New Spanish president Pedro Sánchez has chosen a veteran of the Socialist party to be his Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Catalan politician Josep Borrell. During Felipe González’s long reign at the helm of the Spanish government, from 1982 to 1996, Borrell was one of the Socialist government’s best-known faces. However, a failed attempt to lead the PSOE Socialist party saw him instead move to the European Parliament.

After serving as President of the European Parliament from 2004 until 2007, Borrell has maintained his political standing, which he has drawn on to openly criticise the Catalan independence movement. Some commentators claim that his promotion as head of foreign affairs, one of the most important posts in the cabinet, is unlikely to help smooth relations between Catalonia and Spain.

Borrell’s disapproval of Catalonia’s secessionist movement has led him to become an active participant in the events organized by Societat Civil Catalana, an entity that is fiercely opposed to Catalan independence. In fact, it was Borrell who coined a phrase that gained notoriety when he talked about “disinfecting” Catalonia of independence supporters, which even caused some critics from party colleagues.

Translation:

Stitching up the wounds is a good idea. They have to be stitched up. It’s true. This is a wounded society and it has to be cured. Before the wounds cklose, however, they have to be disinfected. Because, if they’re not disinfected, things rot. The social body has to be healed, so it has to be scrubbed well with disinfectant. A society cannot live if 40% or more of the people are convinced, right or wrong, that they would be better off outside. That cannot be. It’s a situation that’s too painful, too unstable (…)

Conflict of interests at the EUI

In 2012, Borrell was forced to resign as president of the European University Institute (EUI) in the face of allegations of a conflict of interest. At the time he was being paid €300,000 a year as a board member of the Spanish sustainable-energy company Abengoa, a post he had held since July 2009, when he left the European Parliament. The EUI apparently only became aware of this after comments in the Spanish press, but Borrell should have declared his financial interest to them.

Born in 1947 in Pobla de Segur, in the northeastern county of Pallars Jussà, Borrell began in local politics before joining the PSOE party and eventually rising to ministerial level. The highest position he held was Minister of Public Works in 1991 before he moved to Environment in 1993. After giving up on his ambitions to lead the party, Borrell made the move to Brussels in 2004, where he was elected head of the European chamber. Borrell has a doctorate in economic science from the Complutense University of Madrid but has also studied at the French Institute of Petroleum in Paris and Stanford University in the US.

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