The Trial of The Century

A high-stakes political trial in Spain threatens to reignite national tensions and topple the government.

The "trial of the century," which began in Madrid yesterday, pits twelve members of the separatist movement in the Spanish region of Catalonia against the national government. The defendants are accused of rebellion, sedition, and civil disobedience for organizing what Madrid alleges was an illegal referendum on independence from Spain back in 2017. They face up to 25 years in prison.


Catalonians who participated overwhelmingly backed independence in the referendum, sparking Spain's worst national crisis since its return to democracy in the late 1970s. It was only resolved after then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved Catalonia's parliament and nationalized its regional police force.

What's at stake? The trial is already opening old wounds. Thousands took to the streets in Madrid on Tuesday to protest what they view as the government's soft stance on the separatists. New protests across are all but certain, and will further stoke political divisions throughout Spain. Only 22 percent of Catalans believe their leaders committed acts of rebellion, compared to 58 percent of all Spaniards. The contrast with Spain's conservatives is even starker: where 87 and 95 percent of supporters of the center-right Partido Popular and far-right Vox Party, respectively, felt similarly.

The court drama also spells trouble for current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who was just barely able to form a government last year by coaxing the support of two small pro-independence Catalan parties. By refusing to negotiate on regional self-determination, Sanchez's government is likely to lose their support and be defeated in a crucial vote today on its 2019 budget. That could prompt new elections within the next few months.

All the instability is good for the new kids in Spanish politics – the far-right Vox party. As we've written, Vox made big gains in recent local elections and has made a point of wanting to quash calls for Catalan independence. Polls suggest the party would win over 10 percent of the national vote if elections were held today, giving them their first seats in Parliament.

With mounting protests, a delicate coalition, and the far-right on the rise, Spain's government could soon be the latest in Europe to be swept aside.

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William Hague: What is my prediction for the election?

Well, I think that conservatives will definitely have a bigger lead in votes over the Labour Party than at the last election, two years ago. Now that should give them a majority in the House of Commons. But then there will be tactical voting between Labour and Liberal voters against the Conservatives. And there are many undecided people at the last minute. So, I would go for a small conservative majority, maybe around 20 seats, which is also what some of the most sophisticated pollsters have said.

David Miliband: Who do you predict will win the UK elections?

I'm very careful about predictions, especially about the future, as someone famously said. The polls are pretty clear that this has been a dismal campaign, an unpopularity contest in all sorts of ways in which the lesser of two evils is perceived by the voters to be a conservative vote. So, the polls are giving a range of possibilities from a hung parliament right through to a large conservative majority. Obviously, I don't know who's going to win. My tour around the country last week gave me a real sense, a yearning really, for a better choice, for better choices, for more fronting up by the parties, because both parties have done a job of avoiding some of the hardest choices. And so, I predict that whoever wins, there are some very difficult choices ahead. And the sooner that politics is about what you're asking for as well as what you're offering. As Tawney said, after Labour lost the 1931 election, "we offered too much and asked too little." The sooner politics is about shared endeavor, the better for the country.

After a months-long investigation into whether President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine's president into investigating his political rivals in order to boost his reelection prospects in 2020, House Democrats brought two articles of impeachment against him, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Click here for our GZERO guide to what comes next.

In the meantime, imagine for a moment that you are now Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority leader and senior member of Donald Trump's Republican Party. You've got big choices to make.

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Trump gets his deal – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that Democrats will back the USMCA, the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement that will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Crucially, the bill will also have support from the nation's largest labor union. This is a major political victory for President Trump, who promised he would close this deal, but it's also good for Pelosi: it shows that the Democrats' House majority can still accomplish big things even as it impeaches the president. But with the speed of the Washington news cycle these days, we're watching to see if anyone is still talking about USMCA three days after it's signed.

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