Seven challenges ahead for Torra’s cabinet

Road to independence, dialogue with Madrid and dealing with the impact of Spain’s latest harsh measures will be the hottest topics, along with catching up with day-to-day governance

Official picture of Quim Torra's new cabinet members on June 2, 2018 (by Marc Rovira)
Official picture of Quim Torra's new cabinet members on June 2, 2018 (by Marc Rovira) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

June 3, 2018 07:02 PM

Quim Torra’s cabinet, which took office on Saturday, is likely to have countless pending folders on its table. After seven months of direct rule, the Catalan administration is somehow paralyzed, according to an association of public servants. A lot of work needs to be done from now on, after this harsh measure was lifted upon the government inauguration. But seven hot topics stand out, some of which related to the legacy of last autumn’s political turmoil. Independence will also continue flying over Catalan politics.

1. Recovery from the effects of direct rule

President Torra has announced that one of the first measures of his cabinet will be launching an investigation on the effects of direct rule. This might end up in some judicial actions against the Spanish ousted government. In fact, Quim Torra has already taken the removed Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, to court, for breaching his official duty when blocking the nomination of some Catalan ministers.

Torra has also stated his intention to challenge in court the whole direct rule. His cabinet is also expected to file legal complaints regarding Madrid’s efforts to stop “eleven Catalan laws with high social content” during the period of direct rule.

2. Control of finances

One of the key measures of the former Spanish government in Catalonia has been taking over its finances. Spain’s ousted finance minister started a monthly supervision in 2015, which became a weekly one in summer 2017, ahead of the referendum. With direct rule, the seizure of finances was complete. This has just been lifted, but whether the monthly supervision in effect since 2015 will continue is an unanswered question. On Saturday, the new Catalan finance minister, Pere Aragonès, said that, after “a decision of the Catalan government,” the whole supervision will come to an end this Monday.

3. What about independence?

“We assume the commitment to move forward towards the construction of an independent Republic,” said President Torra during his cabinet inauguration. But how to do it, after the outcome of his predecessors’ attempt last autumn? The Catalan Parliament declared independence on October 27, 2017, but this has not been implemented. Torra has not unveiled his plans. Instead, he insists that waiting for a new “window of opportunity” is the new plan.

4. Dialogue with Spain

Carles Puigdemont asked for dialogue with Spain until the end, and Torra started with the same petition. But there is a clear difference: they are not facing the same Spanish governments. Torra’s new Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, has already pledged to “rebuild bridges” with Catalonia and engage in dialogue with its president. Yet one close ally of Pedro Sánchez showed readiness to implement direct rule again if a road to unilateral independence is launched –yet he said that some days before placing a vote of no-confidence against Rajoy, and being successful only with the votes of pro-independence parties.

5. Jailed and exiled leaders

The first thing Torra said in his swearing in speech was that Carles Puigdemont is the legitimate Catalan president, not him, and that his term is only "provisional." Appointed by his predecessor, Torra has already explained that the road to independence will be launched with three pillars: his government and Parliament, the town halls, and the leaders in exile. Puigdemont and maybe some of his deposed ministers are set to play a relevant role in Catalan politics, but to what extend will they influence the future of the country?

The trial to the 25 officials who shaped last term and the latest clash of wills with Spain last autumn is expected for this autumn. How will handle the new government a possible 30-year prison sentence to the 13 officials who are being prosecuted for rebellion?

6. Catalan case abroad

The whole Catalan case might end up in the European Court of Human Rights. And the Catalan executive might play a leading role. The main pro-independence parties spent some months trying to swear in as presidents three MPs, including Puigdemont but especially one in prison, Jordi Sánchez. Their bids were blocked by Spain’s judiciary, despite having their political rights as MPs in force. Sánchez is in pre-trial jail, thus has not been convicted. This, and the fact that nine officials are in precautionary prison more than 600km far from their families, along with the Spanish police violence during the referendum day could end up in Strasbourg court.

In terms of politics, the Catalan case has not garnered sympathy among the leading figures of the EU. This might be a challenge for the new Foreign Affairs minister and former MEP Ernest Maragall.

7. Day-to-day governance

The day-to-day governance will not be easy either. The newly elected executive has not got the majority in the chamber. Only with the loose ally -but formally part of the opposition- CUP far-left pro-independence party they would pass a new budget.

The ordinary challenges of any government are also in stake in Catalonia. The country has a 12.5% unemployment rate, a health system suffering from cuts at the peak of the crisis needs more recovery, the debt is at 34.8% of GDP and despite the country’s annual growth being more than 3%, a lot of pending folders will need of some funding. And finding money for every project will be one of the top day-to-day challenges of Torra’s cabinet.