The fragile road to investiture
ERC, Junts and CUP begin uncertain negotiations conditioned by the riots and the roadmap
BarcelonaNext Sunday Catalonia will have been without a president for five months. The disqualification of Quim Torra by order of the High Court left the command of the Generalitat vacant, which since then has been piloted on an interim basis by the duo formed by the Minister of the Presidency, Meritxell Budó, and the vice-president, Pere Aragonès. A week ago, the polls offered the ERC national coordinator the possibility of finally assuming the functions of president in full, but in order to clear the remaining path to the office of the Palau de la Generalitat, Aragonès first needs the investiture negotiations with JxCat and the CUP to go ahead. The door of the comuns, which the republicans want to keep open, does not currently seem to lead to the presidency.
The negotiations to elect a president have been a real headache in Catalonia since 2015. Then, only the step aside in extremis by Artur Mas and the appointment of Carles Puigdemont as his successor made it possible to overcome the CUP's blockade and save a legislature that was heading towards the precipice of a repeat election. Also in 2018 it was necessary to wait for months to solve the puzzle. This time, just when it seemed that the pro-independence movement was on the verge of a fast-track investiture, the riots over the Pablo Hasél case in a number of cities around the country have once again complicated the political scenario.
Thirteen names and one objective
With 26 March as the first deadline, Esquerra, Junts per Catalunya and the CUP have already appointed their negotiating teams to try to find the solution that will allow the legislature to move forward. Thirteen names with one objective: to find common ground for an investiture agreement. The very election of the teams has already put on the table some of the strong names of the next legislature and has also given some clues as to where negotiations may go, with Pere Aragonès, Laura Borràs and Dolors Sabater remaining on the sidelines for the time being, reserved for key moments when decisive aspects need to be unravelled.
In two phases
ERC's first meetings with the CUP and Junts have served as a contact point, but the Republicans have already been able to understand what the main stumbling blocks ahead of them are. And also that it will be necessary to move forward very cautiously and that any step could prove to be a mistake. JxCat has minimised the number of spokespersons and is trying to put all the pressure on ERC by showing its cards to a minimum, and the Republicans - who have wanted to emphasise from the outset that the centre-right is now in a minority and has less negotiating strength - must try not to step on anyone's toes who might complicate the way.
The negotiation, we could say, will be divided into two phases that are sure to overlap at some points. The first, centred on the programmatic sphere - what will be done in the next legislature -, and the other on the composition of the executive - who will do it. The phase that is expected to be more complex right now is that of who. In the last legislature, the strategic division of the pro-independence movement took its toll on a Government immersed day in and day out in internal squabbles. One of the few existing consensuses among all the actors is that this cannot be repeated, but from here the recipes to avoid it are diverse. On Wednesday, in an interview with ARA, Jordi Sànchez insisted on the need to reach a consensus at these meetings on the strategic guide for the entire legislature, an idea that was ratified on Thursday at an extraordinary meeting of the leadership. The key is to decide how to act from now on once the pro-independence movement has surpassed 50% of the votes and has an absolute majority of 74 seats in Parliament, and how to reconcile the strategies of Junts - which in the campaign promised to reactivate the unilateral independence declaration if it surpassed half of the votes - and ERC - which is in favour of continuing to accumulate forces while trying to push the state towards an agreed referendum. On Friday, in an interview on Radio 4 and La 2, the spokesperson for the Republicans, Marta Vilalta, already drew a red line, warning that the next legislature would not be the one "of a return to unilateralism".
And it is here that the CUP will once again be decisive. Basically, both sides aspire to the possibility that the CUP factor will tip the balance towards their theses: the Republicans, in the field of social policies and avoiding falling into sterile symbolism, and Puigdemont's supporters in terms of the need to block certain votes in Parliament and hinder the stability of the Spanish coalition government. For the moment, the anti-capitalists - who will finish shaping the negotiation in the political council they are holding this Saturday, but whose programme includes working for a referendum in 2025 - have already called for progress on self-determination, disobeying as many state laws as necessary in order to push forward social policies.
But the Hasél case has put the Catalan police (Mossos d'Esquadra) at the centre, making them one of the key players in the negotiation. Aragonès does not want to become head of the government in confrontation with the Mossos, but he needs the votes of the CUP to be sworn in. There is little room for manoeuvre, but in order to try to navigate this fragile scenario, in the coming days a debate on foam bullets and riot control devices, as well as the need to audit the malpractice of some officers and introduce specific changes in the force, will be on the table.