The State of the autonomies was represented yesterday by almost all the presidents in the historic Plaza Mayor of Salamanca, under the presidency of King Felipe VI and the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez. Only the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, was missing. This is an absence consistent with the positions exhibited in recent years by the parties that govern Catalonia. Both ERC and Junts understand – and it is legitimate that this is the case – that Catalonia deserves bilateral treatment by the Government, rather than being diluted in meetings in which the rest of the regional presidents participate. However, by choosing to absent himself from this type of forum, the president ceases to act as president of all Catalans, since there is a half of the population that does feel that he should participate in that state that was represented yesterday in Salamanca.
Catalonia, beyond the ideas that pro-independence leaders may hold, has the right and duty to defend its interests in meetings where the objective is to coordinate political decision-making between the central government and the autonomies. Yesterday was an important day in this regard. The President of the Government announced the transfer to the autonomous communities of 55% of the European funds –10,500 million euros– that will be received this year, whose distribution criteria have yet to be established in a process that is expected to be controversial. Hence the importance of the debate held in Salamanca. In this context, the Government has already warned that there will be no bilateral negotiation of European funds.
The distribution of the 10,500 million EU funds among the autonomies is expected to be controversial
President Sánchez had previously expressed his discomfort at the absence of President Aragonès at the conference of presidents and at his refusal to collaborate in state affairs. Instead of attending Salamanca, Pere Aragonès traveled to Geneva to meet with the general secretary of his party, Marta Rovira, something that he could perfectly have done another day. His objective was to mark distances and show, as has been said, that the only thing that interests his presidency is bilateral dialogue. But this bilaterality does not benefit either from this type of attitude. The Basque Country, in this sense, knows how to combine multilateral and bilateral relations with the State much better than Catalonia and obtains from this a constant improvement of its competences and resources. In any case, most of the popular regional presidents agreed to criticize President Sánchez for his preferential treatment of these two autonomous communities.
President Aragonès – and in that he is not without reason – considers that the meetings of regional presidents have little practical use because there is hardly time to discuss matters in depth. He is not the only one who thinks alike. Other presidents, such as the Galician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, complained yesterday that President Sánchez had summoned them with little notice and that he had not sent them a prior agenda of the issues to be discussed. This explains why the conference of presidents, which took place for six hours in the San Esteban convent of Salamanca, had an informal character. During their speeches, each of the presidents presented their main demands without reaching specific agreements.
Certainly, the conferences of regional presidents should have greater political and legal weight as a State co-governance body and, likewise, be better prepared to be more effective. But, despite this, the meeting of all the regional presidents – at least once a year – is a unique opportunity to jointly discuss the challenges and problems of the State of the autonomous regions, which are many. The main one: the need for an updated and more equitable financing system.