Aragonès calls to ‘strengthen’ Catalonia in face of Spanish ‘authoritarianism'

ERC head offers picture of ‘modern, advanced’ country in speech on anniversary of election that saw him named president

Catalan president Pere Aragonès pictured during the speech marking the one year anniversary of the 2021 election (by Jordi Bataller)
Catalan president Pere Aragonès pictured during the speech marking the one year anniversary of the 2021 election (by Jordi Bataller) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

February 14, 2022 07:50 PM

To mark the first anniversary of the election that saw Pere Aragonès named the 132nd president of Catalonia, the executive leader gave a speech at Catalonia’s National Art Museum (MNAC) in which he painted an image of Catalonia as a modern, advanced, and equal nation, while the ERC head also reiterated his will to resolve the political conflict with Spain despite its “authoritarianism” in its relations with Catalonia up until now.

On February 14, 2021, Catalans went to the polls following the removal of Quim Torra as leader of the cabinet. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic that saw a historic low turnout, 52% of the votes were given to parties in favor of splitting with Spain —winning the popular vote for the first time, with ERC overtaking Junts per Catalunya as the most-voted pro-independece party among the main two who formed the current and previous coalition governments. 

Aragonès is committed to "open new opportunities for negotiations" but warned that he also wanted to "activate all pressure mechanisms to unblock negotiations" with Spain, in the case that the dialogue table "does not move forward." The Catalan and Spanish cabinets met in September 2021 to discuss the independence crisis for the first time since before the pandemic, and since then, the Socialist-led Spanish government has avoided setting up another meeting, instead focussing on the Covid-19 pandemic as their first priority

Without going into further detail, Aragonés added that it would be necessary to "create new opportunities for negotiation" in case talks with Madrid remain "stuck." "Negotiation does not mean surrender," he added.

During his speech, given in front of some 400 invited guests from various political parties, but without far-left pro-independence CUP party members, Aragonès emphasised the success of this election result and said that it’s time for Spain to show its commitment to democracy. Calls for self-determination and organizing and referendum on Catalan independence agreed with Spain have long been central to this government’s discourse, and again these themes featured heavily in the president’s MNAC speech. 

The cabinet leader said he wants to “strengthen” Catalonia and Catalan institutions and to “advance” the country to a more modern nation with strong social rights and a leader in European terms. 

Aragonès made calls for recovering the mass social mobilizations the independence movement has gathered in recent years, with the aim of “unblocking” the negotiations with Spain and making an amnesty law and self-determination “inevitable.” 

Looking to the future, Aragonès aims to transform Catalonia by reinforcing its institutions, defending the Catalan language, opening the territory up to both Europe and the rest of the world, creating a country and society that offers its people opportunities to create their lives, and by advancing society in terms of feminism and environmentalism.

Dialogue to build consensus

Aragonés acknowledged that Catalonia must build a proposal based on a shared consensus for negotiations with Spain to be successful.

For this reason, during his speech he explained that in the coming weeks he will open dialogue with the country's main institutions and with various political, economic, social, civic and cultural actors "to share impressions and, above all, to turn a consensus into concrete political action."

The Catalan president will begin by speaking with the Catalan MPs in the Spanish congress as well as Catalan MEPs in the European Parliament, "to decide together how they want Catalonia to be in the future."

In addition, the cabinet head emphasized the need to "reconcile a unity of action that is absolutely essential to moving forward again", referring especially to his fellow pro-independence supporters. 

"Listening doesn't hurt anyone,” Aragonès said. “Let's stop competing to see who is more pro-independence, more left-wing. No one is more pro-independence than anyone else."