Coalition talks far from smooth due to lack of united approach towards independence

ERC and JxCAT's negotiations slow, as former enter into more successful discussions with far-left CUP

Marta Vilalta, left, of Esquerra Republicana, and Elsa Artadi of Junts per Catalunya (by Marta Sierra)
Marta Vilalta, left, of Esquerra Republicana, and Elsa Artadi of Junts per Catalunya (by Marta Sierra) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

March 5, 2021 01:00 PM

The pro-independence parties kept their majority in the chamber after the recent February 14 elections, but that doesn’t mean that forming a new government is going to be at all easy (nothing normally is with Catalan politics). Once again, time for negotiating is also already running out.

The two major parties which favor a separate Catalan state, ERC and JxCat, shared the previous government for 3 years. The last term, however, was a particularly turbulent one, given their consistent disagreement on several issues, most notably on the way to go about achieving independence after the 2017 referendum.

After these electoral results, it became clear that both parties would have to find a common ground to avoid a standstill and a repetition of the election – even more so since both of them ruled out any cooperation with the Socialists, who came first together with ERC, each winning 33 seats.

Yet, the talks between ERC and JxCat seemed to progress slowly after a series of discreet discussions.

So far they have been unable to reach any consensus, and some sources close to the talks have told the Catalan News Agency that the greatest hurdle has been the same since 2017: how to reach independence.

Diverging approach to relationship with Spain

Led by the man most likely to become the next president, Pere Aragonès, ERC prioritizes resuming talks with the Spanish government as a way to persuade them to accept a self-determination referendum for Catalonia.

JxCat, much more skeptical about the idea of trying to convince Madrid, demand the establishment of some kind of body to monitor negotiations with Spain and, if talks fail, they want to reach an agreement with ERC about how the Independence movement plans to respond.

While both defend amnesty for the jailed and exiled leaders and self-determination, they cannot agree on how it should be achieved - the differing approaches of their MPs in the Madrid congress is notorious.

The only thing they agree on as of yet is winning over the far-left CUP, the other pro-independence party in parliament, whose support they need in order to have more than half of the MPs in the chamber.

The anticapitalists demand a temporary suspension of the Catalan police's use of foam bullets, banning Mossos d'Esquadra officers from taking part in evictions, and ensuring that the government does not act as a private prosecutor in judicial cases on protesters.

ERC and JxCat have been open to discussions regarding these points, but that does not mean that any agreement has yet been reached.

Both political forces have also entered into talks with the far-left party and so far it seems that ERC has more in common with CUP than with JxCat, although both left-wing groups would need the additional pro-independence support to reach a majority.

Post of parliament speaker

Indeed, the other main thing obstructing an agreement is the fact that CUP is supposed to claim the post of parliament speaker.

For the first time, they are "ready" to be part of the chamber's bureau and want to lead it.

Yet, this post has another potential successor: JxCat, whose spokespeople remind that traditionally, the second party in coalition governments have been given the country's second position of authority.

Time running short

ERC has not sided in public yet, but the opening session of the chamber and the appointments of bureau members will take place on March 12 (the deadline provided by law), as announced by Aragonès on March 5 – a failure in these certain talks could result in the Socialist senior MP Eva Granados leading the parliament.

Parties would ideally before March 12 like to reach a pact on parliament, government, and a plan for the rest of the full term. Unfortunately, this is particularly tricky, since it demands resolving 3-year-long disagreements in just a few days.

Socialists want to use their 33 seats

The chances of an alternative government coalition are slim: the Socialists would like to lead a cabinet with En Comú Podem (ECP), but right now this pretty looks unlikely.

Meanwhile, ECP is trying to put together an alliance with ERC and the Socialists, also with no success so far.

Aragonès' party's preferred alliance would not only include CUP and JxCat, but ECP too, a party also in favor of a referendum on independence (even if they may want it to fail). However, Jéssica Albiach's group (EPC) has ruled out any cooperation with JxCat, which they consider to be right-wing.