Catalan election 2024: How did we get here?

A summary of major events from 2021 vote to 2024 failed budget deal

President Pere Aragonès addresses Parliament after the 2024 budget fails
President Pere Aragonès addresses Parliament after the 2024 budget fails / Arnau Martínez
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

May 5, 2024 02:32 PM

It all started amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with millions of Catalans casting their ballots wearing face masks. On February 14, 2021, the Socialists topped the poll in the number of votes but tied with Esquerra Republicana in the number of seats. Meanwhile, the pro-independence parties combined got 52% of the votes.

"The polls have spoken. Catalonia favors independence, and tonight pro-independence parties have won," said Junts candidate in 2021, Laura Borràs.

Meanwhile, liberal unionist Ciudadanos shared "the feeling of sorrow many Catalans in favor of the Constitution have tonight, as the pro-independence parties have strengthened," Inés Arrimadas said at the time.

The Socialists, who came first, said they "won the election."

"We are the political party with the most popular support," candidate Salvador Illa said.


Six weeks passed, from mid-February to March 31, and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya candidate Pere Aragonès attempted to be named the next president with the support of the far-left pro-independence CUP party. But, there was no luck as pro-independence right-wing Junts abstained.

It was not until May 21, 2021, that Aragonès was finally voted in as president with the support of 74 members of parliament. A deal to see Junts become the junior coalition partner made headlines.

Spain acts

During Aragonès' first month in office, on June 21, 2021, the Socialist-led government in Spain pardoned the nine jailed independence leaders for their role in the 2017 independence referendum. Among them, former vice president Oriol Junqueras, and current Junts secretary Jordi Turull. 

Two days later, these leaders walked out of prison.

"We will continue peacefully demonstrating, as it is our right, against all branches of the executive, legislative, and judiciary powers," social leader and president of Omnium cultural organization Jordi Cuixart said on his exit.

Seven jailed Catalan leaders leave the Lledoners prison (by Nia Escolà)
Seven jailed Catalan leaders leave Lledoners prison / Nia Escolà

Some months later, in September 2021, a negotiating table was held to discuss the independence push. The meeting was between the Catalan and Spanish governments, led by Pere Aragonès and Pedro Sánchez respectively.

"If we really want for it to be a truthful dialogue and for the issue of the conflict to be solved, we will need time, as our current positions are very far away from each other," Spanish PM Sánchez said during a statement after meeting with Aragonès and cabinet members in Barcelona.

However, Junts members were not part of the discussion, as the group wanted party representatives to be involved. The Catalan president only invited cabinet members to join.

"A significant part of the independence movement is not sitting at that table, as they were not welcome," former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said back then.

Catalangate - relations tumble

During Easter week of April 2022, The New Yorker magazine published a CitizenLab investigation report announcing that around 60 pro-independence figures, including several Catalan presidents, were targeted with Pegasus spyware.

All eyes go straight to the Spanish government.

"The situation cannot continue as it is," Catalan president Pere Aragonès and one of the targeted victims said at the Catalan government's headquarters.

"The espionage cases are an attack on the trust required for political relationships with Spain," he added before announcing that he would freeze all negotiations and talks with Spanish authorities.

Pro-independence figures targeted by Pegasus spyware protest in Barcelona, May 6, 2022 (by Pol Solà / Carola López)
Pro-independence figures targeted by Pegasus spyware protest in Barcelona, May 6, 2022 / Pol Solà / Carola López

"This is not a conflict between the Catalan and Spanish governments. It is a conflict between the dark state and the rule of law," left-wing En Comú Podem coalition leader Jéssica Albiach said. 

"We need to know the truth behind it and for those behind it to take responsibility," she added.

Cabinet collapses

But the political year was turned upside down on September 27, 2022, when junior coalition partner Junts announced their plan to ask Pere Aragonès to submit himself to a motion of confidence.

The party said that Esquerra was not fulfilling their agreement for a coalition government. The decision came as a surprise to all the parliament, and Aragonès decided to cancel his official duties a day ahead of a statement from the headquarters.

24 hours later, on September 28, 2022, the president announced that he had lost "trust" with Junts' highest-ranking cabinet member, vice president Jordi Puigneró, as he was aware of his party's plan but did not warn the Esquerra leader.

Therefore, he sacked Puigneró opening a new conflict with its coalition partner.

Catalan president Pere Aragonès speaks with vice president Jordi Puigneró during the general policy debate on September 28, 2022
Catalan president Pere Aragonès speaks with vice president Jordi Puigneró during the general policy debate on September 28, 2022 / Job Vermeulen

On October 7, after an internal vote, the party left the cabinet after 500 days, leaving Esquerra governing in a minority for the rest of the term.

"It is obvious that Junts wins, and Pere Aragonès loses," Laura Borràs, president of Junts, said to a room full of journalists on October 7, 2022.

Crime of sedition

With the year coming to an end, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez still had one more surprise. On November 10, 2022, Sánchez announced that the Socialists and the Unidas Podemos parties would introduce a plan "to reform the Penal Code and the crimes of sedition," he said during an interview with Spanish TV station La Sexta.

Sedition was one of the crimes that pro-independence figures were tried for in 2019 because of their involvement in the 2017 independence referendum.

The Catalan president celebrated what he called a success.

"To repeal the crime of sedition, this comes as a result of the negotiation process we have established with the Spanish government to resolve the political conflict," he said in a statement in English the following day.

The penal code was modified on December 15, 2022, with a majority in Congress, but Spain's conservative People's Party did not back the reform.

"The reform and erasing the crime of sedition is just a way for politicians to legislate for other politicians to be above the law," PP's spokesperson Cuca Gamarra said.

Budget, local election, and Spanish election

2022 ended with a Catalan budget deal between En Comú Podem and Esquerra Republicana, later backed by the Socialists. This spending plan was first drafted by Junts' economic minister, Jaume Giró, but after they decided to leave the cabinet, Esquerra modified the budget to fit its agenda.

Fast-forward to the aftermath of the local elections on May 29, the Monday after the vote. 

Esquerra had lost seats in many city councils in Catalonia, while the Socialists had a bad day across Spain. The situation pushed Pedro Sánchez to call a snap election for July 23, which resulted in him needing deals with Catalan pro-independence parties to continue as prime minister.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez applauds in Congress after his prime ministerial bid vote on November 16, 2023
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez applauds in Congress after his prime ministerial bid vote on November 16, 2023 / Javier Barbancho

Among the deals reached with Catalan parties was an amnesty for those pro-independence leaders tried for their involvement in the 2017 referendum, the full transfer of the Rodalies commuter train network from Spanish to Catalan management, and pardoning €15 billion in debt.

"Do not try your luck with us, Mr Sánchez," Míriam Nogueras, MP in Congress for pro-independence Junts, said on November 15th. 

It was the day before Sánchez was reelected as PM, but Junts still threatened him. 

"It will not work. Your speech was not brave," she added.

Minutes before, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya's Gabriel Rufián had shown that their votes were part of a larger deal.

"Our votes had a cost, an amnesty, a negotiation, the full transfer of the Rodalies commuter train network, and to correct the fiscal deficit. This was the price," he said.

2024 - Three months

2024 has been a little bit different, especially from what Aragonès had in mind. He wanted to finish the term and for the election to be in February next year. But it was not possible. 

Some of the challenges of the first months have been the worst results in schools in Catalonia's history, an ongoing drought, and a large farmers' protest across the territory. 

But, the big problem for the Catalan president was on the political side.

As opposed to 2023, Esquerra had first reached a deal with the Socialists for the 2024 spending plan and tried to persuade En Comú Podem to join them, but they voted against it.

Parliament votes on the 2024 budget
Parliament votes on the 2024 budget / Arnau Martínez

"If you rectify and say clearly that you will stop the Hard Rock, we will withdraw our amendment. It is still possible, and it depends on you," Jéssica Albiach from En Comú Podem said in parliament ahead of the vote.

They claim that the spending plan would finance the Hard Rock casino complex. This project has been in the works for years and has caused tense debates between politicians and civil organizations in Catalonia. It is a similar situation with the Barcelona airport expansion, which also saw coalition partners discussed in the summer of 2021.

The no from En Comú Podem meant that the spending plan did not go through, and Aragonès had to decide. He called a snap election.

"I have decided to call on a snap Catalan election on May 12," he said on March 13, 2024.