Clashes take over potential mayorship deals as local elections loom

Barcelona coalition partners fight for same voters as Esquerra suggests past corruption could return if Trias voted as mayor again

Ada Colau (BComú) and Xavier Trias (Trias per Barcelona) gave their backs to each other during a debate on May 11, 2023
Ada Colau (BComú) and Xavier Trias (Trias per Barcelona) gave their backs to each other during a debate on May 11, 2023 / Sílvia Jardí
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

May 22, 2023 02:06 PM

May 22, 2023 04:40 PM

Plenty of proposals have been made during the first week of electoral campaign in Barcelona. Candidates, such as Barcelona en Comú and incumbent mayor Ada Colau suggested opening a public optical service to guarantee free glasses and contact lenses for vulnerable people in Barcelona, the Socialist Jaume Collboni wants to cover the 'rondes' roads, and even Esquerra's Ernest Maragall is planning a third Rodalies commuter train tunnel crossing the Catalan capital.

However, the second week of the election campaign has more reproaches than suggestions as candidates try to mark distance between each other. This comes as no surprise, as polls do not show a clear winner, and even give the same results to three of the candidates.

This uncertainty and the fact that three out of ten voters are still undecided on who to cast their vote for, is making candidates fight against their own coalition partners, pro-independence parties are battling to win more votes of the spectrum, and even, claims of returning to years of corruption have been made.

Ada Colau has already said she will not allow Barcelona to return to "a past full of speculation, pollution, and mass tourism," her verdict on Xavier Trias, the Trias per Barcelona candidate backed by the pro-independence Junts party.

During her speech on Saturday, Colau criticized Trias' "abandonment" of the most working-class neighborhoods in the Catalan capital when he was mayor between 2011-2015.

Deal with far right?

Meanwhile, Trias called on voters to oust Ada Colau and to make him mayor, but he is well aware that "a lot of work" will be needed to "convince" those undecided that do not want to vote for him but "are against what the mayor is doing."

Colau would become mayor again "with the support of whoever," including the far right, Trias said. He cited the 2019 deal between Colau, the Socialists, and former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, to make Colau mayor even though she came second in the number of votes. 

"Is there anyone ruling out that Colau could end up reaching a deal with Vox?" Trias wondered, claiming Valls and Vox are very similar. Anti-austerity Barcelona en Comú and Vox are on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Collboni against Colau after ruling with incumbent mayor

If Barcelona residents do not vote for the Socialists, there exists the "risk that everything continues as bad as to date," the Socialists candidate, Jaume Collboni, said.

The reality, however, is that the PSC, and Collboni, have been ruling in a coalition with Barcelona en Comú since the last elections in 2019, with the Socialist being deputy mayor.

Mayoral candidates in Barcelona, Ada Colau, Jaume Collboni, Ernest Maragall, Xavier Trias
Mayoral candidates in Barcelona, Ada Colau, Jaume Collboni, Ernest Maragall, Xavier Trias / Blanca Blay

But despite the fact that he was part of the local government, Collboni called on voters "to not waste their vote" and to select the Socialists' ballot.

Collboni left his position as deputy mayor in late January to focus on the electoral campaign, leaving his duties months before the electoral process started.

Esquerra digs into past

"Xavier Trias' proposal is to recover the 3% of Convergència," pro-independence Esquerra Republicana candidate Ernest Maragall said in reference to one of the largest alleged political corruption scandals in Catalonia.

The alleged scheme involved the old nationalist center-right party Convergència (CDC), and members of the group are accused of rigging public tenders in exchange for commissions to fund the organization.

Prosecutors accuse those involved of the crimes of criminal organization, fraud in public administrations, corruption between individuals, influence peddling, bribery, embezzlement, and money laundering. 

Spain's National Court judge José de la Mata stated in July 2020 that a structure had been set up to "illegally and covertly" finance CDC for years. CDC officially disappeared in 2016, but its heir PDeCat still exists. This party, in fact, was a central pillar in the formation of former president Carles Puigdemont's pro-independence Junts per Catalunya platform in autumn 2017, but afterward Junts became a party of its own right, bringing over most of the senior officials from PDeCAT, leaving it with no parliamentary representation.

Major figures of CDC include Jordi Pujol, Catalan president from 1980 to 2003, and Artur Mas, holding the same post from 2010 to January 2016, but neither of them have been included in the accusations. 

Xavier Trias was Barcelona's mayor between 2011 and 2015 for the Convergència i Unió group.

After a statement from Trias regarding the importance of tourism in the Catalan capital, Ernest Maragall said that the Trias per Barcelona candidate "offers, represents, and means" the return of Convergència, which he linked with corruption. 

Asked if ERC could reach a deal with Trias, he said that the former mayor was "making it very difficult" and that Trias held "a degree of explicit renunciation" of Catalonia's independence.

Current and former main politicians

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, opposition leader and head of the conservative People's Party Alberto Núñez Feijóo, former Catalan president Artur Mas, Spain's labor minister Yolanda Díaz… many are the top politicians taking part in Barcelona's local elections campaign.

While Sánchez will be in the Catalan capital to support Collboni on the last night of the campaign, many others have already called on voters to choose their party's candidate, such as Feijóo, who was in Barcelona on Friday.

On the other hand, labor minister Yolanda Díaz was also in Barcelona, showing her support for incumbent mayor Ada Colau but warned that the conservative party is "open to gift their votes to Collboni or Trias to oust Colau of the mayorship." 

However, Feijóo "does not gift anything with nothing in exchange for," she added.

Candidates Jaume Collboni (Socialists), Ernest Maragall (ERC), Ada Colau (BComú) and Xavier Trias (Trias per Barcelona)
Candidates Jaume Collboni (Socialists), Ernest Maragall (ERC), Ada Colau (BComú) and Xavier Trias (Trias per Barcelona) / Sílvia Jardí

Meanwhile, pro-independence Esquerra Republicana leader Oriol Junqueras, formerly imprisoned and then pardoned for his role in organizing the 2017 independence referendum, has also made an appearance.

"We have always been in favor of independence, we still are, and we will continue to be," Junqueras said, criticizing Junts of "hiding it."

"Mr Trias is offering us one option: to piss off. Well, Catalonia should not piss off, as we want for the territory to succeed," Junqueras said, referring to the Trias per Barcelona candidate comments where he told those who blame him for trying to reach deals to act like the old Convergència "to piss off."

And while Junqueras attacked Trias, former Catalan president Artur Mas, part of the Junts party, said that Esquerra has joined town hall governments "after making deals with parties who lost the elections and are creating a disaster for residents."