THE EURO ZONE
Spain's "glass-half-full" economy minister Nadia Calviño is convinced that her government's new budget will be passed, despite it needing support from hostile quarters in congress. Speaking to CNBC this week, Calviño breezily declared, "I don't think it's impossible to find agreement with these political parties." Among these potential allies, though, are Catalan separatist parties - and their backing for the Socialists' 2019 spending plan is unlikely to be forthcoming.
At the end of last week, Spain's Supreme Court finished investigating the cases of eighteen pro-independence Catalan politicians involved in organising last October's illegal referendum. Of these eighteen, nine have been held in custody since the vote and are to be tried on charges of rebellion, for which the maximum prison sentence is thirty years. Other, less serious, charges faced by these men and women are misuse of public funds and disobedience. The Supreme Court has confirmed that all these politicians will be going on trial, probably early 2019.
The Court's ruling also proves that pro-independence Catalan president Quim Torra's ultimatums to the government have been ignored. For the past couple of months, Torra has been threatening to withhold parliamentary support for Pedro Sánchez's administration - specifically for its proposed 2019 budget - unless it allows Catalan separatists to proceed with secession plans and releases the imprisoned politicians.
One of the separatists behind bars is Oriol Junqueras, former Catalonian vice president and president of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC). A couple of weeks ago, Junqueras received a visit from Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, whose party has made a budgetary pact with Sánchez's Socialists. Iglesias was told by Junqueras that the ERC will only start cooperating with the government on fiscal issues if Sánchez takes "categorical" action on behalf of imprisoned separatists.
The PSOE leader, though, has repeatedly made it clear that he will not interfere in judicial proceedings against Catalan secessionists. Accordingly, the only "categorical" action that's been taken since the Iglesias-Junqueras meeting has been the Supreme Court's decision to put eighteen prominent independistas on trial. One wonders, then, why Calviño is so sure that her government's budget will pass the parliamentary vote this month, in part buoyed up by support from Catalan separatists. Misplaced optimism, surely?
Yet there was another reminder this week that, macroeconomically speaking, Spain is indifferent to the Catalonia problem. During the third quarter of this year - which spanned the first three months of Sánchez's hamstrung minority administration - the country's GDP expanded by 0.6%, three times more than the eurozone average. Spain's overall expansion for this year is predicted to be 2.6% - down from the last three years but still a healthy growth. As Sánchez tries to secure Catalan parties' approval for his 2019 budget, Spain's GDP appears to be more than capable of taking care of itself.