The Catalan Socialists decide their future in the party congress

The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) is holding its 12th congress to renew its leadership and discuss its entire political project. After having lost the last elections, the Catalan Government and many town halls throughout Catalonia, the PSC feels detached from the majority of voters with many believing that it has lost its way regards it political project. Its attachment to social-democratic values, its connection with the Catalan municipalities, its defence of Catalan interests in Madrid, and the relationship with the Spanish Socialists are the main issues. Three mayors announced their candidacy to lead the party, which means that a synthesis looks more likely than a full renovation.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

December 16, 2011 10:33 PM

Barcelona (ACN).-  After successive electoral cataclysms, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) is analysing its current situation and looking closely at its future in its 12th party congress. After its worst electoral results in the party’s history taking place overt the last 13 months, which led to the loss of many public offices, including the Catalan Government, the PSC “hit rock bottom” as its current Secretary General, José Montilla, stated this Friday, on the first day of the congress. The PSC sees this meeting as an opportunity to close a chapter, renew its leadership and discuss its identity, values, mission, objectives, and strategy. The congress motto summarises this expectation and need: “New PSC”. Many voices, inside and outside of the party –mainly in the Catalan media–, have been insisting in the need for a profound renovation of the PSC leadership and political project, being the true Catalan Social-Democratic party and reaffirming its autonomy from the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). However, some other voices, mainly related to the current party leadership, have asked for a smooth and integrative transition, and neither opt for a full renovation nor focus the debate on the PSC’s relationship with PSOE. In any case, it seems difficult to believe that the PSC will be able to become the main political party in Catalonia without solving its identity dilemma and relationship with the PSOE. The times that the PSC acted as a true bridge between voters feeling more Spanish than Catalan, and those feeling more Catalan than Spanish seem long gone. Three candidates, representing two different ideologies and a middle option were to be elected. Finally, Pere Navarro, the Mayor of Terrassa, has been chosen as new Catalan Socialist leader. He represents what many consider a "renovated continuity".

The 12th congress main objectives were to discuss PSC’s identity dilemma –closely linked to its mission, objectives and strategy– and elect the new Secretary General and Party Executive Committee. There were three remaining candidates to lead the Catalan Socialists, after the incumbent Deputy Secretary General, Miquel Iceta –who has been in charge of the party for the last decade– stepped down due to a lack of support. The remaining candidates were all elected mayors from Catalan cities, but none of them was a Member of the Catalan Parliament. The PSC elected leader, Pere Navarro, represents a renovated continuity, while the other took a pro-Catalan approach, the “Catalanist soul” of the PSC.

The PSC’s two souls

The PSC is in fact an autonomous party within the PSOE, to which is federated. This peculiar relationship comes from the PSC’s foundation in 1978, being the result of merging two Catalan Socialist Parties with the PSOE representation in Catalonia. The heirs of the first two parties represent the so-called the “Catalanist soul of the PSC”, and the members with greater links with the PSOE, “the Spanish soul”. For three decades, both “souls” have managed to coexist, but in the last number of years the tensions have been greater than ever before. In the past decade the PSC has stressed its Catalanist sentiment to win the elections for the Catalan Government, but especially in the last number of years, it has not been fully consistent and conceded many issues in favour of PSOE interests and thus in line with its “Spanish soul”. In fact, many see today the PSC as more represented by its “Spanish soul” than by its Catalan one.

The PSC’s loss of voters

These last years made the PSC lose most of the “Catalan soul” voters, and the past pro-Catalan drive made the PSC lose the more “Spanish soul” voters. In addition, the party machine has increasingly controlled the PSC over the past decade, which has more links to the Spanish than to the Catalanist tradition. Furthermore, the party leadership has been perceived as detached from its traditional voters and the core left-wing values. All these factors play an important role, the PSC is at a crossroads and a turning point. Considering its close links with the PSOE, the future of the PSC will influence the PSOE congress early next year, which finds itself in a similar situation. It could also have an impact on Spanish politics, beyond the Catalan ecosystem.

Could the PSC split from the PSOE?

A victory of the more “Catalanist soul” would have had consequences for the Catalan political landscape and, very likely, for Spanish politics. The more pro-Catalan candidate, Joan Ignasi Elena –who was third at the polls– would had proposed the PSC to have its own group at the Spanish Parliament, split from the PSOE, as it already had in the first democratically elected chamber after Franco’s death. In fact, the PSC having its own parliamentary group has been a permanent debate within the Catalan party, which has gained increasing importance in the past year, after Spain’s Constitutional Court’s restrictive sentence against the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in July 2010. If the PSC split from the PSOE, with the last electoral results, the PSOE would have 96 seats instead of the current 110 in the Spanish Parliament. With the present absolute majority of the People’s Party (PP) it may not have any effect, but it is of symbolic and psychological importance. Furthermore it seems very difficult that the PSOE could ever win the Spanish elections without the PSC MPs. For instance, in 2008, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was re-elected with 169 MPs, 25 of which were from the PSC. The People’s Party won 154 seats. Without the 25 MPs from the PSC, the PSOE would have only achieved 145 seats, becoming the second party after the PP, who would have won the 2008 elections. Nevertheless, these hypothetical scenarios are quite fictional; because no one knows the exact support the PSC would have without the PSOE in Catalonia (as it may loose a significant percentage of its voters, those with a more-Spain-focused mindset). In addition, the PSOE could also split from the PSC and run separately in Catalonia, splitting the Social-Democratic vote.

The new Secretary General

There were three candidates to become the new party Secretary General. All three came from the municipal politics, and none of them seated at the Catalan Parliament. The winner, Pere Navarro, is the Mayor of Terrassa, a working-class city in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. Navarro represents a renovated continuity, a Lampedussian change, and he has received support from the most important party factions, that of the city of Barcelona and the Baix Llobregat County (in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area), among others. The Baix Llobregat is the faction that has controlled the party over the last number of years. Navarro could benefit from not being a very well known face in Catalonia. In addition, despite having received the support of the current party machine, he is not directly linked with it, and neither with the “Spanish soul” of the party. Therefore, some party delegates closer to the “Catalanist soul” do not see him as a bad option. In addition, Navarro will drive the PSC to a more left-wing project, closer to the Social-Democratic values.

The two other candidates represented the “Catalanist soul”, in fact, they presented a joint candidacy at the last mintue. They were Àngel Ros, the Mayor of Lleida, and Joan Ignasi Elena, former Mayor of the coastal town of Vilanova i la Geltrú, close to Sitges, in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. Ros is the PSC mayor with the best results in Catalonia’s largest cities. He was a moderate candidate. He represented the more right-wing part of the PSC, with a moderate Catalanist profile. He had the support of most of the historical “Catalanist” leaders of the party, such as the former Catalan President and former President of the PSC, Pasqual Maragall. Ros did not ruled out the option to split from the PSOE in the Spanish Parliament. The Mayor of Lleida proposed a formula that the party leader might not be the party candidate to become Catalan President. Since then, many perceive him as being more willing to become the next President of the Catalan Government, than the next Secretary General of the PSC.

Finally, Joan Ignasi Elena was not re-elected as mayor and does not have the full support of the party in his county (Garraf). However, Elena had the support of the most organised group within the “Catalanist soul” built around the veteran leader and current Member of the European Parliament, Raimon Obiols. Elena was the candidate of ‘Nou Cicle’, the platform around Obiols and defending the PSC creating its own group within the Spanish Parliament. Ideologically, Elena is closer to Angel Ros, and thus we could see why Ros and Elena united against Navarro.