1 Aug, 2023 @ 18:30
2 mins read

Catalan premier takes advantage of political stalemate in Spain to push for independence referendum

Catalan president, Pere Aragones, among dozens of separatists hacked by specialist spyware in Spain
Cordon Press Image

THE REGIONAL premier of Catalunya today took advantage of the stalemate after last week’s general elections in Spain to put pressure on the Socialist Party caretaker prime minister Pedro Sanchez in a bid to achieve greater independence for the northeastern region.

Pere Aragones of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party said that Sanchez needs to ‘make a move’ and that a referendum on secession should be on the table in the future. 

“It is clear that there have been advances,” said Aragones on Tuesday after a meeting of his Cabinet, in reference to improved relations between the central government in Madrid and Catalunya. “There have been steps forward, but they are still insufficient to achieve a political solution.” 

He proposed that there be a new push for negotiations so that ‘Catalunya can vote on its future and there be an end to repression’. 

Parties such as the ERC have long been campaigning for an independent Catalunya, with the independence drive coming to a head in 2017 when an illegal referendum was held. 

Subsequently, a unilateral declaration of independence was declared by the Catalan parliament, prompting the central government to step in and suspend the powers of the region and call new elections. 

The inconclusive general election on July 23 has put the pro-independence parties in the position of potential kingmaker if Pedro Sanchez is to be voted back in as prime minister by deputies in Congress. 

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says he will seek parliamentary majority in Spain's Congress
Spain’s caretaker prime minister Pedro Sanchez. Cordon Press image

The conservative Popular Party (PP) won the most votes at the election, but fell well short of a majority – even with the support of the far-right Vox party. 

Sanchez is hopeful of repeating his feat after the 2019 elections and cobbling together a leftist alliance with the Sumar party, as well as counting on the support of smaller groups such as the ERC and the pro-independence Junts per Si (Together for Yes). 

At the elections, the ERC and Junts both won seven seats each, meaning that their support will be essential if Sanchez is to return to power in the 350-seat chamber. 

However, as Aragones made clear today, this support will come at a cost. Both ERC and Junts have already stated that they will want a commitment to a referendum on the future of Catalunya if they are to back the Socialist Party leader. 

Unlike his predecessor, Popular Party prime minister Mariano Rajoy, Sanchez opted for the route of dialogue with Catalan leaders during his term in office. He also made a series of concessions, such as pardoning the politicians and civil leaders who were jailed for their role in the 2017 independence drive, and changing the laws covering sedition and misuse of funds – two of the charges these figures faced in their trial. This has served to calm the waters between the region and Madrid. 

Future dialogue

Aragones said on Tuesday that his party would be happy to include Junts in any future dialogue with the Spanish government, and would even ‘change this forum for another if Junts is not in favour of it’. 

The ERC leader also insisted that the financing system in Catalunya needed urgent reforms, demanding that there be a deal so that ‘all of the resources that are generated in Catalunya stay here to finance our public services’. 

This last point has been a long-standing demand of the pro-independence forces in Catalunya, who argue that the wealth generated in the region should not be redistributed in other parts of Spain.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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