Spanish Socialist leader ramps up criticism of Catalan president
PSOE head Pedro Sánchez again calls Torra a ‘racist’ while Catalan party wing takes softer tone
Catalonia’s new president, Quim Torra, has come in for plenty of criticism since he was appointed last week. Yet, one quarter from which the censure has been particularly strong is from the head of the Spanish Socialist party, Pedro Sánchez. After comparing Torra to French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, Sánchez on Wednesday called the Catalan president a “racist supremacist who denies the identity of half of society.” Sánchez’s words came a day after Torra called on the PSOE head to apologize for his previous similar comments.
"I regret that some tweets taken out of context addressed to the Spanish government offended some people,” Torra said during his investiture debate last week. He called for a “republic for everyone” and stressed that “for the Spanish people and the Catalan people, freedom means republic.”
Talking on Spanish television, Sánchez hit out at the ERC pro-independence party for choosing Torra as president, and he accused him of wanting to extend direct rule of Catalonia. Sánchez showed no intention of softening his tone towards Torra, despite the Catalan president on Tuesday expressing surprise at the “harshness” of Sánchez’s words and asking him for an apology. Yet, the PSOE leader reiterated that “neither racism nor supremacism could solve the Catalan crisis.”
"Racist shame of secessionism"
Sánchez’s attack on Torra is not the only one. Earlier in the week, the Socialist leader suggested that Torra’s election as president had unleashed the “racist shame of secessionism.” Comparing the Catalan president to xenophobic populists like Le Pen, Sánchez said “Torra is nothing more than a racist at the head of the Catalan government.” In particular, Sánchez made reference to controversial tweets made by Torra before becoming president, for which he has publicly apologized on more than one occasion.
Speaking about Torra, Sánchez proposed to sanction politicians whose actions discriminated against certain citizens. He said that this measure could affect politicians who take measures to prevent immigrants from receiving health care—an example that sparked controversy, as Torra himself promised to recover Catalonia's Universal Healthcare Bill, suspended by Spain's Constitutional Court, which allowed some 180,000 immigrants to receive health support.
"Torra is nothing more than a racist at the head of the Catalan government"
Pedro Sánchez · Spanish Socialist leader
However, it does not seem that everyone in the Socialist party shares Sánchez’s low opinion of the president. The PSC Catalan Socialists, for example, while admitting Sánchez’s interpretation of Torra’s tweets as legitimate, also added that they hoped “his actions as president would disprove them.” A PSC spokesman felt it necessary to insist this week that the Catalan branch of the Socialist party was working “in tune” with the Spanish branch, although the tone used was much softer than that adopted by Sánchez.
“I did not like the term racist,” says Catalan Socialist mayor
The biggest divergence between the Spanish and Catalan wings of the Socialist party came in the shape of comments made by the PSC mayor of Tarragona, who publicly spoke out against Sánchez’s comments. “I did not like the term racist used by the PSOE secretary general,” said Josep Félix Ballesteros this week. Speaking on Catalan television, Ballesteros called Sánchez’s words “bad mannered” and he played down Torra’s old tweets, saying: “We can all end up writing things we regret.”
The Socialists have also called for the formulas used in taking office to be regulated. Torra repeated the oath of office taken by Carles Puigdemont, which excludes mention of the Spanish Constitution or the monarch, and commits the president to only heeding the will of the Catalan people. “We want to regulate and specify the appointments of high-ranking posts so that they swear loyalty to the Constitution,” said Sánchez last week. In contrast, a PSC spokeswoman said Torra’s taking office was “impeccable” and said “there’s nothing to object to."