Tuesday was not the first time that Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell made the headlines in Spain for all the wrong reasons. Shortly after Madrid’s CNMV [the National Securities Market Commission] fined him €30,000 over the Abengoa insider trading case, news came of his address in the main hall of Madrid’s Universidad Complutense, where he stated that the US had little history and that “all they ever did” was “to kill a handful of Indians”. For all that, several opposition leaders have now asked him to step down.
Below is a round-up of the main incidents which could have prompted Borrell to resign.
1. Insider trading
On Monday Madrid’s CNMV —the National Securities Market Commission— fined Josep Borrell €30,000 over the so-called Abengoa insider trading case. In 2015, while Borrell was sitting on Abengoa’s board of directors —and shortly before the firm went into receivership and its share value plummeted—, Josep Borrell used his knowledge of the company’s situation to sell off Abengoa shares. The CNMV began to probe the case in July 2017 and found Borrell guilty “of a very serious violation”, as he used the information he was privy to for the transaction. The ten thousand Abengoa shares were owned by his ex-wife, Carolina Mayeur, and she sold them for 9,030€. The sum he was fined is the lowest set for major violations.
2. “The US just killed a handful of Indians”
Once the controversy over the fine imposed on Borrell had broken out and the first voices were calling on him to step down, a racist public statement by the Spanish minister began to make the rounds on social media. Speaking at an event held in the main hall of Madrid’s Universidad Complutense, Borrell stated that the US had little history as a nation and that “all they ever did” was “to kill a handful of Indians”. Sitting next to his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, Borrell literally said: “We have overcome our antagonism. Peace has allowed us to iron out our differences. But creating a shared identity is a different kettle of fish: it is much harder. There is far too much history behind us to ever become … But why does the US enjoy a higher degree of political integration? Firstly, because everyone speaks the same language and, secondly, because they have very little history. They came to independence virtually without any history at all. All they had done was to kill a handful of Indians. Apart from that, it was dead easy.”
3. A made-up spitting incident
Nobody witnessed the infamous spitting incident. Neither the ERC MPs who walked past him nor the PSOE leadership. Video footage of the alleged incident shows doesn’t show anything, either. It all began with Borrell’s run-in with MP Gabriel Rufián in the Spanish parliament, which got the latter expelled from the lower chamber. His Esquerra colleagues decided to join him and, as they were walking past the cabiney ministers’ row of seats, Borrell shouted out and pointed his finger at MP Jordi Salvador. He then took the floor to complain that he had been spat on.
None of that can be seen on the video footage. Even the PSOE leadership, who take the front rows in the Spanish parliament, admitted that they had seen nothing.
4. Mocking the International Olympic Committee
Borrell’s arrogance when speaking publicly has not been toned down by his ministerial appointment. If anyone thought he would bite his tongue, they were wrong. He recently had no qualms about slamming the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in order to defend Spain. He warned that the Spanish government would not recognise Kosovo’s independence “just because an IOC general director tells us to”, in a veiled reference to Pere Miró, the IOC’s Deputy General Director, who is a Catalan. After the Karate World Championships held in Madrid, where the scoreboard deliberately didn’t show the nationality of the Kosovar athletes, Miró threatened with issuing an IOC recommendation “not to hold international sporting events” in Spain until athletes from Kosovo were welcome in the country.
Borrell’s words came a week after his ministry clashed with the IOC over the incident in Madrid’s Karate World Championships. In a joint statement by Spain’s and the International Olympic Committee, the Spanish government agreed to issue visas to Kosovar athletes and allow them to use their symbols at sporting events held in Spain.
5. A diplomatic spat with Belgium
Kosovo is not the only country that has found itself at the receiving end of Borrell’s snubs. In early October he took away the diplomatic status of the Flanders representative to Spain in retaliation for the words of Jan Peumans, the Speaker of the Flemish parliament, who criticised Spain in strong terms for holding Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders on remand and questioned the standards of Spain’s democracy.
Borrell had summoned the Belgian ambassador to Spain, Marc Calcoen, to the ministry’s HQ to demand an explanation about “Peumans’ repeated defamatory remarks”. This was the third meeting between the Spanish minister and Belgium’s ambassador following a statement by Peumans, who had sent his [jailed] Catalan counterpart, Carme Forcadell, a letter of support only a few weeks earlier. It was not the first time that Belgium endured Borrell’s “authoritarian approach”, to quote Carles Puigdemont. Prior to that Borrell had instructed the Spanishi ambassador to Belgium, Cecilia Yuste, to ask Belgium’s federal government to intervene in the legal proceedings launched against Spanish judge Pablo Llarena in Belgium, and to argue the case for the judge’s immunity outside Spain. Belgium’s reply mentioned separation of powers and Borrell’s request was dismissed.
6. Disobeying NATO
At one point Borrell was also a headache for NATO, of which Spain is a member state. Earlier this month, Russian navy missile cruiser Marshall Ustinov, salvage tug SB-406 and Dubna, a tanker ship (carrying seven hundred men) were allowed to refuel for three days in the port of Ceuta [a Spanish enclave in northern Africa]. The surprise came the following Tuesday, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov travelled to Madrid and met Josep Borrell, his Spanish counterpart. The Spanish port of Ceuta had been off-limits to the Russian navy for two years after NATO forced Spain to deny Russia its use while the war was full on in Syria.