Prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Defence minister Margarita Robles. / REUTERS

Positive spin

It's possible that both the Spanish and the Catalan regional governments were targetted by the Pegasus spyware. Or maybe not.

Mark Nayler
MARK NAYLER

If viewed from the perspective of the Spanish government, two developments this week could be seen in a positive light and even used for PR purposes. One concerns April's employment statistics and the other concerns alleged espionage against prominent politicians. If looked at from another angle, though, the second development isn't good news for anyone, certainly not its protagonists.

Spain's job statistics are often deceptively upbeat, disguising outsized dependence on temporary contracts and/or seasonal labour. April's weren't any different in the latter respect, spanning as they did the busiest Easter since the pandemic hit. There was, however, one indication of structural improvement: 48.2 per cent of all new contracts signed last month were permanent rather than temporary - the highest such statistic in the historical series and 326 per cent more than in the same month last year (although that enormous increase partly reflects the fact that there were still lots of Covid restrictions around in April 2021).

Spain's overall unemployment rate is still more than double the EU average, but the figures quoted above are indicative of the kind of improvement that could last, rather than just another seasonal peak. Pioneered by employment minister Yolanda Díaz, the reforms negotiated with unions and companies over the last couple of years seem to be yielding results already; and given the coalition's precarious state in parliament, they might prove to be the only legacy of its time in office.

The government's weakening grip on power slipped even further at the end of April, when it emerged that over sixty Catalan separatists had been targeted by digital espionage. Regional president Pere Aragonès was quick to blame Pedro Sánchez; but this week, in a development that could be used to bolster the government's "It Wasn't Us" line, Sánchez and defence minister Margarita Robles were also named as victims of the Israeli-produced Pegasus spyware. Might Pegasus have been used by a single, external entity to target both prominent Catalan secessionists AND Spain's national government?

Perhaps, but the revelation that Sánchez and Robles have also been the targets of digital espionage won't ease tensions between the Catalan and national presidencies. The Socialists' reaction to reports that Catalan politicians had been targeted highlighted the polarised nature of the independence debate: rather than immediately pledging to find out who or what entity had targeted their colleagues in Catalonia, government ministers were chiefly concerned to extricate themselves from blame.

Ironically, Robles herself then gave a speech in which she almost admitted that the Socialists were responsible for targeting secessionists with the heavy-duty spyware, supposedly only sold to national governments for the purpose of tracking terrorists. Whatever's going on here, one thing is clear: ridden by cloaked spies, Pegasus is flying without authorisation through the homes and offices of Spain's top politicians.