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Three lost years? Catalan parties reflect on a turbulent political cycle

The independence push and Spain’s backlash remained ubiquitous — until the pandemic came

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20 December 2020 09:35 AM

by

ACN | Barcelona

It’s been three years since Catalonia’s bid to hold a referendum and become independent was thwarted by Spain’s backlash and a wave of judicial cases and imprisonments that last to this day.

The rise and fall of Quim Torra as Catalan president can perhaps best summarise how the lingering effects of the independence push were ever-present throughout this period—at least until the coronavirus pandemic took center stage last March. 

A pro-independence activist and political newcomer, Torra was personally chosen by Carles Puigdemont to succeed him in May 2018 after the former Catalan president went into exile and was banned from reclaiming his post from abroad despite enjoying support from a majority of lawmakers. 

  • "All citizens need a working government, whether they support independence or not"

    Carlos Carrizosa · Ciutadans leader

Torra was sacked last September when Spain’s Supreme Court upheld a disobedience conviction for not removing yellow ribbons and a banner in support of jailed and exiled Catalan leaders during an electoral period.

While pro-independence parties clung to a parliamentary majority granting them control of the government, they struggled to agree on a common political roadmap, marred by partisan infighting leading to questions regarding whether a decade-long pro-independence alliance is gone for good.

With the next election set for February 14, Catalan News spoke with the leaders of all of the political parties in the Catalan parliament to reflect on the last three years and what to expect from the next political term.

Ciutadans: "Bewildering and mismanaged" 

As the largest political party in the Catalan parliament and anti-independence champion, Ciudadanos (Cs) has remained the most blatant detractor of pro-independence parties in the chamber.

The party leader in Catalonia, Carlos Carrizosa, describes the last three years as "bewildering" and "mismanaged", stressing that "all citizens need a working government, whether they support independence or not.”

With polls predicting Cs to lose nearly half its seats, Carrizosa hopes the next election will help "put the focus, for the first time in many years, on the real problems that Catalan people face."

JxCat lashes out at Spain’s "repression" 

Led by Puigdemont from exile in Belgium, Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) emerged as hardline advocates of Catalan independence, distrusting any negotiations with Spain. 

The head of the party in the chamber, Albert Batet, said the last three years were marked by Spain’s "repression" undermining the sovereignty of the Catalan parliament. He also regretted pro-independence parties’ failure to agree on a common political roadmap.

With Torra banned from public office, JxCat’s choice to try to remain the most voted pro-independence party in February is Laura Borràs, the former culture minister currently serving as an MP in the Spanish congress.

Catalan president Quim Torra, jailed leader Oriol Junqueras, and Parliament speaker Roger Torrent (by Mariona Puig)

ERC defends dialogue after "the hardest" political cycle  

Esquerra (ERC) has been criticized by pro-independence allies for being too “naive” for defending dialogue with Spain. With its leader Oriol Junqueras in prison, ERC believes the independence camp should now focus on widening its social support.

The president of ERC in the Catalan parliament, Sergi Sabrià, says the party is "always willing to pursue dialogue", even with those whose opinions are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, and who advocated for putting independence leaders behind bars. Sabrià described this past political cycle as "the hardest", adding that it started with Spain taking over Catalan institutions and dissolving the legislature to call for another election. 

Vice president Pere Aragonès, currently serving as interim president after Torra’s removal, will be ERC’s presidential candidate.

Socialists call for "unity where there was division"

After years of sustained losses, the Socialists have reemerged thanks to Pedro Sánchez’s rise as the president of Spain, helped in part by pro-independence parties who saw him as a lesser evil next to the conservatives. 

The Catalan branch of the party, PSC, hopes to reclaim its status as a political heavyweight and become the largest unionist party in parliament.

PSC leader Miquel Iceta believes that the last three years have been "lost", and says the last decade was lost too due to the independence movement. Iceta’s hope for the next election is to have "unity where there was division", and "excellence where there was mismanagement". 

Left-wing CatECP sees "no progress nationally or socially"  

The political heirs of the 2011 anti-austerity protests, Catalunya En Comú Podem is the only party standing in-between blocs, defending Catalonia’s right to hold a referendum but rejecting the independence roadmap.

CatECP leader Jéssica Albiach says Catalonia has made "no progress nationally or socially" in the last three years, which she blames on "political infighting among pro-independence parties".      

Calling to "overcome political fronts", CatECP could be the key to distancing ERC from JxCat and forming a left-wing government where independence is not the main issue—but if polls are to be believed, Albiach is unlikely to gain enough votes to position her party as a credible ruling alternative.

CUP accused pro-independence allies of "capitulation"  

Far-left CUP, the smallest pro-independence party in the chamber, but essential to ensuring a parliamentary majority against unionists, accuses its allies of "capitulating" and being "inoperative" when dealing with Catalonia’s social and economic needs. 

According to the party leader in parliament, Carles Riera, "the best thing of these past three years has been the people, while the worst thing has been the institutions, including the parliament and the government, which failed them."  

CUP recently chose former Badalona mayor Dolors Sabater as their presidential candidate in the upcoming election, hoping to attract progressive voters.

PP regrets "divisive politics"

In three years, the conservative People’s Party has gone from leading Spain during the peak of the Catalan crisis, when it ousted Puigdemont’s government to impose direct rule, to being removed from power with the support of pro-independence parties. 

"They went on with their divisive politics, which divide Catalan society in two," said PP’s leader in Catalonia, Alejandro Fernández, who laments the last three years have been "lost" and "bad for Catalans".

Fernández hopes that the next election will bring a change to Catalan politics "to put an end to nationalist governments", but his party will also face increased competition from far-right Vox as polls predict it will enter the Catalan parliament for the first time.

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  • A Catalan parliament session bin February 2020 (by Marta Sierra)

  • A Catalan parliament session bin February 2020 (by Marta Sierra)

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