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Uncertainty over budgets in Catalonia, Barcelona, and Spain as independence trial looms

Cracks in political alliance that made Sánchez president could unleash major domino effect

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05 February 2019 01:47 PM

by

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

The political alliance that allowed Pedro Sánchez to become Spain’s president is trembling—and with it any prospects of governments in Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain passing their general budgets for 2019.

Last Spring, Catalan parties set their differences with the Socialists and left-wing Podemos aside and backed Sánchez in a no-confidence vote in the Spanish Congress against their common foe: the conservative Mariano Rajoy.

With the trial against Catalan independence leaders due to start next week, the cracks in their unlikely alliance are showing again.

Pro-independence ERC party has threatened with rejecting Sánchez’s spending plan, to be discussed in Congress next week—the most crucial parliamentary vote since the Socialist leader came to power.

"The freedom of jailed leaders and self-determination can’t be exchanged for some extra funding in Spain’s general budget," said ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta on Monday. "The budget talks and the situation in Catalonia can’t be separated."

Without ERC’s votes, the chances of Sánchez’s government passing the general budget are virtually 0.

  • "We need governments that are effective, which think globally about how to achieve, how to work together, how to cooperate, so as to be able to go ahead with a budget that will be useful for people"

    Janet Sanz · Barcelona deputy mayor

For months, the central government unsuccessfully tried to secure the votes from Catalonia’s ruling parties, ERC and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), which in turn demanded “gestures” towards their self-determination aspirations and their leaders incarcerated for calling an independence referendum in 2017.

Yet, such gestures could come at a cost for Sánchez and the Socialists, as right-wing opposition parties have repeatedly accused him of conceding to "those that want to break Spain." 

In a last-minute effort to reach a deal, Sánchez's executive accepted a proposal by the Catalan government to designate an impartial third party to participate in the meetings between both cabinets.

While the Spanish vice president Carmen Calvo says such party will be charged with "taking notes, calling meetings and coordinate the different parts," Catalan parties prefer an international mediator that helps both governments solve the independence crisis.

The Socialists are still hopeful that ERC will change its mind, as Sánchez believes himself to have an ace up the sleeve: calling a snap election.

Following the rise of far-right Vox party in the regional election of Andalusia, some polls predict that right-wing parties could have a majority of seats in the Spanish Congress that allowed them to form a government—one that would certainly be more belligerent with the independence movement than the Socialists.

Suspension of MPs changed political chess board

If Catalan parties reject the Spanish budget in Madrid, the possibility of them passing the spending plan in the Catalan parliament will be highly unlikely.

Despite winning a majority of seats in the last election, the suspension of four MPs accused in the independence trial left pro-independence parties relying on Catalunya en Comú-Podeem (CatECP), the Catalan allies of Podemos.

Last week, CatECP broke off budget negotiations with the Catalan government and called on the executive to provide a "credible" proposal for social spending and how the executive plans to have sufficient revenue to fund it.

Barcelona: mayoral race turns ugly

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona and the leader of CatECP, was hoping for a domino effect that allowed her to approve her spending plan in the city council with the support of the Socialists and ERC. As of today, such chain of events seems unlikely.

"We need governments that are effective, which think globally about how to achieve, how to work together, how to cooperate, so as to be able to go ahead with a budget that will be useful for people," said Janet Sanz, Barcelona deputy mayor, on Tuesday.

With a local election expected for May, the mayoral race will not be easy for Colau if she fails to pass the budget.

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  • From left to right: Catalan president Quim Torra, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, and Spanish president Pedro Sánchez (by ACN)

  • From left to right: Catalan president Quim Torra, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, and Spanish president Pedro Sánchez (by ACN)