No budget deal but talks continue after president meets En Comú Podem leader

Hard Rock project remains sticking point less than 24 hours before Parliament debate 

Catalunya En Comú leader Jéssica Albiach looks at Catalan president Pere Aragonès in parliament
Catalunya En Comú leader Jéssica Albiach looks at Catalan president Pere Aragonès in parliament / Arnau Martínez
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

March 12, 2024 10:46 AM

March 12, 2024 09:26 PM

No deal, yet. The meeting between Catalan president Pere Aragonès and En Comú Podem (ECP) leader Jéssica Albiach to try to save the 2024 budget ended without agreement on Tuesday afternoon. 

Less than 24 hours before Parliament debates the issue, and after several meetings between governing Esquerra and En Comú Podem throughout the day, the Hard Rock casino-hotel project remains the main sticking point between the two left-wing groups. 

To try to save the budget, the government has offered En Comú Poden a string of housing policies so that they may accept.

Ruling ERC has offered the left-wing party €53 million for 550 new public housing apartments for emergency months, and an urgent regulation of seasonal rent.

In total, the government's offer to the Comuns amounts to around €100 million of added direct investment in housing.

According to the sources from the executive, they have also proposed €33 million in food grants, €67 million for free early childhood education, an 85% increase in the budget for oral health, and an increase in the tax on cruises.

The parties say talks will continue, but, after the inconclusive top-level meeting – which lasted less than 45 minutes – it is increasingly likely that Parliament will reject the government's 2024 spending plan. 

An En Comú Podem source "nothing has been cleared up," but they remain open to discussions until the time of the vote in the chamber. 

On the other hand, a source from the presidency department accused ECP of being  "stuck," and of refusing to budge from their position despite various government proposals. 

Halt the Hard Rock

Albiach has urged Catalan president Pere Aragonès to put a halt to the Hard Rock casino complex, in return for their support for the 2024 Catalan budget.

"We need an explicit commitment that Hard Rock will not go ahead," she said in an interview with Spanish national broadcaster RTVE on Monday.  

The talks are going down to the wire as on Wednesday, the parliament will vote on total amendment proposals. 


Following Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Patrícia Plaja, Catalan government spokesperson said: "If En Comú Podem continue to ask for things they know are impossible, then obviously an agreement is impossible."

Catalonia's 2024 budget, agreed upon by governing Esquerra and the opposition Socialists, is one day away from being presented to Parliament and still lacks the required support to be approved. 

The Comuns supported last year's budget and were the most likely party to approve the spending plan, but they announced last week that they would present a total amendment to the budget.

Although the amendment can be withdrawn at the last minute, the Comuns' condition for doing so is burying the Hard Rock casino complex project

If Comuns withdraw the amendment before tomorrow's vote and the budget then passes the first stage, the two parties will have more time to negotiate before the final vote in April. However, Albiach has firmly ruled out such a move.

"What is the point of continuing to delay what we have not resolved in five months?" she said. 

On Tuesday morning, both parties met again without the presence of their leaders, Aragonès and Albiach, to try to reach a last-minute agreement. The Comuns leader said she had not spoken to Aragonès personally for three weeks and had been waiting for his call for days.

In recent weeks, Esquerra has warned of "consequences" if the budgets, which are scheduled to be voted on in Parliament tomorrow at 9am, are not approved. This could lead to Esquerra rejecting the Spanish government's budgets in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, if the Catalan budgets are not approved, a snap election could potentially be on the cards.

What is the Hard Rock project? 

More than ten years after it was first proposed, the leisure and gaming mega-complex to be built in Vila-seca and Salou, Tarragona, near the PortAventura amusement park, has yet to be realized. 

The original project, called Barcelona World, consisted of six theme parks covering 445 hectares. Each park included a casino and hotel, and required an investment of around €4.8 billion. 

In 2014, however, the company behind the original project withdrew, and three years later Hard Rock took over and significantly scaled down the project. 

The current project includes a large casino, two hotels, a large swimming pool, a commercial area and a conference center with a total capacity of 15,000 people.

Areas where the Hard Rock complex in Salou and Vila-seca is to be built
Areas where the Hard Rock complex in Salou and Vila-seca is to be built / Mar Rovira

The Hard Rock project has been stalled for several years, awaiting the approval of a new Urban Development Plan (PDU) since the Catalan High Court (TSJC) annulled the original one in 2020. 

Despite assurances in last year's budget agreement between the government and the Socialists that the process would be completed in the first semester, it is still on hold, awaiting additional reports from the Climate Action Department. 

Catalonia's 2024 budget: key points at a glance

The 2024 budget is expected to be the most expansive in history, increasing by 6.3% to €43 billion compared to last year's budget. 

Health will receive the largest share, with an additional €636 million bringing the total to €12 billion, followed by education with an additional €682 million to reach €7.5 billion. 

Spending on culture will see the highest percentage increase, at 19.5%, reaching €566 million and now representing 1.7% of the total budget. Esquerra aims to reach the 2% target by the end of its term. 

Since Catalan president Pere Aragonès took office in 2021, the budget has increased by 34%. The government attributes the increase to the robust economy and the suspension of fiscal rules.