Negotiating table

Aragonès leaves JxCat out of negotiating table unless its delegation is made up of ministers exclusively

The composition of the Catalan delegation to the table sparks the first major crisis of the new Government

4 min
Pere Aragonès before compar+eixer this Tuesday at noon

BarcelonaThe resumption of the negotiating table starts off on the wrong foot, at least as far as the Catalan delegation is concerned. This morning Together for Cataloina (JxCat) has revealed the members of its delegation, but names it proposed have not pleased its coalition partner, Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC). JxCat's proposal is that their representatives at tomorrow's meeting are the vice president of the Generalitat, Jordi Puigneró; the secretary general of JxCat, Jordi Sànchez; the party's vice president, Jordi Turull; and their spokeswoman in the Spanish parliament, Miriam Nogueras. ERC is annoyed by two issues: first, that three of the four members are not part of the Catalan Government; and second, that the names have been made public before a private agreement between the parties was reached at the meeting of the executive council on Tuesday. ERC's irritation is such that the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, has told JxCat he rejects the proposed names. Later, in an appearance from the Palau de la Generalitat, the president explained that he will leave JxCat out of the negotiating table as long as it includes delegates who are not part of the cabinet. The new government already has its first major crisis.

This afternoon JxCat secretary general gave a press conference to react to Aragonès's move. He defended the names his party put forward, saying they were of the "highest political level" and regretted they did not receive Aragonès's approval. However, Sànchez has blamed the Spanish government of the decision, criticising it for "censoring" part of the Catalan delegation. "It is a bad omen", he affirmed. In his opinion, this shows that it lack the "will" to deal with the political conflict from self-determination and amnesty.

JxCat's secretary general -who informed Aragonès of the party's delegates- denied any "written or verbal agreement" with Aragonès regarding the delegates to the negotiating table, and recalled these were also absent of the investiture deal. "Aragonès's decision means the pro-independence movement will be less represented at the dialogue table", he added.

Despite the crisis, Sànchez says the "stability" of the government is not in play: he maintains his "confidence" in the president and all of the cabinet. Araongès also spoke along these lines earlier: "all of the government has my confidence and we have a lot of work ahead of us".

Aragonès has temporarily only appointed three ERC members as Catalan delegates to the negotiating table: himself, Presidency Minister Laura Vilagrà and Business Minister Roger Torrent, and has opened the door to "expand" the delegation if JxCat makes a proposal that includes "cabinet members". The rift in the Catalan Government is for now under control, but it is the biggest conflict since Aragonès took office. In spite of the fact that the investiture pact between ERC and JxCat did not state that delegates had to be ministers, the president has claimed that this is what had been agreed between the parties and recent weeks. "It is a question of confidence in agreements that are clear," he said. According to the president, it is key that the meeting on Wednesday is between governments because it is precisely this fact that gives "legitimacy and strength" to the negotiation process. The underlying problem is the two parties' differing approaches to the negotiating table. ERC believes it is a fundamental tool - it was their idea - and that is why they want to give it the utmost importance. Junts, on the other hand, has always been sceptical about it and believes it will bear no fruit.

JxCat argues that the legislature agreement does not state that all members have to be part of the cabinet and recalls that in the previous negotiating table there were members of the Esquerra and JxCat who were not ministers. On this point they assure that ERC was also considering party president Oriol Junqueras's participation. They consider that it is, in the end, a veto which comes from the Spanish government because it does not want Pedro Sánchez to be photographed with the released political prisoners (Sànchez and Turull) and they wish to maintain their delegation. In relation to the consensus on the names, they claim they informed Aragonès before the cabinet meeting and had already warned him their delegation would be "political". They also state that it was clear at all time that JxCat's delegation would be picked by the party itself. "We will not bow to pressure from Madrid, because the Catalan side of the table will be decided in Catalonia," JxCat sources say, although it has been Aragonès who vetoed the proposal.

A complicated morning

At the Palau de la Generalitat the decibels have risen so much this morning that the cabinet meeting had to be interrupted. ARA has learnt Aragonès insisted the negotiating table was always meant to be a meeting governments, and therefore rejected JxCat's proposal. At that moment, JxCat asked for a recess. Finally, Aragonès ended up publishing a decree in which the Catalan delegation only consisted of three ERC delegates, leaving the door open for three of JxCat delegates to join them, as long as they are cabinet members. Government sources don't rule out the final names only being revealed hours before the meeting begins.

ERC's current position is that the meeting will go ahead regardless, and is pushing forward agreeing on content and timetables. In addition to the meeting at 3 pm, President Sánchez will meet President Aragonès beforehand. Neither government has made clear whether the presidents will stay throughout the meeting.

Coalition at risk?

Now the question is: is the Catalan coaltion government at risk? The president has ruled out this scenario claiming that the problem between ERC and JxCat is confined to the negotiating table. "All of the Government has my confidence and we have a lot of work ahead," he said. The distrust between the two parties goes way back, but ERC's manoeuvring space to govern alone when it only has 33 deputies in Parliament is practically nonexistent. In addition, Aragonès cannot call early elections, since, once a government has been voted in, elections can't be held until at least a year after the last ones, i.e. not until February 14, 2022.