increases. ERC has not wanted to advance which way it will vote.