Politics 21/09/2021

New Catalan Government's plan: €5bn extra for Health Department, free education for 0 to 3-year-olds and boost to dialogue table

Government claims plan respects both ERC-JxCat and ERC-CUP investiture agreements

4 min
This Tuesday's executive council meeting.

BarcelonaFour months after the Catalan Government was invested, this Tuesday it has presented its government plan. It is the compilation of all public policies and concrete actions that it wants to implement in the next four years in each of the 14 Departments that make up the Generalitat. The plan is made public just a week after the first major crisis between Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (JxCat) since this government took office – over the composition of the dialogue table – and, although it had long been expected to be released today, it is also meant to show that both sides have left the conflict behind them, even if only temporarily.

The plan presented by government spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja distinguishes between 848 "main measures" and 724 "operational measures". Of this total of over 1,500 initiatives, some 300 will have priority and are labelled as "strategic" milestones. Among all these fixed objectives there are several outstanding goals and some where success will be easy to measure. The first is that the Generalitat commits to "increasing the public health budget by an additional €5bn over the next five years". The health system is always a talking point, but it has become even more relevant during the pandemic.

It also highlights the inclusion of one of the commitments made by President Aragonès in the election campaign of 14-F, when he was not yet president but ERC candidate: "The progressive gratuity" of education from 0 to 3 years, i.e. nursery schools in Catalonia. Vulnerable families would be the first to benefit from this measure, which would be gradually extended to the whole population. The plan also alludes to the government's main task in strictly political terms: the resolution of the political conflict. Specifically, the plan talks of "boosting" the negotiating table between the Generalitat and the State as one of the key tools to move forward. Therefore, although ERC and JxCat disagree on the composition of the Catalan delegation, they close ranks and give it a chance. Plaja considered the conflict between partners over, admitting "there is a party dynamic that thinks differently", but a "unity of action in Government action".

Pact with CUP

One of the oddities prior to Pere Aragonès's investiture was that ERC signed two separate pacts: one with JxCat and another with the anticapitalists CUP. The three political forces were unable to agree on one deal. This has already caused some tensions so far. Nevertheless, Plaja claims the government plan seeks to comply with both deals. That is, the pact between coalition partners, ERC and JxCat, and the "full compliance" with the ERC-CUP agreement. Seducing the CUP to get them to participate in the governance of Catalonia is one of the Government's key objectives in the coming months, since it needs the votes of the anti-capitalists to approve the Catalan budgets for 2022. The document the government presented does not, however, include some issues included in the agreement with the CUP, such as a moratorium on renewable energy projects.

The key question to implement the plan will be, precisely, whether the Generalitat manages to get next year's budgets through. Plaja only said the executive works within legally established deadlines to get them approved. Therefore, to process them in autumn and approve them before the end of the year. In the economic field, the Government road map also provides for the "reduction of dependence" from the Spanish fund for autonomous communities and "start issuing bonds in the market, especially green bonds". The Government should be able to return to debt markets after its debt rating was upgraded from "junk bond" to "investment" by one of the major rating agencies, Fitch.

Airport and Olympic Games

The Government's plan tackles two controversial issues: the future of Barcelona's airport and the holding of the Winter Olympic Games. As for airport infrastructure, there is no reference to the failed €1.7bn investment by Aena, nor to the extension of the third runway, the core of the conflict. It does mention the need to link the airports of El Prat, Reus and Girona through the high-speed railway network, as well as to connect the two terminals of El Prat with Barcelona through a Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat train line. The transfer of the three airports will also be demanded from the State. On the Olympic Games there are few specifics, beyond the reiterated commitment to prepare the candidature for 2030 and to hold a consultation to know citizens' opinion. It is not specified whether Catalans as a whole or only citizens from the affected areas will be consulted, although it is committed to apply Parliament's resolution that "all citizens in the Pyrenees" would vote.

More police and a public energy company

The 145-page document also includes relevant measures in the field of security and energy. The Generalitat commits to increasing the staff of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, to 22,000 units, and plans to reach this threshold even taking into account early retirements. The Government admits that this is an operation that will have to be "discussed with the State", which would have to play a role in financing the "new size" of the Catalan police force.

And with controversy throughout Spain on electricity prices in full swing, the Generalitat also commits to creating a "public energy company". This would take shape with the participation of the Catalan administration "in the ownership of new renewable generation plants" and contributing to the development of "energy communities". It also plans to take over hydroelectric plants "whose concessions expire". The plan has seen the light a week before the general policy debate in Parliament, where the opposition will try to influence the policies presented on Tuesday by Pere Aragonès's cabinet.