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New president of Catalonia says he will pursue a Scottish path to self-determination

21 May 2021 5 minutes Read
Pere Aragones. Picture by Òmnium Cultural – _DC74869 (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The newly elected president of Catalonia says he will pursue a Scottish path to self-determination after overcoming a three-month stand-off over strategy between the two largest pro-independence parties which brought the country within days of snap elections.

Pere Aragones of Plaid Cymru’s sister party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia), won the support of the Catalan Parliament at the third attempt today to form a new pro-independence government after serving as acting president since last September.

It was the result of a last ditch coalition agreement between Esquerra with the second largest pro-independence force, the centrist Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), that salvaged the historic majority won in February’s elections and will see the government put dialogue with Madrid before a further unilateral push for independence.

Pro-independence parties won more than half of the popular vote for the first time since the restoration of democracy, passing one of the key tests of legitimacy set by their opponents.

But differences between Esquerra and Junts over how to fulfil that mandate saw negotiations over a new government drag on for 90 days – just 10 short of the date on which new elections would have been automatically triggered.

Negotiations weren’t helped by the fact that both the leader of Esquerra, Oriol Junqueras, and the lead negotiator for Junts, Jordi Sanchez, are serving custodial sentences for their part in the brutally repressed 2017 independence referendum and part of the negotiations were held in prison.

Polls showing voters were likely to punish Junts, who were leapfrogged by Esquerra as the leading pro-independence party in February, for holding up the process and the potential for all pro-independence parties to fall below the 50% bar helped to break the deadlock. As did the offer of major ministerial portfolios like health and economics to Junts.

With the votes of Junts and those of the far-left independentist La CUP party, 38-year-old Pere Aragones was today formally invested as the youngest ever president of Catalonia and the first from his party since 1940 when his predecessor, Lluis Companys, was executed by Francoist troops.

‘Scepticism’

“I want to do as Scotland did in 2014 and I would like the Spanish state to know how to do [it] as the United Kingdom did,” Aragones told MPs on Thursday, while the coalition deal states that “only a self-determination referendum agreed with the Spanish state can substitute the political mandate of the 1 October [2017] referendum.”

Now a new countdown has begun. Esquerra’s deal with the smaller radical left La CUP party, who will not be part of the government, gives Aragones two years to pursue dialogue with Madrid on a legal referendum and an amnesty for jailed politicians  before submitting himself to a vote of confidence based on the result of talks.  

Both La CUP and Junts expect talks to fail and want a more unilateral approach. “Our scepticism is well known because we can see how [Spanish Prime Minister] Pedro Sanchez and his government have acted,” Junts general secretary Jordi Sanchez told El Nacional this week.

“Let’s not be fooled. We know that the Spanish state could be wasting time and diving the independence movement with its supposed desire for dialogue.”

‘Progressive’

Spanish government minister and leader of the Catalan socialist party, Miquel Iceta, said on Wednesday that there would be no limits on dialogue but added “we don’t believe in the right to self-determination” and “amnesty is only applicable in exceptional times like regime change as happened in 1977 [after Franco’s death].”

But speaking to Nation.Cymru before the elections, Esquerra MEP Diana Riba, whose husband Raul Romeva is among the imprisoned Catalan politicians, said her party was ready to “talk and talk and talk with the Spanish government to find a democratic solution for the wishes of Catalan citizens, not repressive solutions.”

Alongside talks with Madrid, former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont will lead a process of dialogue between pro-independence parties and civil society organisations in an effort to find consensus on the path to independence which broke down following the 2017 referendum.

Independence was not though at the top of the coalition deal – point one is “a response to the social and economic crisis”. That reflects Esquerra’s desire to mark out a different course on domestic as well as constitutional issues and their need to so given polls showing younger left-wing voters preferred the more radical La CUP party in February’s elections.

The party has been pushing plans for a move to 100% renewable energy by 2050, while the coalition deal also includes an increased minimum wage, piloting of the universal basic incomes and the integration of health and social care.

Aragones said: “For the first time in a century, Catalonia will have a president who is both for independence and progressive.”

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