Politics 09/09/2021

Aragonès criticises Aena: "It's a blackmail operation"

Catalan president does not consider the investment lost but demands "dialogue and consensus"

4 min
The president Aragonès, this Thursday to the Palau de la Generalitat

Barcelona / BrusselsThe political battle over El Prat airport is not over yet, despite the fact that this Wednesday the Spanish government announced it was suspending the investment . This Thursday the president of the Catalan Government, Pere Aragonès, spoke from the Palau de la Generalitat, aware that it had become a large problem for his executive. Until now the president had always been in favour of the €1.7bn investment planned by Aena, but had expressed his doubts about its environmental impact on protected areas such as La Ricarda lagoon. Aragonès began his appearance by expressing his "deepest indignation" and showing his displeasure with Aena and the Spanish government: "It is a pressure manoeuvre and a blackmail operation. We cannot accept it"

The main reproach of the Catalan president is that the Spanish government has never wanted to negotiate the specifics of how the investment would be carried out and has applied pressure until the very end to impose its plan for El Prat: "Either this investment or nothing. We do not accept this way of deciding the future of the airport," he lamented. The underlying problem, according to him, stems from the fact that Aena has not respected the original pact between the Government and the State sealed on August 2 in Madrid. Aragonès claims that pact allowed for the expansion of the airport with minimal environmental impact, but then Aena published its plans without "environmental preservation". He has also considered that the Spanish government could not be angry with the Generalitat for having considered attending the demonstration against the expansion of El Prat : "A €1.7bn investment is not decided on the basis of public statements"

Image of the president Aragonès's appearance in the Palau de la Generalitat.

With all these elements on the table, Aragonès accused the State of not having ever had "the will to invest in Catalonia". His final conclusion is that the State ought to transfer the management of the airport to Catalonia so Catalan institutions could decide themselves, a transfer that the Spanish government has never shown any willingness to carry out. Not now, nor before. In spite of his manifest annoyance, Aragonès has claimed that the Generalitat will not renounce yet to receiving this money and unblocking the situation. In order to do this, he has prescribed "dialogue, consensus and time" to confront the situation. "We do not want to give up the investment, but we want to do it with consensus and this needs time," he proclaimed. "The issue of the airport still has many moves left," the Catalan government says.

Government unity and dialogue table

The controversy over the airport has exploded a week before negotiating table between the Generalitat and the State meets to discuss the Catalan political conflict. Aragonès has defended that the two areas would be kept separate. That is to say, the negotiating table would have to be held as planned despite the fact that relations have cooled considerably due to the controversy over the airport. "Not only does not affect it but we face it with more strength than ever," he said. The president is clear "that there are many people who want the negotiating table to fail," but has emphasised that he is not one of them. In addition, he has considered that this meeting should not affect an eventual negotiation between his party, ERC, and the PSOE for the general budgets of the State: "Mixing areas would be a mistake and I will not do it "

But, for the other half of the Government, the credibility of Pedro Sánchez's executive has been even more damaged. If the scepticism towards the possibilities of success at the dialogue table already prevailed in Junts, the failure of El Prat's extension project reaffirms their beliefs: "We regret it and we ask them to rethink it, but it is not a surprise ", said the secretary general of Junts, Jordi Sànchez, this Thursday from Brussels. "It means a big question mark over the real capacity of the Spanish government to be able to address deeper issues. Can a government that is not capable of maintaining a €1.7bn investment over a tweet credibly address the debate to resolve a political conflict?", he aked.

The halt on the investment in El Prat has not only opened the umpteenth crack in relations with the State, but also it has also provoked tensions between the two government partners in Catalonia, ERC and JxCat. The vice-president of the Generalitat, Jordi Puigneró, criticised ERC yesterday when the controversy was unleashed and today he said statements made by ERC saying they were considering attending the demonstration "do not help" to secure the investment.

Secretary general of Junts Jordi Sànchez went further. He branded statements and tweets made by ERC members regarding the expansion of El Prat as "unfortunate" and "populist": "Indeed, we were surprised by some statements and messages from our partners in government and we made it known privately to President Aragonès". Even so, he has assured that trust between government partners is "full" and has framed the tensions as part of the normal discrepancies between two different political parties.

Albert Batet, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Puigneró during Junts' working meeting in Brussels.

What he has claimed, however, is that ERC should rethink its role in Madrid. For that reason, Junts' parliamentary group has requested a meeting with president Aragonès, to approach the political action of pro-independence parties in the Spanish parliament. "We have 23 seats, which are necessary, essential to guarantee a majority and a stable government", said Jordi Sànchez. Junts says they do not ask ERC to break with the PSOE but they consider that "it is not reasonable that there is a political force that gives stability without gaining anything in return" and for that reason they have demanded, again, that the independence movement acts in a "coordinated" way in Madrid.

In any case, despite Aragonès's attempts not to deepen the tensions within the government, the coalition partners' version are different. According to JxCat, the agreement the State and Generalitat sealed on August 2 in Madrid guaranteed saving La Ricarda. According to ERC, time has shown this was not the case. What everybody does agree on is that we have still not seen the end of this. Watch this space.