Politics 07/09/2021

ERC opens the door to demonstrating against the reform of the airport even though it supports the investment

Party leadership opens an internal debate on the enlargement to seek internal cohesion

3 min
Barcelona Prado Airport

BarcelonaThe controversial reform of El Prat airport might force some Catalan parties to lay bare their internal contradictions to the public eye. If at first it was En Comú who protested against an investment in an airport carried out by a Spanish coalition government of which they are part, now it is Esquerra who plans to participate in the demonstration against the reform in spite of the fact that the Government it leads has agreed on the investment with the Spanish government. This Monday the deputy general secretary of ERC, Marta Vilalta, explained that "it is likely" that her party will participate "somehow" in the first protest against the expansion of the airport, which has been called for September 19 in Barcelona. The extension has, albeit with nuances, been defended by ERC.

The core of the conflict is the rejection that Esquerra has found against this reform, both within the party and in society. For example, the regional federation of Baix Llobregat, the party's youth wing and party heavyweights such as the former deputy Joan Tardà have positioned themselves vehemently against it. Faced with these two sources of controversy -the internal and external-, ERC is making a move. At internal level, and according to republican sources, the party leadership has debated this Monday the situation and will study debating the initiative in a national council at the end of month to maintain cohesion the party around this question.

As for social discontent, ERC plans to attend the protest against to show that, although it is in favour of investment, does not want it to be done against environmental criteria. "The [lagoon of La] Ricarda is off bounds", is one of the slogans that the party has imposed as a "red line", several republican sources point out. "We will be everywhere where we can make our voice heard," Vilalta has argued to explain that they value being at the protest. Even so it will not be able to avoid the reading that it is a government party protesting against the same government of which it is part.

Government working day in Vall d'en Bas

Position of Junts

In this sense, Junts is suspicious Esquerra is considering going to the demonstration considering that it endorsed the agreement with the Spanish government to extend it and they attribute it to "internal balances" between the sectors inside the party that are opposed to the infrastructure. They affirm that the lagoon of La Ricarda is "protected" and "guaranteed" by the Generalitat and they add that, if the master plan that has to be approved on September 30 by the council of ministers affects it, the vice-presidency will not give it the go-ahead.

They highlight that this is the agreement to which they arrived at on Saturday, after president Aragonès criticised the project in a tweet. "We have ratified the agreement to which [vide-president] Puigneró arrived at and the lagoon will not be destroyed", sources close to the vice-president assure.

Albeit to a lesser extent, the disagreement about the extension of El Prat also exists within Junts. When Puigneró initiated the pact with the Spanish government, the parliamentary speaker Laura Borràs raised her voice. Her point, however, was more to do with strategies in dealing with the Spanish government. "We know full well what happens with the Spanish government's commitments to invest. We are back to the carrot. Less euphoria and more memory," she said. The one who has positioned himself against the environmental requirements has been former minister Damià Calvet, who wrote an article in El Nacional when he left the Government stating his opinion. He assured that the extension of the runway will not pass the European filter of respect to the Natura 2000 Network (of which La Ricarda is part) and urged to explore an "integrated management of a Catalan airports -Barcelona, Girona and Reus- interconnected by train".

On Saturday, the coalition partners agreed on a common position but it has not lasted long. There is some suspicion in ERC about what the vice president Puigneró really agreed at the meeting on August 2 in Madrid, where the Catalan Department for Territory (Junts) negotiated directly with the Spanish Ministry for Transport and Mobility (PSOE). Be that as it may, it will not be until September 30 when it will really have to be put on paper: the council of ministers has to approve the investment of €1.7bn for El Prat, and it is from here when the Government hopes to influence the master plan that has to specify the extension and protect the Ricarda.