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A European country that interferes in its voters' electoral choices? Spain's democracy seems dangerously close to matching that definition this Monday after further disturbing revelations over the weekend in the Catalangate espionage carried out by the country's National Intelligence Centre (CNI). If on Saturday the newspaper La Vanguardia was able to leak the full list of 18 Catalan pro-independence figures who the CNI has so far admitted spying on using the Pegasus software, on Sunday, the same newspaper revealed that one of the focuses for that espionage was the process of forming a new Barcelona city council in the immediate aftermath of the cliff-hanger 2019 municipal election. The issue was whether the Catalan capital would end up in the hands of the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), under the candidacy of Ernest Maragall, which had finished first on election night. According to the newspaper, the Spanish secret services wanted to keep a close eye on the status of the negotiations to form a new governing coalition in Barcelona city. Thus, the official request which the agency presented to the Spanish Supreme Court, which oversees such proceedings, included the telephone number of a person who was taking part in the negotiations over the formation of a new city government between ERC and Barcelona en Comú, the party of the incumbent mayor Ada Colau. Both parties had tied at 10 city councillors each, but ERC had won the most votes. 

Subsequently, a negotiation took place and the result raised more than a few eyebrows: Colau's alternative left 'Comuns', and their previous council allies the Catalan Socialists (PSC), were returned to municipal power thanks to the favourable vote of three councillors from the opposite end of the political spectrum, the right-wing and vehemently anti-independence party Ciudadanos, led by candidate Manuel Valls

The intention of the CNI action was to "interfere in the democratic will of the voters", according to Ernest Maragall, the ERC candidate who won the 2019 election but did not become mayor. Speaking this Monday, he pointed to Ada Colau as the beneficiary of the espionage and described Manuel Valls, the Barcelona-born former French prime minister, as having been hired by the "National Centre for Ignominy" for the operation. In fact, he toned down his comments today after yesterday asserting that the Comuns-Ciudadanos deal was "prepared and premeditated" with the knowledge of mayor Colau. All this provoked much indignation among the Comuns, who demanded a rectification, and today Maragall wanted to clarify his words about the role of the municipal leader in the controversy, assuring that "she was not in on the deal", and that he had never said that or thought it.

"National Centre for Ignominy"

Now, in this context, Maragall asked the alternative left mayor to go beyond "supporting all democratic actions" and join in the complaints that have already been lodged against the espionage: "I understand that the Barcelona city council should show its solidarity." "The final victims in this are the citizenry, and the instrumental victim is me and the ERC party", he reflected, the day after all this information was known, assuring that the whole operation was aimed at "interfering in the democratic will of the voters". Maragall called for the gravity of the scandal to be placed in the focus: "a state that believes it has the legitimacy to intervene in an electoral procedure," adding that evidence showed that "a month before the election there was another [spyware] intervention in the middle of the pre-campaign".

"The operation went beyond preventing me from being elected mayor of Barcelona", said Maragall, as it had been underway for "much longer". "I have no idea what role the CNI played in achieving these results. I know there was funding, mediation... a whole political operation." In the face of all this, the ERC politician insisted on what his party has been asking for since the Catalangate scandal broke out, as Catalan president Pere Aragonès, also spied on, has repeatedly demanded: transparency, full accountability, and the declassification of documents.

18 pro-independence names 

On Saturday, the newspaper La Vanguardia revealed what it claims were the names of the 18 people associated with the Catalan independence movement that the CNI admits to having spied on - only a small proportion of the 65 independence movement-linked victims of espionage identified in the study by the Canadian research centre Citizen Lab. The 18 people that the Spanish secret service has allegedly admitted to spying on are: Pere Aragonès, then vice-president of Catalonia and national coordinator of ERC; the secretary of the other main pro-indepedence party Junts, Jordi Sànchez; the Junts vice-president and leader in Barcelona, ​​Elsa Artadi; Junts deputy Albert Batet; the pro-independence CUP deputy, Carles Riera; Elisenda Paluzie, president of the ANC, major civil society organization; two members of the other major pro-independence NGO, Òmnium Cultural, specifically the vice-president Marcel Mauri and board member Jordi Bosch de Borja; Carles Puigdemont's lawyer, Gonzalo Boye; three people in organizational roles very close to former president Puigdemont, Joan Matamala, Sergi Miquel, and Josep Lluís Alay; ERC businessperson and former Catalan government minister Xavier Vendrell; the president of the pro-independence PDeCAT party, David Bonvehí, and the party's deputy general secretary (and mayor of Mollerussa) Marc Solsona; and three technology entrepreneurs Jordi Baylina, Xavier Vives and Pau Escrich.