Politics 30/09/2021

Parliament rejects CUP's unilateral referendum and backs negotiating table

ERC joined by PSC and En Comú in defence of negotiating with the State, while JxCat abstains

3 min
Jordi Puigneró (Together), Pere Aragonès (ERC) and Dolors Sabater (CUP) this Thursday in the Parliament.

BarcelonaThe Catalan Parliament has set this Thursday a new course for the Independence bid with a majority that a short time ago would have seemed unthinkable. On the one hand, the house has rejected anti-capitalist CUP's proposal to set a date for a new unilateral referendum before the next elections, because the two governing parties, Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (JxCat) refused to support it. On the other hand, Parliament has backed political negotiation with the State through the negotiating table between governments, thanks to votes from ERC, En Comú and the Catalan Socialists' Party (PSC). In short, the new coordinates of Catalan politics have been set with the pro-independence movement divided over which roadmap to follow and with the PSC and En Comú giving their support to the negotiation.

The president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, finds himself strengthened on one flank – his strategy on how to achieve independence – and weaker on the other – he has angered the CUP, who he wanted to become a confidence-and-supply partner that would give stability to his executive on day-to-day issues. Thus, he now has the political endorsement of the house to go ahead with the dialogue and seek an agreed referendum and amnesty through negotiation with the Spanish government; at the same time, however, he has distanced himself from the CUP, who may not lend their support to the Generalitat's 2022 budget, the most important law a government needs to survive the swell.

On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the 2017 Referendum, the main conclusion is that the independence movement has no common proposals. Not that this is a surprise, but Parliament has acted as an amplifier. This Thursday morning, ERC, JxCat and the CUP met for a few hours to try to agree on a joint proposal on the direction of the independence bid. This entailed qualifying the forcefulness of the CUP's proposal – setting laxer deadlines for the referendum, for example – and making ERC and JxCat's proposal more assertive. They did not succeed. This time there was no final script twist, unlike on other occasions.

During speeches, warnings now commonplace flew around the house. CUP's Dolors Sabater asked whether "anyone believes" that the State will ever accept an agreed referendum, while Marta Vilalta (ERC) replied that "the most useful confrontation is carried out by negotiating with your rival". JxCat also criticised the CUP's idea through Mònica Sales, who warned that leaving behind the 2017 Referendum "only makes sense if it is replaced by an agreed referendum". The clearest summary of it all showed up on Parliament's voting screen. The proposal for a unilateral referendum received the CUP's backing, ERC's abstention and JxCat's opposition. When it came to voting on the negotiating table, the roles changed: ERC was in favour, JxCat abstained and CUP voted against. The few points of connection around the independence bid were in the defence of the former president Carles Puigdemont after his last arrest in Sardinia, and also with the commitment that the Parliament bring an amnesty law to Congress. They have been the only moments in which there have been 74 pro-independence votes looking in the same direction.

Aragonès leaves the debate with an endorsement for dialogue but that does not mean that he will find things easy in Madrid. With the pro-independence movement divided, the PSC and En Comú have unreservedly made their support for the table explicit, but with their respective warnings. "There is no other way than dialogue," said MP Alícia Romero (PSC), although the socialists remain firm in their refusal to an agreed referendum and amnesty. David Cid (En Com) also put his party at the disposal of dialogue, but demanded Aragonès admit that in this conflict everyone is only "half right" and to start to assume realistic objectives such as a reform of the financing system.

Government cohesion

The debate began on Tuesday with President Aragonès and Vice President Puigneró entering the plenary hall together to try to stage a cohesive Government. It ended on Thursday with a very different image: ERC's at JxCat's agreement with the PSC for resolution supporting the expansion of the airport. The Government does not end up any less cohesive than it started, but the efforts to strengthen it have been in vain. The airport project divides it, and now it is not just an intuition or a buried conflict, but is there for all to see after a vote in parliament

While JxCat voted with the socialists on the airport, ERC did so in defence of the dialogue table. Thus, the general policy debate has broken the bloc dynamics – pro-independence and against independence – that had dominated Parliament for a long time on key issues. And with these ingredients, the Government's next objective will be to negotiate the budget. Today the alternatives are more clear-cut than ever: either the CUP or the PSC.