Pere Aragonès: a discreet and moderate path to Catalonia’s youngest president

ERC politician with background in economics has held political offices since becoming MP at 24

The 132nd president of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès (by Rubén Moreno / Govern)
The 132nd president of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès (by Rubén Moreno / Govern) / Cristina Tomàs White

Cristina Tomàs White | Barcelona

May 22, 2021 11:40 AM

At 38, Pere Aragonès has become Catalonia’s youngest president since the transition to democracy in the 1970s and the first person Esquerra Republicana member to hold the post with full executive powers since the 1930s. But who is this pro-independence politician and how did get to where he is today?

The grandson of a hotelier and longtime mayor of Pineda de Mar, a coastal town an hour north of Barcelona, Aragonès is not the charismatic leader one thinks of when pondering the question of what it means to be a prominent politician. 

He’s more of the meticulous managerial type, known, for example, for his thorough study of superfluous tax money spending detailed in Spain’s official gazette, or for frequently measuring his words to avoid being the sole focus of attention. 

This restraint applies to his private life too: the snippets he shares of his home life with his wife, Janina—who actually used to be a member of the conservative Convergència party—their child Clàudia, and Neula, a 14-year-old dog, are always endearing yet calculated. 

And although he’s one of the few distinguished left-wing politicians who still always wears a suit and tie, he’s long been an active Esquerra party member, having joined the youth group in 1998 at the age of 16 before becoming their spokesperson from 2004 to 2007. 

14 years in political office

With a law degree from Catalonia’s Open University and a master’s in economic history from the University of Barcelona, where he has also begun his PhD, the politician has held various positions in politics since 2006, when he became an MP in the Catalan parliament at the young age of 24. He has also studied economic development and public policy at Harvard University. 

Ten years later, Aragonès was appointed Catalonia’s economy secretary, a post he held at the height of the 2017 independence push, and while many of his colleagues were charged and sentenced for organizing the referendum, Aragonès has steered clear of the same fate and has always denied having used public or international funds for this purpose. 

Magda Gregori, a journalist who describes him as the embodiment of “pragmatic pro-independence” politics in the only biography that has ever been written about him, openly questions whether Esquerra strategically protected him knowing that one day he would lead the party. 

With Esquerra’s party president, Oriol Junqueras, serving a 13-year sentence for sedition and misuse of public funds, and their second in command Marta Rovira in Switzerland to avoid trial, Aragonès became the party’s most senior member in 2018 as vice president in the coalition government with JxCat. 

When president Quim Torra was barred from public office in September 2020 for hanging yellow ribbons in solidarity with the jailed leaders from public buildings during an electoral campaign period, Aragonès became Catalonia’s interim president - a position he has maintained since then.

Differing approaches to independence

As a politician, Aragonès is a left-leaning euro-enthusiast who is very much in favor of independence, but has always taken a less confrontational approach than JxCat politicians. 

It is no secret this is one of the biggest hurdles the parties have had to overcome in order to reach a coalition agreement and to avoid a snap election. 

“There are different points of view, different strategic views, as to how we can achieve independence so we needed some time to put these two different views together,” the ERC politician explained openly.

And although seeking independence will be one of the key issues for the Catalan government in the coming years, Aragonès is clear that the effects of the Covid-19 crisis will also have to be countered. 

“The agreement between Junts and Esquerra Republicana is to continue working for Catalan independence,” Aragonès told Catalan News, but it is also “for the reconstruction of Catalonia after the pandemic.”