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Spain not discussing #UKTravelCorridor but will welcome thousands of German tourists

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Spain is not discussing a travel corridor with Britain, a Spanish foreign ministry source told Reuters on Tuesday (9 June), but it will allow nearly 11,000 German tourists to visit the Balearic Islands two weeks before officially reopening its borders.

With summer fast approaching, a key question is whether and how tourists will be able to travel across Europe — particularly those from the United Kingdom, which on Monday (8 June) imposed a 14-day quarantine on foreign visitors. A UK tourism group said corridors allowing unrestricted movement with a number of countries would open from June 29, but the British embassy in Madrid said the government had not yet discussed such a proposal with other countries.

Portugal has said it is discussing an arrangement to exempt returning British holidaymakers from quarantine but Spain has no plans to do the same, the foreign ministry source said.

Severely affected by the pandemic, Spain now seems to have it under control. But it has taken a stricter approach than other countries and plans to start opening its borders to foreign visitors only on 1 July. “Spain has called for a common (European Union-wide) approach to opening the borders.

"If this is not done, it will establish its own criteria,” the foreign ministry source said. It will nevertheless let up to 10,900 Germans fly to the Balearic archipelago between June 15 and June 29 as part of a pilot programme before fully restarting the industry, regional leader Francina Armengol told a press conference. Visitors will have to provide health information and contact details and will face temperature checks upon arrival, but will not undergo quarantine or testing unless they show symptoms.

“We have chosen Germany because it is our main source of tourists and because their epidemiological levels are similar to ours,” Armengol said. Germany has had fewer than 9,000 deaths from coronavirus while Britain’s death toll of 40,597 is the highest in Europe.

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Catalan MEPs lose immunity after secret European Parliament vote

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Clara Ponsati, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin are wanted by Spain for their part in the 2017 Catalan independence referendum

The European Parliament has voted to remove the parliamentary immunity of three Catalan MEPs wanted by Spain over the 2017 independence push. Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his ex-ministers Clara Ponsati and Toni Comin are exiled in Brussels, and Madrid could now reactivate European arrest warrants which have so far been refused by Belgium, writes Greg Russell @National_Greg.

In a secret ballot held last night but only revealed this morning, more than 400 MEPs voted to lift their immunity, almost 250 against and more than 40 MEPs abstained.

Puigdemont is expected to raise the issue at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after a report from the parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee recommending the removal of their immunity was leaked to the media.

This is the third time the Spanish Supreme Court has tried have them extradited, after previous attempts failed in Scotland, Belgium and Germany.

Losing their immunity will not affect their status as MEPs, which they will retain until they are barred from office by a conviction.

Aamer Anwar, lawyer for Ms Ponsati, tweeted: “Shameful vote by @Europarl_EN giving into Spain to lift immunity of MEPs @ClaraPonsati @toni_comin @KRLS Who face extradition & political persecution for exercising the democratic will of the Catalan people-The legal battle goes on”

The Spanish government immediately welcomed the decision by the European Union’s legislature as a victory for the rule of law and against those who sought to break the north-eastern region away from the rest of Spain.

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Catalan separatists increase majority, dialogue with Madrid in sight

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Separatist parties won enough seats on Sunday in Catalonia’s regional parliament to strengthen their majority, although a strong showing for the local branch of Spain’s ruling Socialists pointed to a dialogue, rather than breakup, with Madrid, write and
Candidates vote in Catalonia regional election

With over 99% of ballots counted, separatists won 50.9% of the vote, surpassing the 50% threshold for the first time. The most likely scenario was for the two main separatist parties to extend their coalition government.

The final outcome is unlikely, however, to lead to any repeat of the chaotic, short-lived declaration of independence from Spain that took place in 2017. Tensions have ebbed and most voters were more concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic than independence.

Low turnout of 53% amid the pandemic, down from 79% in the previous election in 2017, may have favoured separatist parties, whose supporters were more mobilised.

Election monitors swapped face masks for full-body protective suits during the final hour of voting, “the zombie hour”, which was reserved for people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Other precautions during the day included temperatures taken on arrival, hand gel and separate entries and exits.

Leftist separatist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) said it would lead the regional government and seek the support of other parties for a referendum on independence.

“The country starts a new era with (separatists) surpassing 50% of the vote for the first time. ... We have an immense strength to achieve a referendum and the Catalan republic,” said acting regional chief Pere Aragones, who led his party’s slate of candidates.

He urged Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to enter into talks to agree on a referendum.

But the fragmented vote, which saw the Socialists win the highest percentage of votes, 23%, and the same number of seats as ERC - 33 in the in the 135-seat assembly - means they will also try to form a government.

Socialist candidate Salvador Illa, who until recently led Spain’s coronavirus response as health minister, argued there was a broad call in Catalonia for reconciliation after years of separatism and said he would try to seek a majority in parliament.

That would require an unlikely alliance, however, with other parties.

The centre-right pro-independence Junts won an estimated 32 seats, while far-left separatist party CUP got nine. Both those parties are considered key to achieving another separatist coalition government.

Spanish nationalist far-right party Vox won 11 seats in Catalonia’s parliament for the first time, ahead of the People’s Party, the main Spanish conservative party, and the centre-right Ciudadanos. Vox is already the third-largest party in Spain’s national parliament.

But with ERC seen getting more lawmakers than Junts this time, that could boost the stability of Spain’s central government.

The result could be seen as good news for Sanchez as his Socialist party won almost double the 17 seats it got in 2017.

ERC has provided key votes to the Socialists in the Spanish parliament in exchange for talks on the Catalan political conflict.

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Commission approves support scheme for energy-intensive companies in Spain

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a Spanish scheme to partially compensate energy-intensive companies for the costs incurred to finance support to (i) renewable energy production in Spain, (ii) high-efficiency cogeneration in Spain, and (iii) power generation in Spanish non-peninsular territories. The scheme, which will apply until 31 December 2022 and will have a provisional annual budget of €91.88 million,  will benefit companies active in Spain in sectors that are particularly energy-intensive (hence with high electricity consumption relative to the value added of production) and more exposed to international trade.

The beneficiaries will obtain compensation for up to a maximum of 85% of their contribution to the financing of support to renewable energy production, high-efficiency cogeneration and power generation in Spain's non-peninsular territories. The Commission assessed the measure under EU state aid rules, in particular, the Guidelines on State Aid for environmental protection and energy 2014-2020, which have been extended until the end of 2021. The Guidelines authorise reductions – up to a certain level – in contributions levied on energy-intensive companies active in certain sectors and exposed to international trade, in order to ensure their global competitiveness.

The Commission found that the compensation will only be granted to energy intensive companies exposed to international trade, in line with the requirements of the Guidelines. The measure will promote the EU energy and climate goals and ensure the global competitiveness of energy-intensive users and industries, without unduly distorting competition. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure is in line with EU state aid rules. In connection to this scheme, the Spanish authorities have also notified to the Commission a measure granting guarantees in relation to long-term power purchase agreements concluded by energy-intensive companies for electricity from renewable energy sources, the so-called Reserve Fund to Guarantee Large Electricity Consumers (FERGEI).

This guarantee scheme aims to facilitate the production of energy from renewable sources. The Commission assessed the measure under EU state aid rules, in particular, the 2008 Commission Notice on state aid in the form of guarantees, and concluded that the state guarantee scheme does not constitute aid within the meaning of Article 107(1) TFEU. More information will be available on the Commission's competition website, in the State Aid Register.

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