country-report-spain-portugal-february-2023|opinions delibeRatio - Country Report: Spain & Portugal, February 2023

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Country Report: Spain & Portugal, February 2023

Time to read: 10 min

Spain, on the road to progressive dystopia

Spain’s parliament continues to opt for the most radical progressive agenda, and the month of February saw a modification of the abortion law, an approval of the trans law and the first step towards the animal rights law, or animal dignity law, which must be still ratified in the Senate. We have published an extensive interview on the latter law with Álex Lachhein (LINK). The law has been approved with the Socialist Party’s modifications by socialists, communists and the extreme Basque and Catalan pro-independence left. As its final text can be read here, we will not go into further detail in this report. We will only mention one of the details that has attracted the most attention: decriminalisation of zoophilia. Until now, zoophilia was a crime, but with the new law it will only be punished - with minor penalties - if as a consequence of sexual abuse the animal requires veterinary care. The left-wing media came out in droves to deny this and to say that it was “fake news”. However, the Animal Rights Party (PACMA) itself has denounced this aspect of the law and has called on the Government to withdraw the bill to amend the Penal Code on animal abuse so that “another unacceptable step backwards for animal protection in Spain” does not take place.

With regard to abortion, the reform, approved with the votes against of PP and VOX, demands that public health centres offer and guarantee the provision of abortion, extends the reproductive right to all “trans people with the capacity to gestate”, and creates a register of conscientious objectors who will have to communicate in advance in writing if they can perform abortions. In addition, minors aged 16 and 17 will be able to have an abortion without parental consent. What is more, the obligation to inform women about maternity benefits or aid is eliminated, as well as a three-day period of reflection. This is the reason why VOX’s proposal in the autonomous government of Castilla y León caused such a scandal, because they do not want to offer the alternatives to women and much less the possibility of listening to the heartbeat of the child inside her. VOX deputy Lourdes Méndez Monasterio described the right to abortion as the greatest expression of barbarism and pointed out that while a budget of more than 35 million euros was dedicated to provoke abortions, there was less than 3 million in social aid. Méndez Monasterio also had harsh words for the Popular Party for not repealing the law when it was in power as it had promised, and for the words of its president, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who stated that “abortion is a woman’s right within the law” - to later clarify that “it is not a fundamental right”. Once again, ambiguity as a banner.

At the same time as the abortion reform was approved, another “great advance in rights” took place, in the words of the Minister for Equality Irene Montero - with the approval of the Trans law. The new law allows self-determination of gender from the age of 16 without the need for a witness or medical diagnosis to request a change of sex in the civil registry, a change that will be effective in about four months. Minors aged 14 and 15 will be able to change their name and sex with the consent of their parents or guardians (if not, a judicial defender will have to resolve the conflict). Minors aged 12 and 13 can only change their sex with the authorisation of a judge, who will examine their maturity. In turn, minors under 12 cannot change their sex but can change their name to match the sex they identify themselves with. The law also guarantees access to assisted reproduction for single women, lesbians and bisexuals; diversity training for assistants for the elderly; recognises “sexile” -  the abandonment of a town or city by an LGBT person due to “discrimination”; prohibits conversion therapies and imposes fines, in some cases very severe, for LGTBphobia.

Opposition to this law has come from the right, PP and VOX, and even from the feminist movement. The president of VOX, Santiago Abascal, defined the law as a danger for women and children: “This law is the most serious attack that women have ever received, because it means that being a woman is simply a question of will or whim… Our boys and girls will be threatened.  Even before adolescence they can be irreversibly mutilated by sex reassignment surgery. They could also be subjected to hormone treatment that will make them dependent on it for life, limit their growth and have devastating side-effects”. The PP also voted against, although in both Galicia and Madrid the Popular Party maintains regional Trans laws. However, in Madrid, thanks to pressure from VOX, the regional Trans law will be repealed. Yet, undoubtedly, the most striking reaction has come from the feminist movement, who have denounced that the law implies the erasure of women: “Being a woman is not a feeling, we are women, not menstruating or gestating bodies”. Feminists are also calling for the resignation of minister Irene Montero for the “botched” wording of the “only yes is yes” law. As of 28 February, 646 sex offenders have had their sentences reduced, and 65 of them have been released from prison. The number is growing steadily.  

Prostitutes, drugs and Viagra

On 14 February, the “Mediador case” broke out, with arrests in the Canary Islands and other provinces. A corruption scheme, in which, according to the investigations, businessmen were offered privileges in public procurement and the granting of European funds. Their meetings took place in the Congress of Deputies itself and at the headquarters of the Guardia Civil in Madrid, since the two main leaders of the scheme were the former socialist deputy Juan Bernardo Fuentes (who resigned his seat when the scandal broke out) and the general of the Guardia Civil, Francisco Espinosa Navas (in prison). The meetings were followed by dinners in expensive restaurants and parties with prostitutes in hotels and brothels, where drugs and Viagra were consumed. These dinners and, apparently also in subsequent celebrations, were attended by other socialist deputies were present. Consequently, the case is tarnishing the image of the PSOE and the government of Pedro Sánchez, and could do a lot of damage to the socialists in the run-up to the local and regional elections in May. The same socialist MPs, by the way, who voted in favour of abolishing prostitution.

Portugal: Controversy over housing law

The corruption cases have, at least for the time being, silenced the socialist government. However, the parliament experienced a tense session on 3 February involving CHEGA MPs following the decision of the Commission for Transparency and the Statute of Deputies to refuse lifting the parliamentary immunity of the Left Bloc leader, Catarina Martins. It all stems from Martins’ statements in which she said, referring to CHEGA, that “every racist MP elected to the Portuguese parliament is another racist MP”. Despite the complaint filed by CHEGA, the MP cannot be prosecuted for these words thanks to her parliamentary immunity.

However, the most important news in Portuguese politics has been the “More Housing Programme”, aimed at increasing the supply of housing, simplifying licensing, increasing the number of homes on the rental market, combating speculation and protecting families. The most controversial measures of the programme are the ban on issuing new local housing licences (with the exception of rural housing in the interior of the country), re-evaluation of current licences in 2030 and periodically every five years thereafter, and coercive renting, whereby the state will be able to force the rental of unoccupied dwellings.

The new programme of Antonio Costa’s government was strongly criticised by the Association of Local Accommodation in Portugal (ALEP). According to the tenants, the government “wants to put an end to local accommodation from 2030”. For his part, the president of CHEGA, André Ventura, said that the “More Housing Programme is the biggest attack on private property and housing in decades” and that “it will have a significant impact on the Portuguese economy. I don’t know if this happened in the Soviet Union. Is the state going to tell people what to do with their houses?”

As an alternative to the socialist model, CHEGA presented a 10-measure project called “Housing with Confidence” to “make a counterpoint to the government’s programme”. CHEGA’s project proposes, among other measures, reduction of personal income tax, tax advantages for those who rehabilitate unoccupied properties destined for rent, reduction of VAT for civil construction, or subsidised credits for young people, with a state guarantee for five years. As expected, the proposal was rejected and the final approval in March of the “More Housing Programme” is still underway. Ventura admitted in “informal contacts” with deputies from other parties that he wanted to request a constitutionality inspection by the Constitutional Court. According to the Constitution, one fifth of the deputies (46 MPs) are needed to appeal the intervention of the Constitutional Court. Consequently, to request the inspection CHEGA must get the support of the Liberals and the Popular Party.


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