Aragonès: 'With one hand we will beat Covid, with the other we will advance towards the Catalan Republic'

Presidential frontrunner says he wants Spain to accept a referendum as UK did in 2014 in a clearly left-leaning speech

Esquerra's Pere Aragonès defending his presidential bid in Parliament on May 20, 2021 (by Jordi Play)
Esquerra's Pere Aragonès defending his presidential bid in Parliament on May 20, 2021 (by Jordi Play) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 20, 2021 05:01 PM

Pere Aragonès spoke in markedly left-leaning terms during his initial speech to present his bid as Catalan president in Parliament to the lawmakers who are expected to accept it on Friday evening.

Yet, he did not forget the fact that over 50% of voters cast their ballot for pro-independence parties and that his party, Esquerra, sealed a coalition deal with Junts, the other main party in favor of leaving Spain.

"With one hand we will defeat Covid, with the other we will advance towards the Catalan Republic," he said in his 30-minute speech, which was shorter than the usual, possibly because he already gave a long speech in late March when his bid failed after Junts abstained.

Indeed, following the agreement with Junts, Aragonès said he aims to become president to make independence a reality "and make amnesty and self-determination" inevitable.

The plan includes persuading the Spanish government, led by the Socialists, to accept an agreed self-determination vote.

"I want to do what Scotland did and have Spain do what the UK did in 2014," he said. "Scotland will succeed and will be able to vote again and the UK will do everything its hands to convince voters to vote remain. This is possible in the UK and has to be possible in Spain," Aragonès said, adding that unionists should persuade the public to vote for No rather than prevent a vote.

"The solution is amnesty and self-determination," he insisted several times, saying that he plans to persuade Madrid not only through talks but also through the demands of citizens. "The only limit we must set is that of the popular will of the citizens of Catalonia."

Apart from independence, Aragonès established three other main priorities for his future cabinet: green policies, feminism, and seeking social equality. 

The specific initiatives he intends to launch are a pilot universal basic income scheme, spending 2% of the budget on culture, and "guaranteeing homes, health, work, and education for everyone."

To make clear that his priorities include both national and social issues, he stated that he will be "the first pro-independence left-wing president" in modern times.

"I want to launch a new, republican government that is nonconformist, innovative, transformative, imaginative, creative, ambitious for the future and with the unwavering commitment to make the lives of each and every citizen easier, more enjoyable, and happier," he said. 

Junts confident agreement "will make history"

Albert Batet of JxCat said that he was confident his party's agreement with Esquerra "will make history" as long as the new government acts with "unity, loyalty and mutual trust."

According to the MP, dialogue, as ERC has long defended, and confrontation with Spain, as Junts has sought, over the independence issue are "complementary and necessary."

Socialists blast Aragonès' bid: 'We all know Catalonia will never be independent'

The ERC candidate's speech was met with much criticism from Salvador Illa, the former Spanish health minister turned Catalan Socialist leader.

"We all know Catalonia will never be independent," Illa said, accusing Aragonès of "frustrating people" by making unattainable promises.

The Socialist, who highlighted Aragonès' previous failed attempts to become president, urged him to lift his party's veto on negotiating with his own.