Parliamentary Speakership: from honorary prize to political platform

For many years it was occupied by politicians at the end of their careers

3 min
Constitution of the Parliament restablert, April 1980, with Heribert Barrera as president.

BarcelonaLaura Borràs is already the sixteenth Speaker of the Catalan Parliament after being voted in this Friday in the constitutive session of the legislature. It has not taken many minutes to show that she intends to exercise a militant speakership: her first speech has been full of references to freedom of expression, prisoners, exiles and self-determination. Borràs has just turned 50, she has been in front-line politics for only three years and intends to continue being a mainstay in the coming years. A profile that now seems usual but it is radically opposite to the one that had been chosen in most elections in the chamber. The speakership has gone from being an honorary prize to a political platform of the first magnitude.

It is Catalonia's second highest authority, and since 1984 there had been an attempt to give it a more institutional and symbolic role, in contrast to the political importance of the President of the Generalitat. Miquel Coll i Alentorn was chosen. At the age of 80, that honour was the last of his political career, which had begun in 1932 in the Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC).

His successor in 1984, a younger man, was also at the end of his career. Joaquim Xicoy, also from the UDC, was president of the Parliament until 1995, between the ages of 62 and 74. He had been involved in politics since the 1950s and had held several institutional posts since the recovery of Catalan autonomy. The same is true about Joan Reventós: leader of the Catalan socialists since their foundation at the end of the 1970s and head of the list in the 1980 elections, he became president of the Parliament in 1995, taking advantage of the fact that CiU had lost its absolute majority. He was 68 years old and had been a member of parliament in Madrid, in Catalonia, ambassador in Paris and senator.

Joan Rigol was younger but had a wide range of accumulated experience. At the age of 56 he was elected president of the Chamber of Deputies in 1999, thus culminating his political aspirations. And the same goes for Núria de Gispert, who between 2010 and 2015 was the first president of the chamber. She arrived at the age of 61 after having been a Catalan minister for eight years.

Active leaders

All of them received an honorary award for their careers. Heribert Barrera had also received it in 1980. "The success or failure of the entire democratic period throughout Spain depends largely on us. We have to be worthy of the long history of our land," he said in his first speech as president. He was 62 years old but he was not acceding to the presidency as a stepping stone to retirement. He was the leader of his party, ERC, and he stood as a candidate again in 1984. Ernest Benach had no intention of retiring from the Parliamentary table either. At the age of 44 he was elected president of the chamber in 2003 and remained in office until 2010. He even tried to lead ERC in 2008 when the party had to find a replacement for Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira. He finally left active politics in 2010, when he resigned after an electoral failure.

Carme Forcadell in 2015 represented something different. At a time marked by the plebiscite proposed by the pro-independence movement, she represented the symbol of the massive street demonstrations. Politically she had not held positions of relevance and at 60 years of age she did not expect to have a long career ahead of her, although it was the threat of the Supreme Court that removed her from office.

And we come to the last two examples. That of Borràs is obvious. It has been her choice and she has done so, among other reasons, because she has considered that it was compatible with continuing to lead her political space. Her predecessor, Roger Torrent, became at 39 the youngest president in history when he was chosen in 2018. And since then he has always been one of the best positioned in the succession race of Oriol Junqueras, disqualified by the Supreme Court. He was number 3 in the last elections and is a safe bet to become minister in Pere Aragonès's next government. The difference between the two of them, Torrent and Borràs, and the rest is evident in terms of the point in their careers at which they assumed the leadership of the Parliament. Three years ago, in fact, ERC had assessed the possibility of betting on Ernest Maragall to occupy this place thinking of the post mora as a honorary award than a platform. However, a few months later they made him, first, in Minister and, later, the antidote to defeat Ada Colau in Barcelona.

Curiously, the first president of the Parliament was from this second group. Lluís Companys held the post for a short time, between December 1932 and June 1933. He was 50 years old, like Borràs, and had a political career ahead of him. Minister of the Navy, member of the Spanish parliament and, since the death of Francesc Macià, president of the Generalitat.