Broad left-wing coalition aims to shake up local elections in Barcelona in May
The coalition will be led by the social activist Ada Colau, former spokeswoman of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH), a Spanish grassroots organisation that helped citizens to stop evictions, promoted housing rights and in 2013 was awarded the European’s Citizens Prize. The local left-wing front will be mainly formed by the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist coalition ICV-EUiA and several parties campaigning for a re-launching of democracy, such as the Socialist and pro-Catalan independence Procés Constituent and the Spanish far-left party aimed at breaking the bipartisan political model Podemos. However, the main Catalan pro-independence far-left party CUP is working on a separate candidature for the same local elections that will take place on the 24th of May.
Barcelona (ACN).- As its promoters stated during the presentation of the initiative, “Barcelona en Comú” (“Barcelona in common”) is the name given to the alternative-left coalition that aims to “defeat Trias”, the incumbent Mayor of the Catalan capital from the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU. Barcelona en Comú will be led by the social activist Ada Colau, former spokeswoman of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH), a Spanish grassroots organisation that helped citizens to stop evictions, promoted housing rights and in 2013 was awarded the European’s Citizens Prize. The local left-wing front will be mainly formed by the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist coalition ICV-EUiA and several parties campaigning for a re-launching of democracy, such as the Socialist and pro-Catalan independence Procés Constituent and the Spanish far-left party aimed at breaking the bipartisan political model Podemos. However, the main Catalan pro-independence far-left party CUP is working on a separate candidature for the same local elections that will take place on the 24th of May.
“On the 24th May people will be able to choose between Trias’ model of a city, which means corruption, inequality, precariousness and unemployment, and our alternative with the people as the protagonist”, they said.
At the moment, Barcelona en Comú has a shock plan for the first months of an eventual mandate of their candidature. They propose creating decent jobs by diversifying the production model, by granting basic social rights such as housing, food, healthcare and energy, by offering subsidies for families under the poverty threshold, reviewing privatisations and urban projects against the common good and eliminating political privileges.
Another of their objectives is to change the tourism model of Barcelona, one of the main income sources for the city. According to them, “the capacity of the city for receiving visitors is not infinite”. Barcelona en Comú claims that highly crowded areas adversely affect coexistence and social cohesion, alter the hierarchy in the use of public space and place the locale under unbearable pressure. And, as they say, “this overcrowding has also led to a loss of attractiveness and of originality and the authenticity typical of the city”.
To solve this situation the coalition defends the equal distribution of tourist activity in the whole city establishing mechanisms to make it possible to avoid excessive concentrations of tourists. “We must set limits on tourism”, they say, “determining the maximum load capacity that the tourist town today can accommodate, globally and in different areas”.
Forming a particular coalition: confluence
On the 26th of June 2014 the social activist Ada Colau presented “Guanyem Barcelona” (“Let’s Win Barcelona”), currently known as Barcelona en Comú, as a “space of confluence to help articulate all the social change movements” and to avoid “the impotence of political fragmentation”, a reason why she asked for generosity from all political actors. Today, it seems that Colau’s petition has been listened to.
After ten months and long negotiations, the more traditional left-wing federation of ICV and EUiA (the Catalan ecologists and the post-communists from the former PSUC) agreed to go into coalition with the main new far-left parties in Catalonia that aim to change the entire political and economic systems. They are the alternative socialist and pro-independence party Procés Constituent, which is led by economics professor Arcadi Oliveres and a Benedictine nun called Teresa Forcades, and Podemos, a Spain-wide far-left party aimed at breaking the bipartisan political model in Spain and led by political science lecturer Pablo Iglesias.
At the moment, this big left-wing front is closely following Trias in the opinion polls, with 21% of the poll, against 25% for the current mayor from CiU, which runs the Catalan Government. In this sense, Barcelona en Comú would be the second-largest political force in Barcelona city hall.
Ada Colau’s leadership is one of the factors that made this coalition possible. She is the former spokeswoman of the PAH, the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, a Spanish grassroots organisation that helped citizens to stop evictions and promoted housing rights. Marc Bertomeu, General Secretary of Podemos in Barcelona, confirms that “Ada Colau is the person who facilitates confluence”. “Other municipal projects, such as the CUP, do not have this kind of effect”, he remarks.
A confluence of interests?
For Montse Baras, a political science professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) who is studying these new political parties, other contextual factors have caused this political movement. “On the extreme left there is a big political offer”, a factor that generates a strong tendency to bind together, she explains. “Who feels more threatened is ICV and part of its leaders have been very close or have been within the conglomerate that now shapes Podemos”, Baras says. “This alliance can be useful at municipal level”, she states.
But new parties can also be attracted to reaching agreement with the traditional left coalition ICV-EUiA. In Catalonia, only the parties that have representation in public institutions such as the Parliament or the City Council have access to public funding and free advertising through public media.
However, while Marc Bertomeu recognises that this is an “advantage for them”, he affirms that “ICV is not paying for the campaign” and remarks that the coalition will be financed through crowdfunding.
In a similar sense, Dolors Camats, the General Secretary of ICV, denies that this coalition is a way of avoiding the electoral bad patch that the polls predict for her party. “We have been supporting confluence since we had the best electoral result in twenty years in the last Catalan Parliament elections”, Camats explains, and clarifies that this is a “strategic decision, we cannot give a response to everything from traditional parties and social movements”.
Bertomeu agrees with her. “We did not evaluate this coalition according to electoral gains. We believed in confluence when we did not even have enough money to make polls”, he says. The General Secretary of Podemos in Barcelona also believes that “ICV is a party in transformation” and added “we are happy that ICV is adapting to our way of doing politics”.
To them, confluence is not the same as a traditional partisan union or federation. Camats points out that “it is not a dissolution of the political actors” but a “collective project where everyone contributes from its own identity”. In the same sense, Bertomeu affirms that actually “it is not a coalition but a citizen candidature, and parties that join them have been added, not because of a logic of quotas or share in decision-making processes, but with the objective of becoming a new political actor”.
New way of doing politics
The political crisis in Catalonia and Spain has favoured the emergence of many political parties and movements that aim to revitalise politics, like Barcelona en Comú. The local elections in May will be the first electoral process where they will be able to measure their strength against traditional parties.
The first principle of Barcelona en Comú is to eradicate any trace of corruption in the institutions. For this, each member of the coalition must accept its ethical code where salaries are limited, the accumulation of multiple positions and functions is forbidden and elected representatives are held accountable by the people and govern in a transparent way.
“This contract between citizens and their representatives should bring politics closer to the people and recover its most noble meaning”, the members of Barcelona en Comú explain on their website.
The other pillar of the candidature is participation. Barcelona en Comú has designated its leaders and has elaborated its electoral lists and government programme with the participation of all interested citizens. As Marc Bertomeu explains, the programme of Barcelona en Comú “has not been elaborated in an office”, but in district assemblies organised by the coalition in the last months where “you do not need a party card”, he jokes.
Montse Baras, though, does not seem to believe this. “Programmes are serious issues that must be secured, another thing is that you listen to the environment that you are leading, but a programme is always finished in the office”, she says. “All parties listen and then comes the office. How to listen to their potential voters may take various forms”, Baras opines.
Probably the main difference introduced by Barcelona en Comú is their bet on new technologies, the element that has permitted a large amount of people to participate. Baras is sure that “new technologies are changing a lot the way politics is done”. “New technology is not only the internet but also communication apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram”, she says, and states that in this sense, “classic parties are old and lack dynamism”. In any case, Dolors Camats believes that “politics must be done by everybody and participation is a tool for better government”.
The limited mandate, the salary and the destination of public funding are the main disagreements between the CUP and “Barcelona en Comú”. The main pro-Catalan independence far-left party argued that they want to create “a municipal project that works for the districts and its people”. Pepe Castelltort, Spokesman for the CUP, explained that they do not want to use the existing political spaces, but recognise that the existing spaces in the current social, political and economic context “need a confluence of movements, citizens and struggles”.