Nacho Alarcón. Brussels
There are few simple marriages in Europe. Many people are surprised to discover that the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) sits on the liberal bench next to Ciudadanos, or that the PNV itself left the European People’s Party (PPE) only when the formation of Pablo Casado entered the family.
One of the striking marriages is that of the Green with the Esquerra Republicana of Oriol Junqueras. What does the European pro-environment family, which obtained a very good result in the last continental elections, do in alliance with the Catalan pro-independence party?
Well, everything has an explanation.
In addition to complicated marriages, there is another thing that Europe likes a lot: long and difficult names and surnames. Difficult marriages and long and complex last names is something that European nobility and politics have in common. To understand what ERC does in the pro-environment bank, it is necessary to know that the full name of the group is The Green / ALE, and it is the second part of the name that matters: the European Free Alliance, a party of pro-independence and regionalist formations in which the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) of Nicola Sturgeon or the Galician BNG itself are included.
In 1999 ALE was looking for a partner to share with them the message of defense of the right to self-determination. And the Greens were the best option. Then an agreement was signed that remains until today and that gives pro-independence parties a fairly visible role, with the guaranteed vice-presidency of the parliamentary group. Recently, Junqueras has been elected as vice-president of the pro-environment family, only a few hours after the European Parliament moved an internal note on January 6 in which it recognized the former vice-president of the Generalitat as MEP. On Friday, January 10, the European Chamber reversed this decision after the Supreme Court (TS) resolution and assumed the disqualification of Junqueras.
Ana Miranda, who has been MEP of the BNG between 2012 and 2013 and a second stage between 2018 and 2019, and who appeared on the lists with ERC and Bildu, explains that one of the keys to good cooperation with the Greens is that they are not intrusive with the members of ALE: “We have freedom on that issue (self-determination) and they have always respected our positions”, Miranda explains. “The issue of self-determination is very decisive for ALE and we have always had a lot of freedom, and that is why we are in that group”.
Diana Riba, ERC MEP, stresses that the group “defends Junqueras’ freedom because he is its MEP and because the TJUE itself has said he should be free and come to Strasbourg this Monday”. Junqueras has many sympathies among his former colleagues, as he was MEP in the legislature between 2009 and 2014, as was Raül Romeva in the ranks of the Greens.
The Greens admit and in large part share the messages in favor of the self-determination of ALE, but also have other points on the political agenda in common. However, there are some parties in the alliance that might have a general political agenda more in common with other groups. For example, Bildu is integrated into the European United Left. The problem is that in this group there are important sectors that are contrary to the right of self-determination.
The disagreements between ERC and the general group of the Greens / ALE seem few. VoteWatch voting analysis indicates that Riba follows their indications 99.4% of the time, a statistic that shows a continuous line with the loyalty shown by other ERC MEPs before her, such as Josep Terricabras.
But there are issues where there is a difference of opinion. For example, the Greens proposed to freeze cooperation with Russia for the annexation of Crimea, while ERC maintained a much lower profile.
20 years of relationships
The Greens / ALE have been the main voice in favor of Catalan independence in the European Parliament for a long time, since the current Junts per Catalunya was once part of the liberal family, where, once its openly unilateral drift began, Ciudadanos ended up managing to cause the expulsion of that party due to its cases of corruption and non-payment of quotas. Without belonging to any group, your voice in the European Parliament disappears automatically.
Therefore, now Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín are urgently looking for a group: without belonging to a political family, a European platform, they are left in no man’s land, without important networks of contact and influence. That is why both politicians have asked to join the Greens / ALE group, which will meet to discuss their request during the next week.
However, there is no complete closing of the ranks with the independence message, as Riba herself acknowledges: “In relation to the right to self-determination, I think it is a very heterogeneous group and there are diverse opinions”. But there is complete support for the request for freedom for Junqueras and a critical message to Spain regarding the management of the Catalan crisis.
The key figure is Ska Keller, a young German at the helm of the group, who does not sympathize excessively with the independence policy, but has been very critical of the imprisonment of Junqueras and the police charges of October 1, 2017. But Keller “has also criticized the independence side for the unilateral route”, recalls Luis Cornago, political risk analyst at Teneo. “Here the question of pacifism intermingles, which in some of these parties is usually very present, as well as the fact that they see with good eyes forms of more direct participation”, he says.
The Greens of 1999, who signed the agreement with ALE, are not the pro-environment party of today. The best sample is in the agreement that they have just reached in Austria to share the Government with the conservative party of Sebastian Kurz: they have made hard concessions against illegal immigration in exchange for obtaining environmental commitments so that the country is climate neutral in 2040.
The maturity of the Greens has come over the last few years and has been accompanied with important electoral successes not only in Austria, but also in Germany and the Benelux countries. They are no longer an openly leftist movement, but some of the pro-environment parties combine their environmental and social commitments with the political and economic pragmatism that allows them to reach European Executives.
As they approach positions of power they may leave those messages behind, focusing on other parts of their speech. Coming to power in a European country means admitting that the EU is a club of member states. The opinion on the situation in Catalonia varies in the different capitals, but at the moment of truth nobody speaks openly against the Spanish Government because the EU is a club of countries, and in a way they protect each other. Europe has been a guarantee that Catalonia would not become independent because it complicated any international recognition on the continent in a crucial way. Reaching an Executive also means learning that less colorful part of politics.
That is why “if the growth of Los Verdes is confirmed in different countries, it would be foreseeable that they may modulate their discourse on Catalonia more or that they will agree more with other political groups”, says Cornago.