Catalonia backs Spanish deal to fund reception of refugees and reduce electricity bill

President Aragonès greenlights compromise that makes clear Ukrainian newcomers will be managed by his cabinet

The Spanish leaders' meeting held on the Canary island of La Palma on March 13, 2022 (by Andrea Zamorano)
The Spanish leaders' meeting held on the Canary island of La Palma on March 13, 2022 (by Andrea Zamorano) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

March 13, 2022 07:55 PM

Spain's leaders have agreed on guaranteeing enough funding to welcome Ukrainian refugees.

A meeting between the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and presidents of all territories within Spain including Catalonia resulted in consensus on the reception of those fleeing from war in Eastern Europe and on taking steps to reduce the electricity bill.

After the summit in the Canary island of La Palma on Sunday evening, Spain's government spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez, explained that territories have agreed on a declaration that needs further development in the coming weeks.

Although the Catalan health minister, Josep Maria Argimon, anticipated earlier this week that the face mask requirement indoors due to Covid-19 could be lifted as a result of the meeting, no decisions have been made as the forum.

Instead, it has only focused on the impact of Ukraine war.

"Unity to back Spain in the upcoming European Council summit to be held on March 24-25 to lower and adjust the energy price has been reached," she explained.

Also, using the European next generation funds to face the rising costs of electricity and gas has been agreed, meaning "speeding up the expansion of renewable energies."

The joint statement also reads that enough funds to welcome refugees will be granted and that the relevant authority has to manage the situation, that is, the Catalan government in Catalonia.

In the coming weeks, talks between Madrid and the regions will begin to implement specific measures on especially badly affected sectors.

Catalan government agrees with 'minimum consensus' agreement

The Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, backs the measures agreed by the Spanish leaders and defined it as "minimum consensus with room to improve." He greenlighted it because it includes funds for territories to manage the arrival of Ukrainian refugees.

"We are getting additional funding to manage the reception of refugees," he said explaining why he signed the agreement.

Also, Catalonia accepts the compromise because it also includes policies to reduce the electricity bill "for Catalan families and businesses."

It is the first time since 2012 that a Catalan president attends such a summit – after a U-turn, he confirmed on Thursday that he would attend a meeting as an "extraordinary" move because it is aimed at tackling issues related to the war in Ukraine, including the impending refugee crisis.

This is an "exceptional" situation and deserves the "maximum coordination," Aragonès said in a press conference confirming his attendance. "It is the moment for brave measures," he added.

Isabel Rodríguez welcomed Aragonès' attendance and said that relations between Spain and Catalonia administrations "is not normalizing, it is already normalized."

Thousands of refugees already in Catalonia

Welcoming refugees was one of the hot topics of the summit. Indeed, on Wednesday, there were 1,700 refugees registered in official data in Catalonia, but the "real" number of Ukrainians "could be much higher," according to cabinet spokesperson Patricia Plaja.

The Catalan executive is already working to "organize all the available metrics." It has increased the possible number of Ukrainian refugees in the territory to 5,000 people, as spokesperson Patricia Plaja said on Thursday evening during a press conference.

Soaring electricity prices

Another side effect of the conflict in Ukraine is its impact on energy. Gas stations are offering their products at record high levels, natural gas is also very expensive and the electricity prices are out of control.

One MWh cost on average €544 on Tuesday, an all-time high and double the cost just before the eastern European war began – the hourly peak of Tuesday was €700/MWh, over ten times more than exactly a year ago.