Spain's FA Minister Josep Borrell

When Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell first took office he had no qualms about admitting that the narrative espoused by Catalonia’s pro-independence camp had won the upper hand in the international arena. In a bout of candour —a rare occurrence in his case— minister Borrell remarked that Spain’s prestige abroad was “in tatters, particularly in Europe and among the English-speaking countries”, which was also his own way of slamming his predecessor.

The Spanish minister went on to say that the “propaganda” spread by Catalonia’s separatists meant that he had to devote time and energy in an attempt to counter their messages. It is precisely this need which accounts for the PR campaign being readied by the Spanish government —specifically, the Foreign Ministry— to combat the pro-independence narrative and the political prisoners’ defence during the trial against the Catalan leaders [who held an independence referendum on October 1, 2017].

The offensive that Borrell has been bragging about will be led by Irene Lozano, the undersecretary responsible for España Global. This is the socialist administration’s own rendition of the PP’s Marca Espanya, as proven by the domain name of its website, which is incidentally endorsed by institutions like the cities of Valencia and Barcelona, as well as FC Barcelona. A former PSOE MP who was rescued by Pedro Sánchez during his election campaign, since last October Lozano has been busy promoting the advantages and opportunities offered by Spain.

Disinformation

But now, ahead of the trial, she will focus exclusively on countering “the Catalan separatists’ disinformation” because, according to Lozano herself, “when peaceful coexistence is broken down by disinformation, democracy is in jeopardy”. She does not hesitate to refer to Catalonia’s independence bid as “massive fake news”.

Lozano’s words reveal Madrid’s concern about how the trial will be reported abroad. In fact, she made no secret of it when she admitted that “Spain’s reputation is, for the first time, a state matter” while on a visit to Brussels, where she met Margaritis Schinas, the spokesperson of the European Commission, and Jaume Duch, the spokesperson and Director-General of Communication of the European Parliament. The latter is a key player in the Spanish state’s apparatus that aims to muffle the voice of Catalonia’s independence supporters in the European chamber.

As part of her tour to clean up Spain’s reputation, Lozano will be travelling to London where she will encourage the Spanish nationals who reside there to join her efforts to promote “Spain as a modern, supportive, profoundly pro-Europe democracy that is ready to contribute to global governance”, she said.

Madrid’s Supreme Court wants a voice, too

Spain’s judiciary —specifically, the Supreme Court— is also gearing up to oppose the pro-independence narrative during the trial. They seek to defend their reputation, which was damaged by the adverse court rulings in Belgium and Germany that dismissed the arrest warrants for the Catalan exiles. Sources from some of the defence teams have told this newspaper that the court might assign staff to deal with any foreign reporters who may have questions about the trial. According to TV3, Catalonia’s public TV broadcaster, they are even drafting English and French-language talking points to be handed out to the attending correspondents.

A source from the defendants’ legal counsel remarked that “funnily enough, it’s always the prosecution and the defence who wish to put out their own version; yet in this trial we will witness the court defending itself before the press”. These preparations by Spain’s Supreme Court shed light on Irene Lozano’s words: “I am aware that the judiciary is well equipped to explain to Spanish and foreign media what is truly going on, from a legal and technical standpoint, as they will presumably try to spread disinformation, to send out biased interpretations of the proceedings and play the victim even more”. So we can anticipate that the battle to win over foreign sympathies will be fierce during the three months which the trial is slated to last.