Governing centre-right coalition CiU breaks up over independence stance, after 37 years swaying Catalan politics

After running together in every election since 1978, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) and Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC) are splitting apart. The Liberal party CDC, which is the larger force within the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU (running the Catalan Government since 2010), supports full independence from Spain while the Christian-Democrat UDC does not have a clear stance on the issue and its leadership is against it and is supporting a Catalan State confederated with Spain. After UDC held an internal consultation over the issue last weekend, which split the Christian-Democrats into two camps, crisis within CiU seemed inevitable. On Wednesday, UDC announced it was leaving the Catalan Government but not CiU. The Liberal CDC met that night and, on Thursday morning, announced "the CiU is over"; that they were splitting from the Christian-Democrats for "deep reasons".

Josep Rull and Mercè Conesa on Thursday, annoucing the CiU is splitting up (by A. Moldes)
Josep Rull and Mercè Conesa on Thursday, annoucing the CiU is splitting up (by A. Moldes) / ACN


June 18, 2015 10:39 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- After running together in every election since 1978 and having forged a political "federation" between them, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) and Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC) are splitting apart due to their differences on Catalonia's independence from Spain. On Wednesday afternoon, the Christian-Democrat UDC, which is the smaller force within the centre-right pro-Catalan State two-party coalition CiU, announced that next week it will leave the Catalan Government, which CiU has been running since 2010 (and which they also uninterruptedly ran from 1980 to 2003). In their announcement, the Christian-Democrats also added that they were not abandoning CiU. On Wednesday evening, the Liberal CDC held an urgent meeting to discuss their partner's announcement and decided to split with the Christian-Democrats and put an end to the CiU coalition, although the official announcement came on Thursday morning. "The project of the CiU is over", stated the Convergència's National Coordinator, Josep Rull. Such a break up had been expected for a long while, since tensions between the two sides had been increasing in the last months or even years, mostly due to Catalonia's independence debate. Now, they will run separately in the coming elections and on Monday the President of the Catalan Government and CDC leader, Artur Mas, will announce the changes in the Cabinet, after the 3 UDC Ministers have left the Executive.

The Liberal party CDC has been supporting full independence from Spain since late 2012, while the Christian-Democrat UDC does not have a clear stance on the issue and most of its leadership is actually against it, supporting a non-independent Catalan State that would be confederated with Spain.

After UDC held an internal consultation over this issue last weekend, through a controversial and ambiguous question, the Christian-Democrats are now split into two camps. Only 51% of party members backed the leadership's ambiguous proposal, while 46% opposed the official stance and would support independence.

Despite this close result and the consequent symbolic backlash for the party leadership, UDC's board officially took the result as meaning total support for their ambiguity regarding independence. This was taken badly by the pro-independence faction of the party, who said they would start acting on their own.

Besides this, many CDC leaders were also against UDC's official stance, although formally there was no inter-party interference. At this point, crisis within CiU seemed inevitable. CiU splitting is major political news in Catalonia. It means the end of a 37-year uninterrupted relationship between the two parties, which have run together in all the elections since 1978 and which have been hegemonic in Catalonia during most of the last three-and-a-half decades.

8 decisive days

UDC's internal consultation was held on Sunday and the result was announced that evening, with different interpretations from the leadership and the pro-independence faction. On Monday, the two main sides within the Christian-Democrat party presented their strategy for the next few weeks, which were not coinciding. The pro-independence supporters wanted their party to join the self-determination road map agreed among the CDC, the left-wing Catalan independence party ERC and the main civil society associations. They proposed starting negotiations with them, while UDC's board, led by Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, stated the party would not be joining such a road map and would only hold talks with CDC.

At this point, CDC's patience could not stand Duran i Lleida's ambiguity any longer, which is harming CiU among its pro-independence base. In fact, many experts have been pointing out during the past few months that CiU has been losing many voters due to its unclear speech on independence because of UDC leadership's ambiguous stance. Therefore, many think that without UDC, which has always been the smaller force within CiU (in a 25%-75% approximate proportion), CDC could recover a significant part of voters.

On Tuesday, the CDC gave their Christian-Democrat allies an ultimatum: in 3 days' time they had to openly say whether they support independence or not. The answer arrived the day after, with UDC's leadership rejecting the ultimatum and announcing that they would quit the Catalan Government next Monday. However, in order not to start an outright conflict with the CDC, they added that they were not breaking the CiU coalition and would provide the Catalan Government with their parliamentary support until September’s elections.

On Wednesday evening, the CDC leadership held an urgent meeting to discuss the Christian-Democrats leaving the Government but wanting to continue sharing the same coalition. The meeting lasted almost until midnight and it was leaked that the Liberal party would break up CiU and that the official announcement would be made the next morning.

This Thursday morning, Josep Rull, CDC's National Coordinator and Mas' right-hand man within the party, made the official announcement: "the project of the CiU is over". Rull explained they would not be running together in September's elections and that they had reached "a point of no return". Mas added that the split is due to "deep reasons".

Now the CDC and UDC will have to divide the institutional presence and representatives they share. According to sources from both parties, no major changes are expected at municipal and supra-municipal level (County and Provincial Councils), where local logic and affinities have great importance. However, things will change at the level of the Catalan and Spanish Parliaments, the Senate and the Catalan Government. Rull confirmed that Duran i Lleida's leadership of CiU's group in the Spanish Parliament is likely to change.

However, Rull insisted that the division should be well-organised. In addition, the Catalan President also said that the splitting of the two forces should be done "on friendly terms". In fact, since they will continue to cooperate at local level and the Catalan elections have an uncertain outcome, nobody has a great interest in a loud and hostile break up.

On Saturday it is expected that the CDC leader, Artur Mas, will announce his plans for running in the next Catalan Parliament elections – scheduled for 27 September – which should become a 'de facto' plebiscite on independence. It is likely that CDC will be renamed in the coming months, after the split with UDC and corruption scandals that have seriously affected its image (the main one being the scandal affecting CDC founder and historical leader of Catalan nationalism, Jordi Pujol). In the next elections, Mas is likely to top an electoral list full of independents, going far beyond his party's membership and openly supporting full independence from Spain.