First solo government of Esquerra Republicana since 1934 appointed
Left-wing pro-independence party will face many challenges including ruling with a minority in parliament
The new government of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya is up and running after the new cabinet members were sworn in on Tuesday morning ahead of the first meeting of the new executive. This is the first time since January 1934 that the left-wing pro-independence party will rule without being part of any coalition.
The economy minister, Natàlia Mas; foreign and European Union minister Meritxell Serret; territory minister Juli Fernández; health minister Manel Balcells; justice, rights, and memory minister Gemma Ubasart; social rights minister Carles Campuzano; and universities and research minister Joaquim Nadal were officially appointed during a short ceremony in the Catalan government headquarters building.
During the ceremony, Catalan president Pere Aragonès highlighted the importance of the new cabinet as they will be "serving society," during "a difficult time" because of the financial and social crisis but also because of political relations between Catalonia and Spain.
"The government starts a new stage which includes experience, will of improvement, and creativity," Aragonès said during his speech.
The president also talked about the "added value" that the new cabinet will have thanks to the new members that will continue working towards Catalonia's independence.
The new executive is "determined" to "place Catalonia's political future in the hands of its citizens," the head of government concluded.
Talking to journalists after the ceremony, he added: "We're much more than only pro-independence. We're people who work toward progress, toward social cohesion, for the whole of Catalonia, we're pro-European as well."
ERC's future challenges
Esquerra Republicana began a new era on Tuesday as it is the first time they rule alone since January 1934. Back then, ERC figurehead Lluís Companys was appointed president on January 1, after the sudden death of the previous president, Francesc Macià, who passed away on December 25, 1933.
Currently, the party faces major challenges in the current political landscape, as unlike back then when ERC had the majority in parliament, the new cabinet only has support from their own 33 party MPs out of the chamber's 135 total seats.
2023 budget law: support of former allies sought
One of the biggest tests ahead for the new cabinet will be the 2023 budget.
The former finance minister, Jaume Giró, from Junts had been preparing the spending plan for months, and on September 28 he allocated the funding to each department.
Now, it is the turn of Esquerra's members to negotiate with other parties to greenlight the budget. However, party president Oriol Junqueras said that "the spending plan has been agreed with Junts," therefore it would be "weird" for the political force to vote against a spending plan they considered appropriate.
However, extending the current budget law is not something the party wants but they do not rule it out.
Shortly after the first cabinet meeting with the new ministers, on Tuesday afternoon, Aragonès told the press that they aim to pass the budget still with Junts, along with far-left CUP – the other party that originally backed the president – and anti-austerity En Comú Podem –the opposition group that gave their essential backing to the 2022 budget–.
Especially he believes Junts should back the spending plan since "it would not make sense" that they vote against it after most of the law was written by Junts' Jaume Giró.
Aragonès said they will finalize the budget "following the current draft," although he admitted "minor touches."
Meanwhile, and given that the former allies potentially voting against it would leave the unionist Socialist Party as sole alternative, the president has insisted that a deal with them is not a priority or something he will seek, and added that extending the 2022 budget into 2023 remains an option.
Catalan parliament speaker position
The investiture deal between Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra Republicana to make Pere Aragonès the Catalan president continues in place, according to ERC's president Oriol Junqueras on Monday.
The agreement saw ERC taking the presidency while Junts took the chamber speaker position for Laura Borràs, currently suspended over corruption charges since July.
Right now, the seat is occupied by acting parliament speaker Alba Vergès, from ERC, however, the future of the post "is a decision that Junts has to take," Junqueras said.
Criticism from opposition
The first solo government of Esquerra is not welcomed by everyone. The opposition believes the cabinet is "politically and democratically illegitimate," as Laura Borràs, president of the former junior coalition partner Junts per Catalunya tweeted on Sunday night.
The executive needs to be greenlighted in the "Catalan parliament or in elections," the suspended chamber speaker added as "coherence has to be the main political characteristic of those who lead."
Her party colleague Albert Batet said that they will be "active and proactive" in the opposition, "in the face of the weakest government ever."
The comments come after Catalan president Pere Aragonès said that the new cabinet will "represent the consensus of 80% of citizens" as surveys state that four out of five Catalans are in favor of a self-determination referendum. The leader continued as the executive will be one that will "always work for the service of the people and give its all," he said in a tweet sent on Sunday evening.
Other opposition parties reacted to the appointment of the new government members, including far-right Vox, who believes that the new picks "were rejected in the past by and are angry with other political parties," referring to the fact that Joaquim Nadal used to be a mayor and minister of the Socialists, Carles Campuzano used to be an MP for center-right CDC and its heir, PDeCat, and Gemma Ubasart used to be the leader of anti-austerity Podemos in Catalonia.