Astrid Barrio, 13 August 2021
Professor of Political Science at the University of Valencia.
Image: José Luis Roca
The absence of Catalan president Aragonès in the conference of presidents was a preview of things to come, a lot of gestures with one hand and a lot of autonomy with the other
The first days of August brought us a meeting of the State-Generalitat Bilateral Commission foreseen in article 183 of the Statute of Autonomy after three years of not meeting, in which it is still a flagrant breach by the two administrations since it is mandatory, in accordance with its operating regulations, that this permanent body for relations between governments meet at least twice a year.
The meeting was fruitful. It was agreed to pay 200 million euros of the more than 700 million pending of the second additional provision of the Statute, to complete the transfer of the scholarships and to reactivate the transfer of Rodalies and other infrastructures as well as to establish a calendar of the different working groups on future transfers with the commitment to hold a monthly meeting until the beginning of 2022. But without a doubt the star measure was the agreement for the expansion of the El Prat airport, a measure that has generated divisions within the Government of Spain, since Podemos It is firmly opposed, and divisions also in the parliamentary majority that supports the Government of Catalonia since the CUP has also spoken out against it and considers it a red line, without knowing very well what that means and what it can translate into .
The measure has also generated a simultaneous attack on autonomy and the “more for us” by ERC, which was foreseeable, and also by Junts per Catalunya, which was less so, perhaps because the head of the branch, Jordi Puigneró, was forced to do it to divert attention from after the unfortunate paella scene threatened to choke him. Not even making a virtue of necessity for the first time, the two government partners agree on the convenience – beyond rhetoric and despite not renouncing independence, or even the mandate of October 1 – that it is necessary to try to govern and produce results.
Recover institutional normality
The summer parenthesis gives us clues as to where the legislature can go, while waiting for the content of the dialogue table to be convened in mid-September. From the outset, both ERC and Junts per Catalunya demand amnesty and the holding of a referendum. First of all, because the Minister of the Presidency Laura Vilagrà has opened the door for the first time to listen to other alternatives to the referendum, very good news because listening to alternatives and not approaching the dialogue as a monologue would have to be the sine qua non condition for any dialogue be worthy of such a name.
Putting intergovernmental mechanisms back into operation is a positive step to regain institutional normality in Catalonia, especially once the imprisoned politicians have regained their freedom thanks to the pardons. That is why the tantrum, if not the abandonment of responsibilities, of President Aragonès is unacceptable, not wanting to attend the conference of presidents held at the end of July in which the management of the pandemic and European funds for recovery were addressed. A decision that can only be explained as a preview of things to come, a lot of gesticulation with one hand and a lot of autonomy with the other.
The perspectives of the dialogue table are very uncertain due to problems of method and content. Of method because a dialogue between governments is not possible if there is not previously an internal dialogue in Catalonia capable of providing content that enjoys a broad basis of legitimacy. But also because the Government of Spain has not specified what its approach is, surely waiting for the PSOE to define its position in the Congress that it has to hold in October. This position may be able to count on the support of Podemos but neither with that of the PP and Ciutadans, surely more because of their willingness to oppose everything than out of conviction, nor with that of Vox out of coherence with their position contrary to the autonomous state, in a way that it is difficult to think about the possibility that substantive advances will come off the table. For the moment, what it will do for it is to gain time, a time that the Government of Spain must allow to manage the recovery and the Government of Catalonia to manage autonomy again.