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No debate, no vote?

The government’s refusal to accept parliamentary scrutiny is designed to keep the extent of Brussels’ bailout conditions out of the public eye

Having already relieved parliament of the task of debating and then voting on the conditions of the bailout for Spain's banks, Mariano Rajoy's government is now attempting to do the same thing by short-circuiting congressional debate on the strings attached to a new line of credit -- this time of a general nature.

In anticipation of the move, the Socialist Party is preparing a battery of protests, which may include an appeal to the Constitutional Court. This time, the opposition is saying that it is going to fight to the end, to prevent a disgraceful situation whereby other European parliaments (Germany, the Netherlands, etc.) are debating a document that affects the sovereignty of Spain, while the Spanish deputies themselves are kept in the dark.

The Popular Party's clear parliamentary majority renders the prime minister's position all the more inexplicable, because whatever set of conditions he negotiates with the Eurogroup will be easy to zip through the house. His refusal to bring the document before Congress and to accept a debate is not, then, due to any concerns about a possible defeat, but exclusively about a desire to keep the extent of the obligations imposed out of the public eye.

In the case of the previous bailout, debate was avoided by arguing that the deal did not involve an international treaty, which must be debated in parliament, but was rather a memorandum of understanding, a different formula that allows the government to dodge this requirement under certain conditions -- for example, the fact that it does not contain any cession of sovereignty.

In the case of the previous bailout, debate was avoided by arguing that the deal did not involve an international treaty"

The Socialist Party claims that in this new case, it will not be possible to resort to a memorandum of understanding, because the obligations involved will affect Spanish sovereignty. "If the government goes on refusing to bring the document before Congress, it will be important to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court, so that it can be the judges who open the debate, and rule on whether it is possible to agree to the obligations that we believe it will contain, without debate in parliament," explains the Socialist leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

It is the Socialists' understanding that the government has attempted to have the new document considered an addendum to the previous MoU, but that the European Commission has rejected this possibility.

Right now, the Socialist Party is entangled in three regional electoral battles: Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia. It is the Galician vote that most likely worries them most -- not because of the results themselves, but due to the importance that the Socialists attach to wresting the clear majority from the PP, thus preventing a PP victory in Galicia from being interpreted as an endorsement of the PP's policy of cuts at the national level. Apart from the three elections, the Socialists are anxious to find forums of confrontation with the PP that are not exclusively related to protest in the streets.

The need to revitalize parliamentary life, and to denounce the government's attempts to evade the scrutiny of Congress, is one of these possible forums. Another would be the management of the so-called "bad bank," the entity that will end up in possession of large areas of land for construction, whether it's been built on or not.

The way in which these assets are appraised, and the manner in which this bank acts, will have important social repercussions, which the PSOE wishes to highlight in the eyes of the public. The repercussions may differ widely, according to the price at which the affected banks sell this real estate. "It will not be the same to hand the bad bank's assets over to sharp entrepreneurial managers, as to public managers," say prominent sources in the Socialist Party, adding that attracting public attention to these matters is a fundamental task of the opposition.

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