Catalan and Spanish Governments resume bilateralism amid distrust
Bilateral Commission meeting in Madrid this Monday to put Sánchez-Aragonès relationship to test
BarcelonaSince direct rule was lifted in June 2018, the Generalitat and the Spanish government have made several attempts to recover a more or less fluid bilateral relationship. This included, for example, the meeting of the Bilateral Commission Generalitat-State held in August 2018, the Declaration of Pedralbes that Quim Torra and Pedro Sánchez agreed in December of the same year or the dialogue table that was convened in February 2020. None of these meetings had continuity and were diluted by continuous criticism. Today, the two governments will try again from the headquarters of the Ministry of Territorial Policy in Madrid. There the Bilateral Commission will meet again with the intention that more comes of it than a simple photograph. Yet it starts amid signs of distrust on both sides.
This Monday's meeting was agreed by the presidents Pedro Sánchez and Pere Aragonès in their meeting at the end of June, but not even this could prevent it from from faltering at more than one point. Isabel Rodríguez taking over from Miquel Iceta as minister for Territorial Policy jeopardised the meeting. A couple of calls between the new head of the Ministry and the Catalan minister for the Presidency, Laura Vilagrà, managed to save it, but it proved how fragile everything is. A few days later, in addition, Rodriguez showed that she had not been picked because of a special sensibility towards the Catalan political conflict. "The independence movement should have learned its lesson," she said in her debut on the issue. But it is not only the Generalitat which is unhappy with recent developments. The Spanish government is angry that Pere Aragonès decided not to attend the conference of regional presidents last Friday. "Today Catalans have unfortunately remained mute," Rodriguez criticised. The distrust is mutual
What should we expect from today's Bilateral Commission? Tangible agreements are rather unlikely. The Generalitat will take a long list of demands and will negotiate with the State which ones may be addressed and which won't. That is to say, which ones will be referred to other subsidiary commissions such as the one on Transfers, Economic Affairs or Infrastructures in order to finalise specific issues. Among the list of Catalan demands, 56 pending transfers that the Generalitat has detected -advanced by the ARA- such as the Labour Inspectorate, the management of university scholarships (which seems the most feasible and could come into force for the 2022-23 year), Maritime Rescue or state-owned real estate. The Government also wants to talk about pending debts such as the third additional provision, which is estimated at €3.8bn, key infrastructure such as the airport and the port and conflicts on competence, such as the one that was opened by the Catalan rent cap or the Generalitat's will to manage certain benefits such as the Minimum Living Income. Vilagrà, who will lead the Catalan delegation flanked by vice-president Jordi Puigneró and Catalan Economy minister Jaume Giró, said a few days ago that they wanted a "closed working calendar". "We want all the pending transfers," she summed up.
But nothing is easy in relations between the two governments. "We have been negotiating the agenda until the last minute," Catalan Government sources explain. They were already disappointed before the meeting began, as the Spanish government said it would not discuss European funds. It is a wake-up call to the Generalitat for having been absent from the conference of presidents, where they were discussed. The Generalitat says they will bring it up regardless, although it doesn't seem this will be well received. Nevertheless, there will be a technical meeting on the subject with all regions this Monday morning, which Catalonia will attend. This Sunday, in an interview with Efe, Puigneró already expressed his distrust towards the Spanish government: "With the State we have to collect in cash, we can no longer give them anything on credit".
What will certainly not be addressed in this forum is the political conflict, which will be left for the dialogue table on September 13. This is a demand that Esquerra has been making for a long time, as they want to clearly separate the negotiating table where they will talk about self-government -the Bilateral Commission- and the table where they will talk about the conflict -the dialogue table-. This second negotiating space has gained a new detractor in the ranks of JxCat this Sunday. The mayor of Girona and deputy in the Parliament, Marta Madrenas, has summoned the pro-independence movement to think of a "new formula". In just over a month's time, the two bilateral forums between the Catalan and Spanish governments will be activated. Both, of uncertain prognosis.