Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spanish Government bans Catalan decree that was to help families in need keep energy supply in winter

The Spanish Constitutional Court has accepted the Spanish Government's appeal against the decree approved by the Catalan Executive in December 2013 by which families in need are protected from their household electricity and gas being cut off by energy supply companies during winter months. This represents that the decree is temporarily suspended for an initial period of 5 months, which could be later extended during all the time the Court will need to reach a definitive verdict (a process than can take years). 

The Catalan Government's measure aimed to fight the so-called 'energy poverty': people who cannot afford to pay for their energy bills because they do not get minimum income. The decree was not a cancellation of the bills but to allow those families to postpone the payment during the winter months. However, the Spanish Executive considered that the Catalan measure represented a "discrimination" against the citizens from other Autonomous Communities, who have to pay their energy bills on time, and took it to the Spanish Constitutional Court. The appeal from the Government chaired by Mariano Rajoy goes against Catalonia's political autonomy. 

Furthermore, Rajoy's decision seems arbitrary since he does not consider to be a form of discrimination against Catalans the facts that other Autonomous Community governments are lowering the Income Tax, nor that most of the highways in Catalonia have tolls while in the rest of Spain they do not, nor that living costs in Catalonia are higher than in most of Spain but Catalans receive the same money for unemployment benefits and social grants, for instance. 

With this ban, the Spanish Government and the Spanish Constitutional Court enforce Spain's ongoing homogenisation and recentralisation process, which is one of the main causes for the current territorial tensions and wide support for Catalonia's independence. The Catalan Government and the trade union UGT are surprised and upset by the Spanish authorities' ban. The UGT regretted that the Spanish Constitutional Court is "prioritising the political game over the protection of economically vulnerable families".

Spanish Constitutional Court Members
On Thursday, the day after the Spanish Constitutional Court decided to temporarily suspend the decree fighting 'energy poverty', the Catalan Government stated it was "upset and worried" by the ban from the Spanish authorities. "The Spanish Executive is more concerned about market unity than about helping the people who cannot pay for their gas and power supply", said the Catalan Minister for Business and Employment, Felip Puig, who is in charge of energy policies. Furthermore, Puig added that an alternative way to help those families will be found. At first, the Catalan Government will file allegations and will ask for the decree's temporary suspension to be lifted, in order to implement the measures foreseen in the decree during this winter, while the Spanish Constitutional Court reaches a final decision. Such a decision could take months or even years. Other alternative formulas would be to create a fund to help those families or to request a VAT exemption, although none of them are in place yet.

ACN

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