Balance for 2021

Sánchez closes the year relegating dialogue with Catalonia to the background

Spanish president asks government partners to validate labour reform out of "statesmanship"

3 min
The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, on Wednesday during the end of the year balance sheet

MadridOn 22 June, Pedro Sánchez reached the end of a path that he had been paving for months: he pardoned political prisoners after they had spent almost four years in prison. He was laying the first stone to address the political conflict outside the courts. The next step was to resume the negotiating table that had been interrupted by the pandemic, and on 15 September the Spanish and Catalan governments' teams were photographed at the Palau de la Generalitat. But months have gone by and the Spanish government has been showing signs that, after pardoning political prisoners, the Catalan conflict is no longer a priority. And this became clear this Wednesday after the Spanish president closed the year defending the idea that right now the management of the pandemic is incompatible with immediately resuming dialogue with the Generalitat.

Catalonia has been put on the back burner; proof lies in the fact that in his speech to take stock of 2021, the Spanish president did not mention the Catalan conflict. He was forced to, however, when journalists asked. This is in stark contrast with last year, when before closing 2020, and when vaccination throughout the State had just started, Sánchez first opened the door to granting pardons to political prisoners. Half a year after their release, Catalonia is living a "better normality" than four years ago, according to the Spanish president, who thus supported the idea that dialogue to resolve the political conflict can wait.

In fact, it is foreseeable that the third meeting of the dialogue table, which was scheduled for the beginning of the year, will have to be postponed. The fact is that the meeting is not among the Spanish executive's "urgent priorities", as PSOE spokesman Felipe Sicilia already pointed out on Monday. With the virulence of the pandemic and elections in Castile and Leon on February 13 as a backdrop, Sánchez also avoided the topic. "We will tell you when the table meets. It will meet for sure, but it is common sense that we have to leave a few weeks to work on what really matters right now to citizens, which is the sixth wave and consolidating the economic recovery," said Sánchez. "It is likely that the Generalitat's most urgent priorities and the Spanish government's are different," he admitted.

His words came after the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, on Sunday redoubled the pressure on the Spanish executive so that the first "tangible" results came out of the dialogue table. "We will probably disagree on those tangible results," the Spanish president replied. What does the Spanish government expect? "We defend overcoming the Independence bid, not having Catalan society divided into two blocks," he said. "Probably not, for sure we disagree with the tangibility of the results on the table," said Sánchez. However, he wanted to emphasise that his government "does not renounce" dialogue with the Generalitat. But for his coalition partner, Unidas Podemos, this is insufficient. In an interview with Europa Press, Unidas Podemos parliamentary group leader Jaume Asens asked Sanchez to "advance the social, territorial and democratic agenda" for next year, although he has warned against "falling into haste or set dates".

Pressure on partners over labour reform

Sanchez has finished the year with a new State budget and with a deal between unions and employers for labour reform – one of the most important and thorny agreements in his term. Now the Spanish Parliament has to validate the proposal and, for the moment, the government's partners will not endorse it. Without mentioning them, the socialist leader has asked ERC, PNV and also EH Bildu to vote in favour of a reform that "transcends ideologies and talks to all political forces" out of "statesmanship". He has given up, however, on a deal with the PP to unblock the renewal of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ). "With this opposition, an agreement is highly unlikely," he said, reproaching the PP for blocking any pact and accusing them of violating the Constitution

Sánchez has once again declined to comment on rumors about a possible return of the king emeritus to Spain after the Swiss prosecutor's office archived one of the cases against him (the Spanish prosecutor has three open investigations against him but will also probably dismiss the soon). He has avoided any reference to Juan Carlos I and has limited himself to acknowledging "the exercise of transparency and exemplarity" of Felipe VI in an intervention that sought to avoid thorny issues. In fact, today's conference had a different goal: to boast of the government's management of the pandemic, especially the vaccination strategy, and take the opportunity to return to ask government partners for their trust, in order to give "stability" to the two years before elections are due. In this sense, he has tried to put figures on the government's compliance with its commitments. The Spanish government has updated a report in which it stresses that it has fulfilled 42.7% of the 1,481 commitments it had set itself for this term. Of the 428 commitments that PSOE and Unidas Podemos had set themselves when they sealed the agreement for the coalition government, according to the document, 44.4% have been fulfilled.