Politics 29/09/2021

Aragonès rejects fixing date for referendum as CUP demands

CUP insists: "Set a date for the referendum, Mr President"

5 min
The president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, this Wednesday arriving at the plenary session.

BarcelonaThere will not be an independence referendum called unilaterally by the Government this term. The president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, has closed the door this Wednesday on this possibility, discarding the proposal made by the anti-capitalist pro-independence CUP to hold a new consultation whether or not there is an agreement with the State. The clash of strategies was clearly visible in the second day of the general policy debate. The CUP insisted on their idea: "Set a date for the referendum, Mr President", Carles Riera demanded. The President was not receptive. Aragonès replied that the agreement his party, Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), and CUP signed does not include it and that, therefore, he is not planning on holding it. "The agreement says what it says. It did not speak of specific dates," he concluded.

The president of the Generalitat not only rejects the substance of the CUP's proposal, but also the manner. Thus, he has regretted having found out about the proposal through the media because he considered that it was not the appropriate way to address the issue by a party he considers his priority partner. Therefore, the president's roadmap is to comply with the investiture agreement, which gave the negotiating table with the state two years' margin to come up with results. He also took on the commitment to prepare an alternative in the form of a "democratic struggle", but without specific dates. "We will comply with the agreement. If there are new conditions, we will be worked on them in due time," he said.

But the CUP has given no sign of wanting to slacken its determination. The day after announcing it would present a motion for a resolution on the referendum that will be debated this Thursday, it has redoubled the pressure on the Government demanding a date be agreed on now. The CUP, wary of the negotiating table from the start despite giving it a two year margin, wants the Catalan government to get to work to prepare the conditions for a new consultation, assuming that negotiation with the State will not bear fruit.

Riera: "Set a date for the referendum, Mr President".

"The referendum is an element of pressure to solve the conflict and we cannot leave the country stranded at the negotiating table", Riera affirmed. And he added: "A referendum forces us to a real negotiation; setting a date forces the State and the international community and not doing so leaves us in a dead end", he concluded. In this sense, Riera has accused ERC of "playing the card of the deactivation of the conflict, of the de-escalation of confrontation" with the negotiating table, and has lamented that it is "using Government for its bilateral agenda with PSOE, which is the [Spanish stock market] Ibex-35's butler"

ERC's coalition partner, Together for Catalonia (JxCat), has maintained a more conciliatory tone with Aragonès. The party thanked him for travelling to Alghero to support former president Carles Puigdemont but also demanded a change of attitude. "This is a coalition not subordination government," said the president of JxCat's parliamentary group, Albert Batet. The party considers that the president puts too much emphasis on the negotiating table the his speeches – one of ERC's strategies – and that ignores the "confrontation" with the State that JxCat defends. "We need a culture of unity," added Batet, who has devoted much of his speech to criticising the Spanish government and accusing the Socialists of "cynicism": "With one hand they plan the arrest of Puigdemont and with the other they say they are committed to dialogue".

Sources in JxCat explain that these differences will be evidenced in the proposals they will present in the afternoon. It is expected that they will have to join with ERC – they are also negotiating with the CUP – but that at the same time the two parties in Government will present some on their own. JxCat will promote a resolution to support former president Carles Puigdemont after the arrest; another to defend the strategy of confrontation and unity of "52% of pro-independence votes"; another denouncing the State's "democratic deficits", and others relating to specific sectors (to support the expansion of the airport and renewable energy).

On the other hand, ERC also plans to present a few proposals by itself, including one in favour of the dialogue table to obtain the support of Parliament in its strategy before the Spanish government.

And the budgets?

The debate on Catalonia's future as a nation adds pressure to the negotiation of the 2022 budgets, which the Government and the CUP are yet to complete. Despite amending the idea of the referendum, Aragonès has insisted that his priority is to reach an agreement with CUP and at no time has he contemplated the possibility seeking the Socialists' support. "We want the budgets to be approved with the same parties who supported the investiture's support," he said, alluding to the 74 MPs that ERC, JxCat and CUP have between them. In addition, the president suggested that if the CUP want to fully comply with the agreement of the beginning of the legislature in its social aspect it will be "essential" to have a new budget. Not everything has been reproaches towards the CUP, though. The leader of ERC's parliamentary group, Josep Maria Jové, has played another role, probably to complement the speech that minutes later Aragonès would make. Jové dealt swathes of praise: "I thank you for the tenacity, the negotiating commitment of the most incorruptible left".

Right now, however, the CUP does not seem the closest partner to move forward in the negotiation. In fact, Riera has regretted that they are not finding in ERC "a reliable or credible partner". "There is no turn to the left or pro-independence," he reproached President Aragonès, citing for example the Government's refusal to impose a moratorium on wind farms. He has also criticised the Government's intention to expand the airport or to host the Winter Games. "We have 15 evictions a day and youth unemployment of 40%," he stressed to demand a radical change in social policies.

The PSC extends its hand as an alternative partner

Before the distance between the CUP and Government, reducing the possibility that they could agree on budgets, the Catalan Socialists' Party (PSC) has taken the opportunity to offer itself as an alternative partner for the budget. "If you do not succeed with your majority to pass the budget so it is in force on January 1, 2022, you know that we can discuss it," said the head of the opposition, Salvador Illa. The socialist leader offered his support, as he did on issues such as the pandemic or European funds. A deal, however, would not be without concessions. On the one hand, Illa has reproached the Minister of Economy, Jaume Giró, for wanting to be "the most pro-independence and the most left-wing in the room", in reference to possible concessions to the CUP; on the other, he has accused the governing parties of wanting to "relapse" into the "collective failure" of 2017, considering self-determination and the amnesty as "unreal" objectives. And he has demanded once again that the president reactivate the negotiating table between Catalan parties, one of the points included in the agreement between the PSOE and ERC for the investiture of Pedro Sánchez.

Aragonès is not willing to accept the Socialists offer. Not only has he insisted that he wants to get the budget approved with the CUP's support, but he has also made a speech critical with the Catalan socialists. The general policy debate, therefore, will not serve bring positions closer between the two parties with the most seats in the house. In fact, the president even joked about the shadow government that Illa presented a few months ago. "I was very disappointed with his speech. I thought that the alternative government would have an alternative plan. You don't have an alternative proposal," he told the Socialist leader.

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