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Party Review – the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) might be the second largest party

ERC, now led by Oriol Junqueras, is facing the next Catalan elections aware they will significantly increase their number of MPs and knowing that they are likely to play an essential role in Catalonia’s politics in the next term. After renovating their leadership and with a moderately-pitched speech, ERC might increase the current 10 MPs – which was their worst result in 20 years – to 16 or even 19 MPs, according to the latest polls. Furthermore, depending on the results obtained by the pro-Spain unity parties PSC and PP, ERC might become the second largest group in the Catalan Parliament. In any case, as they are the party that historically supports Catalonia’s independence, ERC will offer its support to the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) to organise a self-determination referendum.

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19 November 2012 09:56 PM

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ACN / Gaspar Pericay Coll

Barcelona (ACN).- The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), now led by Oriol Junqueras, is facing the next elections aware that they will significantly increase their number of MPs in the Catalan Parliament and that they are likely to play an essential role in Catalan politics in the next term. With a moderately-pitched speech and a renovated leadership following a few years of internal crises and scissions, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) might increase the current 10 MPs \u2013 which was their worst result in 20 years \u2013 to 16 or even 19 MPs in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament, according to the latest polls. This means that, depending on the results obtained by the pro-Spain unity parties PSC and PP \u2013 which are also likely to obtain between 16 and 19 MPs, ERC might become the second largest group in the Catalan Parliament for the first time ever. In 2003 and 2006, ERC obtained its best results with 23 and 21 MPs respectively, but they were only the third largest party. Now, due to the PSC\u2019s profound crisis and PP\u2019s limitations in Catalonia, ERC \u2013 which is the party that historically supports Catalonia\u2019s independence \u2013 might lead the opposition in the Catalan Parliament. In this scenario, Catalonia\u2019s first and second largest parties would both support the self-determination process and the creation of a Catalan state, by peaceful, democratic means and with negotiation. According to polls, the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) will win the elections again \u2013 this time with more than a 40-MP-margin \u2013 and the incumbent Artur Mas will again be President of the Catalan Government. However, it is very likely that the CiU will lack a few MPs to be able to reach an absolute majority and thus it will need the support from another party to pass new laws, such as the Catalan Government\u2019s budget for 2013. In this context, after the political fights between the CiU and the Spanish-nationalist PP and Mas\u2019 emphasis on Catalonia\u2019s independence, ERC would become a natural ally, especially regarding the self-determination agenda. CiU and ERC, together with the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA), will form a joint block to ask for the organisation of a self-determination referendum in the next term. Very likely, this block will represent more than two thirds of the Catalan Parliament. In fact, this issue is one of the essential debates of the 25th November elections: Catalans\u2019 right to decide on their own future by holding a self-determination referendum.


Oriol Junqueras; moderate, didactic and inclusive style

In September 2011, the university professor of history Oriol Junqueras became the new leader of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). Since June 2011, Junqueras has been Mayor of Sant Vicenç dels Horts, a town of 30,000 inhabitants in Greater Barcelona. Previously, Junqueras had been elected as a Member of the European Parliament in 2009 but, following a previous electoral agreement with ERC\u2019s coalition allies, he was meant to quit and pass on the seat after half a term. In barely one year as the President of ERC, Junqueras seems to have reconnected with the a large part of the party\u2019s base, using a plain, calm and didactic tone, probably because of his experience as a university teacher. He avoids noisy confrontations and uses a moderate style, absolutely framed into democratic principles. In addition, he wants to project an image of austerity. He halved his salary as Mayor and he gave it up entirely in the few months that he received as well compensation as a Euro MP. In addition, he announced that once he is a Member of the Catalan Parliament, he will relinquish his salary as Mayor. Furthermore, Junqueras and the rest of the ERC candidates in the next Catalan Elections signed an \u201Cethical commitment\u201D document, on the first day of the campaign, by which they commit to \u201Cserve the community\u201D, act \u201Cfor the common good\u201D and work in an \u201Cefficient\u201D and \u201Caustere\u201D way.

\u201CA new country for everybody\u201D

Junqueras puts forward a direct speech supporting Catalonia\u2019s right to self-determination and combines it with an inclusive message, involving everybody living in Catalonia no matter what their language or place of birth is. In fact, ERC\u2019s motto is \u201CA new country for everybody\u201D. \u201CWe want a new country within the European Union framework\u201D, he stated, \u201Cwhich will not leave anybody behind\u201D. In fact, Junqueras puts the stress onto fostering social cohesion, by redistributing wealth through fairer taxation, improving public services and by not discriminating. ERC states that in an independent Catalonia, Spanish would also be an official language (together with Catalan), since it is the mother tongue of many Catalans. In some campaign rallies Junqueras referred to Sant Vicenç dels Horts, the town where he is Mayor, which has one of the highest percentages of people in Catalonia who were born in other parts of Spain and use Spanish as their first language. Junqueras used this town as an example of understanding and creating a single community, with several languages and origins. 

A message to the world

ERC\u2019s leader is insisting that the next elections are the most important elections in Catalonia\u2019s history, since Catalans will decide if they will go for self-determination as a people. In addition, with the next elections, Catalans will \u201Ctell the world\u201D that a majority of them back the self-determination process. This way, it will no longer be only \u201Ca Spanish internal issue\u201D. In this sense, ERC is asking \u201CSpanish parties to be democratic\u201D and allow Catalans to vote on their own future, and to respect the result of the vote, as will be done in the United Kingdom regarding Scotland. In fact, ERC has obtained the explicit support of the Scottish National Party, the President of which, Ian Hudghton, recorded a video backing up ERC.

Denouncing Spain\u2019s obstacles

Junqueras is denouncing Spain\u2019s \u201Cdirty games\u201D to stop the process, including putting pressure on European institutions, which he has witnessed in person in the past while being a Euro MP. In fact, he is convinced that Barroso\u2019s last words stating that an independent Catalonia would have to re-apply for EU Membership are a response to pressure from the Spanish Government. However, he insisted this is not written in any treaty or directive. Catalonia\u2019s membership or exclusion would come from a political decision. According to him, the only condition Europeans are putting on the recognition of Catalonia\u2019s independence is that it is to be backed by a democratic mandate.

A \u201Cdouble democratic mandate\u201D

Junqueras is insisting that Catalonia will offer a \u201Cdouble democratic mandate\u201D. The first one being next Sunday\u2019s elections, in which the Catalan voters will give a large majority of seats to the parties defending the organisation of a self-determination referendum. Accordingly, such a referendum will be held. ERC gives the Spanish Government until 2014 to call for this referendum, as according to the current Spanish legislation the Spanish Executive is the only one able to call for referendums. Otherwise, if Spain blocks the initiative, Catalonia will develop its own legislative framework to hold the self-determination vote. If the independence option wins, this will be the second democratic mandate to ask for Catalonia\u2019s independence, within the framework of international legislation. Since the vote should be organised within the next two years, according to ERC, by the end of 2014, Catalans might be proclaiming their independence backed by a double democratic mandate.

Electoral challenges

In the 2012 elections, ERC faces the challenge of reconnecting with its traditional base, which partially abandoned them for radical independence parties, such as the right-wing and populist Reagrupament (RI), the populist Solidaritat per la Independència (SI) or the radical left-wing Independence Coalition (CUP). In addition, ERC aims to attract people who might have voted for CiU in 2010, as they wanted to end the 3-party coalition running the previous Catalan Government, but who had voted ERC in the past. However, now CiU is also openly supporting the self-determination process and the creation of a Catalan state.  Therefore, ERC is competing with CiU for the most conservative independence supporters. ERC has in its in favour its clear claim for Catalonia\u2019s independence from Spain, while CiU still sends some ambiguous signs, especially from its \u2018number two\u2019 Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida. In this sense, ERC presents itself as CiU\u2019s \u201Cmost loyal partner\u201D towards independence and a guarantee to make sure that CiU does not step down from the process or \u201Cput the handbrake on\u201D.

Besides, ERC is competing on a third front to attract older voters from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) who are embracing the pro-independence stance for the first time, as they feel frustrated by Spain\u2019s lack of response to recognise its pluri-national nature and find a fairer fitting for Catalonia. In order to capture all those different voters, Junqueras is offering a clear speech towards independence but with moderate and inclusive arguments, joined by measures to reactivate the economy and insure a fairer redistribution of wealth.

\u201CIndependence plus social alternative\u201D

In the current difficult economic situation, Junqueras is also stressing the Social-Democrat side of his party, focusing on ensuring the continuation of the Welfare State and also on finding measures to reactivate the economy. In fact, Junqueras often talks about entrepreneurs and the self-employed, in order to attract their support. Some of ERC\u2019s measures include changing taxation in order to reduce  the Income Tax (of which Catalonia has one of the highest in the world) and VAT paid by working- and middle-class people and creating new taxes on banks and speculators. In addition, ERC proposes implementing an annual fee for road transportation, as some other European countries have. In total, ERC calculates that these changes would generate an additional 1.7 billion euros in revenue.

With this money, ERC proposes to eliminate the drug-prescription fee. In addition, Junqueras would foster social rents for those people who are facing eviction cases if they cannot longer pay their mortgages because of the crisis. Furthermore, ERC proposes creating a Catalan public bank to fund essential infrastructure and help entrepreneurs export goods and services, created from the current Catalan Institute of Finance (ICF) and funded by the Catalan Government and the European Central Bank. In fact, ERC is requesting the modification of the ECB\u2019s mission, in order to allow funding projects to improve competitiveness, more in line with a development bank. In a political dimension, Junqueras ensures that an independent Catalonia would chose not to have an army, as other countries have done before, such as Costa Rica.

ERC leaves the decline behind

ERC has changed its leadership, following years of decline, with internal crises and scissions. Between 2003 and 2010, ERC ran the Catalan Government in a three-party coalition, with the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) \u2013 which was leading the coalition \u2013 and the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA). In order to run the Government, the 3 parties reached an agreement, which was to put Catalonia\u2019s independence claims onto one side, since the PSC defends a federal Spain with Catalonia in it. However, part of the ERC base did not agree with this decision and considered that the party\u2019s leadership was making too many concessions and was too keen to settle on middle-ground agreements with the Spanish Government. In addition, between 2004 and 2006, ERC gave punctual support to Spanish Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero to pass some laws in the Spanish Parliament. During those years, ERC put its Social-Democrat agenda before its self-determination one, when part of its voters mostly cared about independence.

A first warning signal for ERC was in the 2006 Catalan Elections, when they dropped from the 23 MPs obtained in 2003 \u2013 which was their best result ever \u2013 to 21. They lost 128,000 votes in this election. The 2007 municipal elections were another warning signal, when ERC lost 80,000 votes compared to 4 years previously. Internal fights were growing and in 2008, the party\u2019s Secretary General, Joan Puigcercós, disputed the leadership with the ERC President and Vice President of the Catalan Government, Josep Lluís Carod-Rovira. Puigcercós won the battle and put the stress onto Catalan independence. However, ERC remained in the three-party coalition running the Catalan Government and the internal crisis continued. Between 2009 and 2010, two of ERC\u2019s most visible members quit. Firstly Joan Carretero formed Reagrupament (RI), wich proposed a fast track towards independence with a right-wing programme. Secondly Uriel Bertran joined the populist Solidaritat per la Independència (SI), which also backed a fast track towards independence, being initially led by the former FC Barcelona President, Joan Laporta.

In the 2010 Catalan Elections, with the economic crisis, a generalised poor image of the 7 years of the three-party coalition and the scissions, ERC obtained its worst results in 20 years, dropping from 21 MPs to only 10 and losing around 200,000 votes in relation to the 2006 results (half of their votes). Puigcercós announced that he would step down from the leadership in the next party congress, which was organised after the 2011 municipal elections. These elections, held in May, were another disaster for ERC and in September 2011 the party went through a leadership change. Now, as in other moments in its 81 years of history, this anti-Monarchic, Left-Wing and pro-Independence party is likely to play a leading role in Catalan politics once again.

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  • ERC's leader, Oriol Junqueras, with the campaign's motto: "A new country for everybody" (by A. Moldes)

  • ERC's leader, Oriol Junqueras, with the campaign's motto: "A new country for everybody" (by A. Moldes)