The new government
Politics 31/05/2021

All the president's men and women

Aragonès forms his team with party heavyweights and staff from Economy Dpt, as well as some surprise signings

4 min
Pere Aragonés PRESIDENT OF LA GENERALITAT

BarcelonaThe reissue of the ERC-JxCat coalition could make one think that practically nothing has changed behind the scenes in the Generalitat, but the change in presidents, who belongs to ERC instead of Junts, has meant profound changes in some of the Catalan administration's centres of power. For example, in the Palau de la Generalitat in recent days there has been a change of guard. A flock of JxCat posts have packed their bags to make way for an ERC unit. They are the people of Pere Aragonès's uttermost trust, who will work side by side with the president and experience the first republican presidency since the restoration of democracy most closely. They are all the president's men and women.

The core of the party

Sergi Sabrià to lead president's office

One of the first moves Aragonès has made is to appoint part of the party structure which has helped him to reach the top. What best exemplifies this fact is the decision to place Sergi Sabrià as the director of the president's office. "After Aragonès, he will be the capo", explains an insider. Sabrià has been in charge of ERC's image and messaging, the main person responsible for getting everybody to work in the same direction and everyone toes the line. He is also the one who has led the party's most recent campaigns and who keeps a closer eye on internal polls which may suggest the latest electoral trend. His new position holds mixed reponsibilities with broad powers to do and undo at many levels. He will be followed by two of the other mainstays of party communication in recent years, Carles Foguet and Jordi Vera, whose official posts have not yet been made public.

The Economy Department

Collaborators from time as minister brought along

Of the many novelties to which Aragonès will be subjected, one of them will be to change the Department of Economy - a modern and functional building of the Zona Franca of Barcelona - for a labyrinthine medieval palace in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona. His new office, for example, is far from even his closest collaborators, who will have to cross the Pati dels Tarongers when called. But the president will not be the only one who will have to adapt. He is taking part of the team from his time as a minister with him to the presidency. The first, Marçal Sarrats, the journalist who will serve as head of the president's communication cabinet and who for little more than a year has been his shadow. After working with Ernest Maragall in the Department for Foreign Action and in the City Council, he will be another of the guardians of the messages that the Generalitat wants to communicate and the one in charge of the relationship with the media. Bernat Costas will also be making the move. He is one of Aragonès's oldest assistants, with whom he shares roots: the party's youth wing and the Maresme, and the journalist Marta Alcolea.

The support of the Presidency

Vilagrà will be his mainstay within the Government

Some of the president's collaborators have already been adapting for a few days, among other things, to the carillon played in the bell tower of the Palau de la Generalitat, which sounds from Monday to Friday at noon and at six in the afternoon. Among them is Laura Vilagrà, political scientist and ex-mayor of Santpedor, who Aragonès has brought back out of the party rearguard. The new Minister of the Presidency has a reputation as a good manager and will have to lead one of the key Departments in the Generalitat, institutional relations, especially after a certain thaw with the State. She should be responsible for greasing the dialogue table once it is reactivated. Aragonès has granted her special protection, and that is why she will not have to combine the position with that of spokesperson for the Government, as has been tradition for almost a decade. This will avoid the wear and tear of often facing journalists. At her side she will have the secretary general of the department, Núria Cuenca, with whom she coincided in Parliament and who was in the Education Department, which had to work very hard during the pandemic. She will be responsible for the coordination of the Government's 14 secretaries general, a huge task of "cohesion", as Aragonès promised on his second day in office. There will also be Bernat Picornell as chief of staff of Vilagrà, a former senator forged in the JERC.

Sergi Sabrià, Laura Vilagrà, Marta Vilalta and Josep Maria Jové at an ERC's press conference.

Surprise signings

Two of Capella's collaborators move to the Palau

As in every government, there have been surprise signings. Who exemplifies this best is the new government secretary, jurist Xavier Bernadí, an appointment that surprised everyone. He will be the only non minister who will sit in on cabinet meetings, with the task of giving legal assistance. Coming from the Department of Justice, the different sources consulted by the ARA emphasise his competence and discretion. They also attribute him to be behind measures such as the regulation of rental prices, squeezing the margins of Catalan civil law. "He has the ability to make things happen," explains a source who has dealt with him. There is a second surprise, also from the department of Justice: Helena Ricomà, until now Ester Capella's chief of staff, will coordinate Aragonès's office. Having also worked in the City Council of Badalona, she will now work at the Palau de la Generalitat. There has been a third novelty, in this case by absence. The paths of Aragonès and one of his oldest collaborators, Albert Castellanos, will separate. Castellanos will be incorporated into Roger Torrent's new Department for Labour and Economy.

Parliament and party

Jové and Vilalta to complete the circle

They will not have an office in the Plaça Sant Jaume, but they will also be the mainstays to complete an essential triple coordination between the Palau, the Parliament and the party. Josep Maria Jové, leader of the parliamentary group, is one of Aragonès's preferred negotiators and will be in charge of dealing with the relationship with CUP. Marta Vilalta, spokeswoman in the Parliament, will have even more weight in the day-to-day management of a party that, this 2021, will manage a quota of power that it did not have since the times of the Second Republic.

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