Left-wing pro-independence ERC paves the way for Catalan Government’s 2015 budget
Following the agreement reached last week between the President of the Catalan Government and leader of the governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, Artur Mas, and the President of the left-wing pro-independence party ERC, Oriol Junqueras, on calling early elections in September as a plebiscite on Catalonia’s independence from Spain, the Catalan Executive’s budget for 2015 is now closer to definitive approval. On Monday, the ERC MPs started to withdraw their full amendments to the different sections of the Catalan Government’s budget. Now, the ERC is asking the CiU and the Government to debate their specific amendments on precise programmes in order to have “a fairer budget” which is less regional and more that of a country in its “national transition”, they said.
Barcelona (ACN).- Following the agreement reached last week between the President of the Catalan Government and leader of the governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, Artur Mas, and the President of the left-wing pro-independence party ERC, Oriol Junqueras, on calling early elections in September as a plebiscite on Catalonia’s independence from Spain, the Catalan Executive’s budget for 2015 is now closer to definitive approval. On Monday, the ERC MPs started to withdraw their full amendments to the different sections of the Catalan Government’s budget for 2015. This week, each Minister is presenting the budget of their departments for the current year to the Catalan Parliament, as part of the regular approval process. The opposition parties criticised the fact that €2.3 billion of the new budget (some 10% of the total) depends on negotiations with the Spanish Government for the payment of pending debts.
Now, the ERC is asking the CiU and the Government to debate their specific amendments on precise programmes and measures in order to have “a fairer budget” which is less that of an Autonomous Community and more that of a country in “national transition”, said Pere Aragonès, the parliamentary Spokesperson for economic issues for the left-wing party. This means increasing social spending particularly in some targeted programmes fighting poverty and allocating greater amounts of money to build the basic state structures that should enable an independent Catalan state if citizens choose this option on 27 September. The current regional budget will not be enough to meet citizens’ needs because of “its dependency on the Spanish Government”, and hence “independence is needed”, stated Aragonès.
The Catalan Government is increasing by 25% the budget of its tax agency
The Catalan Finance Minister, Andreu Mas-Colell, said he is willing to debate specific changes if they do not make “the whole budget explode”. Furthermore, Mas-Colell confirmed that the budget for Catalonia’s own Tax Administration – which is one of the basic state structures – will increase by 25% on 2014 figures, reaching €43.9 million. Furthermore, a selection process to hire 168 experts will be launched. According to Mas-Colell, hiring further human resources is essential in order to guarantee that the Catalan tax administration can cope with tasks already assigned and new taxes developed during 2014 and 2015. However, Mas-Colell also confirmed that the Government is willing to launch further measures in order to be ready if such an administration has to start collecting all the taxes generated in Catalonia. The plan is to approve basic laws and internal regulations, as well as the administration’s main structure and design, so that the Government is ready to quickly increase the tax agency’s resources and staff to be able to collect all the taxes, if citizens choose this option.
The Catalan Government is increasing its external action budget
Besides this, the Catalan Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs, who is also in charge of running external action policies and services, welcomed the ERC’s new attitude and is said to be ready to accept most of the left-wing party’s demands regarding the department he heads. For instance, he said that there should be “sufficient” resources to develop Catalonia’s international cooperation plan. In addition, he confirmed that the budget for the Executive’s external action will increase by 12%, going from €15.3 million to €17.2 million (which represents some 0.007% of the entire Catalan Government’s budget, which has an overall expenditure of around €22.5 billion). With this increase, the Executive should open two new political delegations: in Rome and Vienna, after the 5 it already has in Brussels, Paris, London, Berlin and New York. Furthermore, the budget for sport policies will grow by 3%, increasing from €51 to €53 million.
Opposition parties criticise the new budget
The Spanish nationalist conservative People’s Party (PP) and the anti-Catalan nationalism and populist party Ciutadans (C’s) have strongly criticised the budget for external action. This comes in the midst of the current debate about Catalonia’s independence from Spain. The PP Spokesperson, Santi Rodríguez, complained about having “more delegations and more Diplocat”, referring to Catalonia’s public-private body developing soft diplomacy actions, the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, known as Diplocat. “Propaganda in its purest state”, emphasised the PP. This was also referred to in a similar way by the C’s Spokesperson, Carina Mejías, who stated that the Executive is increasing the funds for its “propaganda apparatus”. Furthermore, she criticised the budget increase for external action, after “so many European governments, to which pro-independence chants were sung, have slammed their doors as it [Catalonia’s independence from Spain] goes against the EU spirit”. The PP and C’s, when combined, make up 20% of the current Catalan Parliament.
The rest of the opposition parties backed the Catalan Government’s external action structure, which has been recognised by many laws since 1981, some of them approved by the Spanish Parliament. However, they criticised its priorities. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) criticised the CiU and ERC agreement, since they believe it came too late and left the budget on the verge of not being approved. Furthermore, the PSC Spokesperson, Marina Geli, asked for further details about specific actions. The Spokesperson for the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist Coalition ICV-EUiA, Sara Vilà, criticised the budget for continuing to implement and consolidate the budget cuts in basic public services. Finally, the alternative-left and radical independence party CUP was also critical of the budget for 2015 as they believe it still too close to being one of a Spanish Autonomous Community. The CUP MP Quim Arrufat criticised the Government for employing what he considered old ways of performing international relations and not prioritising innovative programmes focusing on soft diplomacy.