The PM has been governing in a very fragmented political landscape
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called a snap general election for 28 April, after Catalan nationalist MPs withdrew support for the Socialist government’s budget.
It is just eight months since Mr Sánchez took office, heading a minority government reliant on Catalan support.
Opinion polls suggest that no single party would win a clear majority. But conservatives and the far-right Vox party are expected to do well.
The Catalan crisis is still simmering.
Catalan separatist MPs rejected Mr Sánchez’s budget bill after the government refused to discuss the region’s right to self-determination.
Divisions were highlighted on Tuesday, when 12 Catalan separatist leaders and activists went on trial accused of rebellion and sedition over their unrecognised independence referendum in 2017.
The Socialists (PSOE) have 84 seats in the 350-seat lower house (Congress of Deputies), and their main allies, anti-austerity Podemos, have 67. But the biggest party is the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), with 134.
In his announcement, Mr Sánchez complained that the right-wing parties – the PP and Ciudadanos – had blocked numerous bills in parliament, including important measures to reduce inequality.
Is this snap election unusual for Spain?
Yes. Since the return of Spanish democracy, with the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, it is only the second time that a government’s budget bill has been defeated in parliament.
The previous occasion was in 1995, when the Socialists under Felipe González were forced to call an election.
Turbulence and shifting alliances
By the BBC’s Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid
While the end of Pedro Sánchez’s tenure looked inevitable, following his parliamentary budget defeat, this adds further uncertainty to a fragmented Spanish political landscape.
His PSOE is leading many polls and could win this election, but might find it hard to form a majority and govern.
The leftist Podemos, the PSOE’s natural ally, is riven by infighting and struggling in polls.
With the Catalonia issue likely to dominate the upcoming campaign, the hardline pro-unity stance of parties on the right – the PP and Ciudadanos – could see them benefit. If the numbers add up, they could try and form a majority, possibly with the support of far-right Vox, which has enjoyed a surge in polls, due mainly to its uncompromising policy on Catalan independence.
File photo: The Loomis security van driver vanished during a delivery, along with the cash
Two cash delivery workers in France got a shock when they found their money-filled van had vanished – along with the third member of their team.
The van was soon found nearby but there was no sign of the 28-year-old driver or €3.4m (£3m) in cash.
He was eventually tracked down to a flat in Amiens, along with some of the missing money.
The suspect, named as Adrien Derbez, was arrested in the city on Tuesday evening.
According to news agency AFP, an estimated €1.5m is still missing.
The sudden vanishing act happened early on Monday morning. At about 06:00 (05:00 GMT), the team of three were making a routine cash delivery in their security van to a Western Union branch in Aubervilliers, on the outskirts of Paris.
Two of them took the ordered amount of cash inside, leaving the third man to watch the vehicle.
“When they came back out, the van and the driver were gone,” a police source told AFP.
A few blocks away, the white van from the Loomis cash transit company was discovered with its doors open and contents emptied – and no sign of the driver.
On Tuesday, police appealed for witnesses and released a photograph and description of Mr Derbez.
Mr Derbez had vanished, but was found in Amiens late the following day
Following a tip-off, police raided an apartment in Amiens that evening, French media report.
At around 17:00, officers allegedly found Mr Derbez trying to escape through a window carrying several bags filled with banknotes, French broadcaster BFMTV said.
Three other people have been arrested since as part of the investigation. A large sum of money was also recovered – and was being counted to see how much, if any, was missing, the local prosecutor said.
The theft has similarities to the famous case of Toni Musulin, a Frenchman who stole some €11.6m (£10.2m) from the security van he was driving in 2009.
He vanished, along with the cash, in November that year, briefly becoming an internet superstar in France for his meticulously planned and bloodless heist.
However, most of the cash was found in a garage, and Musulin handed himself in to police in Monaco days later.
Supporters of Spanish conservative and centrist parties have held a protest in Madrid against government plans to hold talks with Catalan separatists.
The centre-right Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Citizens) say Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to appoint an intermediary for the talks amounts to treason.
The separatists have rejected the offer – they want a new independence vote.
Like the right, the ruling Socialists also oppose Catalan independence.
Far-right groups including the Vox party are also present at the protest, held under the slogan “For a united Spain. Elections now!”
Protesters filled the Spanish capital’s Colon Square and nearby streets, many of them chanting “long live Spain”. Police put the total number of demonstrators at 45,000.
What are the protesters saying?
They say the government’s offer to separatists to hold round table talks and appoint a special rapporteur amounts to a capitulation and they want elections scheduled for 2020 brought forward.
One protester, Mabel Campuzano, told Reuters news agency that Mr Sánchez was “betraying Spain and we think that Spaniards don’t deserve him as the president of the government”.
In a speech, PP leader Pablo Casado denounced Mr Sánchez’s policies as “Socialist surrender” and “deals under the table”, Efe news agency reports.
“Sánchez’s time is over,” Mr Casado said, adding that the protests were a turning point and the beginning of a return to “harmony and legality” in Spain.
What does the government say?
Speaking shortly afterwards at a local election campaign meeting, Mr Sánchez said his Socialist party had always been on the side of dialogue, and was now attempting to resolve a crisis made worse by the PP while it was in power.
On Friday the government said the separatists had rejected its framework for talks.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the situation had “stalled”, as separatist calls for an independence referendum were “not acceptable”.
Meanwhile the separatists accused the government itself of abandoning dialogue.
What’s the background?
Mr Sánchez heads a minority government that relies on the support of other parties including Catalan nationalists.
His government faces a key vote on Wednesday on its proposed 2019 budget – failure to approve it could lead to a snap election.
Catalan nationalist parties have said that their support for the budget depends on whether Mr Sanchez’s proposed talks with separatists include the issue of independence.
Mr Sánchez has, however, ruled out the possibility of a Catalan independence referendum.
Polls show that the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox would together win a majority in a general election. In December the three parties together won power in the southern region of Andalusia ousting the Socialists, who had been in power there for 36 years.
What has been happening in Catalonia?
Catalan nationalists regained power in Barcelona in May, after a seven-month period of direct rule by Madrid.
Mr Sánchez became prime minister the following month, making negotiations with the pro-independence movement his priority.
Tensions remain high, as many Catalans resent Madrid’s show of force last year, when it charged pro-independence leaders with sedition.
Some of them are due to go on trial on Tuesday and face up to 25 years in prison.
In December Catalan premier Quim Torra irritated the Spanish government by praising Slovenia’s successful path to independence. It broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, after a 10-day war.
Catalonia in numbers
16% of Spain’s population live in Catalonia, and it produces:
25.6% of Spain’s exports
19% of Spain’s GDP
20.7% of foreign investment
Source: Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, Eurostat, Bank of Spain.
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A “yellow vest” protester in France had his fingers ripped off during clashes at the parliament building in Paris, as the protests went into their 13th week.
The protester attempted to pick up a rubber pellet grenade and it exploded in his hand, French media reported.
There was also an arson attack on the home of the head of France’s National Assembly, though it was not clear if the attack was linked to the protests.
The “yellow vest” protests began in mid-November over fuel taxes.
They have since broadened into a revolt against the President, Emmanuel Macron, and a political class seen as out of touch with common people.
According to French government figures, 51,400 people joined the protests on Saturday, 4,000 of them in Paris. That was down from the previous week, when official figures put the number at 58,600, 10,500 in Paris.
Representatives for the yellow vests disputed the previous week’s numbers, claiming the turnout was higher.
In Paris on Saturday, the protesters marched from the Champs-Elysees to the city’s parliament buildings, where a violent contingent broke down barriers and threw projectiles at police. Police responded with tear gas and anti-riot munitions.
According to an eyewitness, the person who lost their hand was a photographer attempting to take pictures of people breaking down barriers around the National Assembly building.
“When the cops went to disperse people, he got hit by a sting-ball grenade in the calf,” 21-year-old Cyprien Royer told AFP news agency. “He wanted to bat it away so it didn’t explode by his leg and it went off when he touched it.
“We put him to one side and called the street medics. It wasn’t pretty: he was screaming with pain, he had no fingers – he didn’t have much above the wrist.”
Paris police confirmed that a demonstrator was injured in the hand and been treated by paramedics, but did not identify the victim.
When it launched the pilot scheme back in 2017, Finland became the first European country to test out the idea of an unconditional basic income. It was run by the Social Insurance Institution (Kela), a Finnish government agency, and involved 2,000 randomly-selected people on unemployment benefits.
It immediately attracted international interest – but these results have now raised questions about the effectiveness of such schemes.
What is ‘basic income’ and how does it work?
Universal basic income, or UBI, means that everyone gets a set monthly income, regardless of means. The Finnish trial was a bit different, as it focused on people who were unemployed.
Another popular variation is ‘universal basic services’ – where instead of getting an income, things like education, healthcare and transport are free for all.
Although it’s enjoying a resurgence in popularity, the idea isn’t new. In fact, it was first described in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516 – a full 503 years ago.
Such schemes are being trialled all over the world. Adults in a village in western Kenya are being given $22 a month for 12 years, until 2028, while the Italian government is working on introducing a “citizens’ income”. The city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, is also carrying out a basic income study called Weten Wat Werkt – “Know What Works” – until October.
What is the point?
Supporters of basic income often believe an unconditional safety net can help people out of poverty, by giving them the time to apply for jobs or learn essential new skills. This is seen as increasingly important in the age of automation – that is, put very simply, as robots take people’s jobs.
Miska Simanainen, one of the Kela researchers behind the Finnish study, tells BBC News that this was what their government had wanted to test, in order “to see if it would be a way of reforming the social security system”.
So, did it work?
That depends what you mean by ‘work’.
Did it help unemployed people in Finland find jobs, as the centre-right Finnish government had hoped? No, not really.
Mr Simanainen says that while some individuals found work, they were no more likely to do so than a control group of people who weren’t given the money. They are still trying to work out exactly why this is, for the final report that will be published in 2020.
But for many people, the original goal of getting people into work was flawed to begin with. If instead the aim were to make people generally happier, the scheme would have been considered a triumph.
One participant, former newspaper editor Tuomas, pretty much summed this up when he told BBC News about how the basic income had affected him.
“I am still without a job,” he explained. “I can’t say that the basic income has changed a lot in my life. OK, psychologically yes, but financially – not so much.”
What are the downsides to basic income?
UBI is one of those rare issues that attracts equally strong support – and criticism – from all parts of the political spectrum.
For a lot of people on the left, UBI focuses too heavily on individuals’ personal wealth and buying power – or rather, their lack of it – without doing anything to stop companies wasting resources by producing far more stuff than people need, and over-working their employees in the process.
Economics writer Grace Blakely makes this point in the New Socialist, adding that “without fundamental structural reforms to our economic system, UBI will only be a sticking plaster papering over the cracks”.
Finland’s basic income trial
Monthly income for two years
€20m Cost to government
8.1% Unemployment rate
5,503,347 Finnish population
Kela, Statistics FinlandEPA
Others worry that basic income will be used to cut costs, by setting the rate too low and slashing other, means-tested benefits.
Meanwhile, many on the political right and centre worry about the exact opposite – that UBI would be too expensive to implement, and would encourage a “something for nothing” culture.
Ulrich Spiesshofer, chief executive of ABB engineering company, echoed this sentiment in 2016 when he told the Financial Times that “economic rewards [for people] should be based on actually creating economic value”.
So what next?
Researchers from Kela are now busy analysing all of their results, to figure out what else – if anything – they can tell us about basic income’s uses and shortcomings.
Mr Simanainen says that he doesn’t like to think of the trial as having “failed”.
From his point of view, “this is not a failure or success – it is a fact, and [gives us] new information that we did not have before this experiment”.
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