Day four of campaign and artworks dispute enters debate

Most parties had an opinion to voice over Sixena art, with independence and Article 155 also being major topics

Roger Torrent, ERC candidate, answering questions from the press (by ACN)
Roger Torrent, ERC candidate, answering questions from the press (by ACN) / Alex Rolandi

Alex Rolandi | Barcelona

December 8, 2017 07:14 PM

As day four of the election campaign comes to a close, parties have been out in force to present their manifestos, and the ongoing dispute over the Sixena artworks has been a hot topic. Claws are already out as parties continue to criticize each other, with independence also a major point on the agenda.

ERC “only force” that can stop monarchist block, says candidate

The number two candidate for Esquerra Republicana in the Girona region, Roger Torrent, has called the election a direct duel with Ciutadans, the anti-independence and pro-Article 155 party, headed by Inés Arrimadas. “These elections are very clear: either Article 155 wins, or our institutions," he said.

After the declaration of independence, Spain used Article 155 of its constitution to strip Catalonia of its autonomy and sack the Catalan government that was elected in 2015 in a vote with record turnout. "Esquerra is the only force that can stop Ciutadans and the monarchist block of (Article) 155," Torrent stated, as the election campaign entered day four, with the debate already heating up as parties present their manifestos.

Torrent also criticized the Catalan People’s Party’s electoral program, pointing out that it is a further demonstration of the (Spanish) state’s concept of democracy.”

"Although they want to ban everything, we are convinced that citizens will once again demonstrate in the polls what is the democratic mandate of this people," he added.

ERC are steadfast in their stance regarding the Sixena artworks legally bought by Catalonia in the nineties, and are against their removal from the Museum of Lleida, and transferral to Aragon, where they are originally from.

Ciutadans: “It’s time for ordinary people”

The leader of the anti-independence and pro-unionist Ciutadans party, Inés Arrimadas was outspoken on Friday in her criticism of the independence process. At an event held in Lleida, at the heart of the dispute over the Sixena artworks, Arrimadas stated that "normal people do not laugh at the court decisions and do not skip laws hoping that nothing will happen to them," adding that that “it's time for ordinary people, citizens, honest and hard-working people who know that Catalonia is for everyone.”

She also criticised the Socialists’ leader Miquel Iceta, stating that her party is the only option for “change” in the country, and the only way to put an end to “this nightmare.”

“If they win,” she said, referring to pro-independence parties, “they will do the same again.”

Arrimadas also vowed that, if elected as president of Catalonia, she would review previous government’s spending, specifically that of Puigdemont’s government, deposed after the application of Article 155.

The deputy of Ciutadans, Jorge Soler, also noted that, in the case of an independent Catalonia leaving the European Union, it could mean the potential loss of 163 million euros in agricultural aid.

With regard to the disputed Sixena artworks, legally bought by Catalonia in the nineties, now due to be removed on Monday after a judge authorized Spanish police to enter the museum, Arrimadas did not make any reference.

Socialists leader warns voting for ERC or Together for Catalonia will bring Catalonia to “ruin”

Meanwhile, Miquel Iceta, the leader of the Socialists, warned that voting for the head of the Together for Catalonia (JxCAT) list, Carles Puigdemont, and that of ERC, Oriol Junqueras, would "put Catalonia back into the hands of the CUP,” adding that a victory for pro-independence parties on December 21 will bring Catalonia to "total ruin." The far-left CUP were the kingmakers of the pro-independence coalition that emerged from the 2015 election. Although refusing to be part of the coalition, they did give parliamentary support, and have vowed to create an independent Catalan republic.

Iceta also accused pro-independence leaders of inciting “fear about the future,” and “spoiling everything,” mentioning the first 50 companies that moved their legal headquarters out of Catalonia as tensions between Spain and Catalonia heightened. “They do not deserve to continue to rule,” he added, speaking about the deposed government led by Carles Puigdemont.

He criticized the independence movement of wanting to add “more borders” in Europe. “We want Europe to become more united and stronger every day," he said.

The mayor of Lleida, and another Socialists candidate, Àngel Ros, said he hopes that police won't enter the museum, and “at least not with force.” He also expressed his wishes for an appeal against the artworks removal to be successful.

Together for Catalonia: a leader in exile

For their part, the candidacy headed by Carles Puigdemont, currently in Brussels, has stated that it will not back down on its plans for an independent Catalonia, reiterating their desire to remain in the European Union as well.

In a press conference held in Brussels, Puigdemont highlighted that he currently leads an “illicitly dismissed government,” stating that “preventing the investiture of the current government” is allowing the Article 155 to continue in force.

Although he made no mention of the Sixena dispute, he did mention the PP’s proposal that opens the door to a ban on the Catalan pro-independence flag, the estelada. “Apart from prohibiting, intervening, and persecuting, what other proposals do they have for Catalonia,” he asked.

The Catalan People’s Party: in defence of Article 155

The Catalan People’s Party held an event in Lleida as well, where Spanish police have been authorized to enter the city’s museum and remove the 44 disputed artworks, using “force” if necessary. The party’s leader, Xavier Garcia Albiol, defended the Spanish government’s use of Article 155 to strip Catalonia of its autonomy. Without it, he said, “organizations like the CUP, would be reigning terror in the streets of Catalonia.” He also criticized Miquel Iceta, the Socialists leader, for considering “a possible pardon for thos who stage a coup,” referring to pro-independence politicians. According to him, this is not a major concern for most Catalans, highlighting that in the country nearly half a million people are out of work.

The Spanish president, and leader of Spain’s PP, Mariano Rajoy, also made an appearance in the city at the heart of the ongoing artwork dispute. Although very clear on his defence of the Spanish constitution, he decided not to elaborate on the Sixena case, stating that its “a decision to be made by the courts.”

Catalonia in Common: “best defence of cultural heritage” is withdrawal of Article 155

The leader of the Catalonia in Common-Podem list, Xavier Domènech, criticized the removal of the Sixena artworks. “The best defence of Lleida and its cultural heritage is that Article 155 is repealed,” he said. Earlier in the day, after Spanish police were authorized to enter the museum after midnight on December 11, Mireia Boya, also a candidate for CUP, stated that people would mobilize in defence of the artworks.

He also criticized the PP, which is in favour of the artwork’s removal, stating that they have “no project” for either Catalonia or Spain.

He also highlighted that social agendas needed to be more of a focus in the electoral campaign, criticizing parties that focus only on unionist or pro-independence plans.

CUP: People will mobilize to defend artworks

Mireia Boya, CUP candidate, stated that removing the Sixena artworks is motivated by Spain’s desire to humiliate Catalonia. She added that they are “stealing art that was legally acquired by the government.”

“Whether you like religious art or not,” she said, “this is an example of what Article 155 is.” When Spanish police come to take away the art, she said they “may find people defending” the museum.

She argued that most of her consitituency is pro-independence, and was confident in a victory in the December 21 election. She also said that voting for Catalonia in Common would be a wasted vote.