Parliament rejects 2024 budget with Comuns citing opposition to Hard Rock hotel-casino

Possibility of snap election grows after minority ERC government fails to gain enough backing from chamber

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

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

March 13, 2024 10:11 AM

March 13, 2024 08:48 PM

Parliament rejected the government's 2024 budget in a vote on Wednesday, with the Hard Rock casino-hotel project the main sticking point between governing Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and left-wing En Comú Podem (Comuns).

The vote – delayed several times due to interventions from the chamber and technical issues – could not have been tighter, with just one vote making the difference.

The budget had the support of the main opposition party, the Socialists, but needed either Comuns or pro-independence Junts to gain a majority.

President Pere Aragonès asked for a recess after the result was announced to hold an extraordinary cabinet meeting

Following the meeting, the president announced a snap election in Catalonia for May 12 in response to not being able to have the budget bill approved.

Decision "not related with casino"

During the debate, Catalan economy minister, Natàlia Mas Guix, accused the Comuns of “incoherence and electoralism” and of “ignoring” the fact that Wednesday’s vote is "not at all related to a casino.

According to the economy minister, a “no” vote on the spending bill would also mean a “no” to meeting the demands of the teachers, health workers, and prison staff.

Catalan Economy Minister, Natàlia Mas Guix, addresses Parliament as Comuns' Jéssica Albiach looks on
Catalan Economy Minister, Natàlia Mas Guix, addresses Parliament as Comuns' Jéssica Albiach looks on / Marta Sierra

“I will not tire of repeating that not a single euro will go to Hard Rock,” she added, a line the Catalan government has been reiterating for weeks.

Comuns: Halt Hard Rock and we will withdraw amendment 

Comuns leader Jéssica Albiach warned the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, that if he did not commit to putting a halt to the Hard Rock casino-hotel project, her party will maintain their opposition to the budget. 

"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," Albiach said during the debate ahead of the vote. 


The Comuns leader said they would negotiate until the last minute but admitted she did not think the government would move. 

Junts: Budget or elections 

Junts made what they called a "last attempt" to negotiate the budget with the government. 

During the debate, the party's leader in Parliament, Albert Batet, handed President Aragonès a document with measures on taxation and cutting red tape that would see them approve the spending plan, and insisted that there was still a chance of a last-minute deal. 

Batet issued an ultimatum: "They cannot prolong this agony. Either there is a solid budget proposal, or [Aragonès] must call elections. What else does he need to see that things cannot continue like this?" 

The government responded by saying the proposals from Junts were not new, and, in any case, they should not be presented in Parliament but rather during the various meetings held previously. 

ERC: Electoral calculations and fake negotiations

ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta criticized Comuns' "blockage" of the budget, which she attributed to "electoral calculations." 

Vilalta also accused the negotiations with fellow pro-independence party Junts of being "fake," using the word in English. 

Socialists accuse Comuns of "in election campaign mode" 

The Socialists, the only opposition party to reach a deal with the government over the budget, similarly accused Comuns of blocking the spending plan because they are "in election campaign mode." 

Spokesperson Alicia Romero remarked that in previous budgets approved by Comuns, points relating to the Hard Rock casino were included, which isn't the case in the 2024 budget. 

"What has changed? Well, what has changed is that we are now at the end of the term," Romero said, adding that it impossible to understand Comuns' position. 


"Flying termites" 

"Flying termites," was how the People's Party's Alejandro Fernández, described the government during the debate on the budget amendments. 

The conservative leader called the Catalan executive "a silent and destructive plague that affects our properties and structures" and "little creatures destined to infest the Catalan economy."  

Fernández also accused the Socialists "of uncritically going along with the separatist national construction project." 

Ciudadanos leader Carlos Carrizosa said the budget pact between Esquerra and the Socialists was "disconnected from its economic content," and was "a lifeline from socialism to ERC in exchange for ERC offering a lifeline to Sánchez" and the Spanish government. 

The leader of far-left pro-independence CUP denounced the government's alliance with the Socialists. "This lost legislature must be left behind," the party's Xavier Pellicer said during Wednesday's debate. 

The spokesperson for far-right Vox, Joan Garriga, also criticized the "perfect coalition" between the Socialists and pro-independence parties in the Catalan Parliament and Spanish Congress. 

Spanish budget support

Meanwhile, in Madrid, a source from the Spanish government said on Tuesday morning that they assumed the Catalan budget would fail due to Comuns' position. 

Initially, the hope from Sánchez's executive was that the failed budget would not complicate ERC's support for the Spanish spending plan, but later on Wednesday evening, the Socialists announced they would not present any budget for 2024, instead prolonging the 2023 plan.

Spain's finance minister and first vice-president, María Jesús Montero, has announced that her executive is giving up on the idea of presenting a budget plan for 2024 as a result of the snap election being called in Catalonia.

As a result, the budgets for 2023 will be extended to this year, and the Spanish executive will instead focus on the spending plan for 2025.

"Without a doubt the snap election call in Catalonia clearly alters the political picture, and what is needed, after seeing the events and being realistic, is to work on the budgets for 2025" Montero explained.

"This is what is sensible," she added, speaking in an interview with Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. 

Macro-projects and drought

In a last-minute effort to get the Comuns on board for the 2024 budget ahead of the debate, the Catalan government agreed to study the possibility of halting the construction of casino macro-projects like the Hard Rock casino-hotel, linking it to the current drought.

Specifically, the proposal put forward by the Comuns intends to halt the construction of macro-projects that consume more than 100 liters of water per person while there is a drought.

However, the government found a loophole in the moratorium, believing that it would not specifically affect the construction of the Hard Rock project, since the Camp de Tarragona region, where the casino would be built, is not currently under a drought emergency, nor is it likely to enter one in the near future.

Part of the Catalan executive’s offer is also a change in the way casinos are taxed before the end of the current legislature. 

"A moratorium that is not a moratorium"

In response to the government's latest offer, David Cid, spokesperson for the Comuns, wrote on social network X that it was “a moratorium that is not a moratorium.”

According to the Comuns, the offer is not new and was in fact already presented and subsequently rejected by the party on Tuesday, during a budget meeting with the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès.

On Monday, Jéssica Albiach of the Comuns reiterated that Hard Rock would be the party’s red line, adding that the party needed an “explicit commitment” to stop Hard Rock in exchange for their support for the 2024 Catalan budget.

Although no agreement has yet been reached, the Comuns have repeatedly said that they are willing to withdraw the party’s total amendment to the budget, and instead support the 2024 spending bill on the condition that the casino complex project be buried.

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.

If the Catalan budget is not approved, a snap election could potentially be on the cards. 

The vote on the 2024 budget is expected to take place Wednesday afternoon.