Àlex Tort, 18 February 2022
Moncloa describes the meeting as “historic”, while the Catalan government sees “scant, timid and insignificant progress”.
The frequency of work of the Generalitat-State Bilateral Commission is approaching that stipulated by the Statute. For the first time since 2009, everything seems to indicate that this space for understanding will comply with the rule that it must meet at least twice a year. The first meeting in 2022 took place this Friday, in February. The previous one was six months ago. Another thing is the assessment of its effectiveness, with which both sides disagree completely. Night and day. As if they had been in two different meetings: while for the Catalan Government, with today’s meeting it obtained “scarce agreements, of little entity and too slow”, as the vice-president Jordi Puigneró pointed out, or “minimal and timid agreements” according to the councillor of the Presidency, Laura Vilagrà, more politely, for Moncloa the meeting has been “very profitable, very positive and very relevant”, in the words of the minister and spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez.
“We have managed to normalise a very important, statutory commission that has to do with the full development of the Statute,” Rodríguez added, referring to the frequency of the meetings. On the other side, for the Catalan Government, the meeting has served to put the seal of “conformity” on the agreements announced a couple of days ago and worked on for weeks. Little more. The content of the meeting in Barcelona, at the Palau de la Generalitat, was not enough for them, nor was the time it lasted. On the other hand, for the central government, “an historic agreement” has been reached today.
“There is a risk that the Bilateral meetings will end up becoming bilateral photos”, the Vice-President of the Catalan Government, Jordi Puigneró, has graphically expressed. In contrast, the version of the minister and spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez: “It is a great agreement, a good agreement (…). A historic agreement, and it is not a perception”.
The fact is that Rodalies is not on the table. It is the big pending issue, although it was agreed to deal with it in the specific commission on infrastructures and both governments gave themselves room to reach a framework and political agreement before this summer. Scholarships and study grants, an issue that has been dragging on for years, are still being dealt with, and for now there is a pre-agreement on the Minimum Living Income. “We have to go further,” Vilagrà remarked. The pacts do not satisfy their ambitions by a long shot, and Catalonia also reaps a resounding no to the transfer of the MIR call or the management of Salvament Marítim. On this last point, Rodríguez pointed out that they materialise “those that are possible today”.
The transfer to the Generalitat of the Turó de l’Home meteorological observatory (which dates from 1932 and is currently in disuse), the B-23 motorway (the B-30 is pending details), the management of the Xerta-Sènia canal, a series of wastewater treatment plants, the Barcelona civil registry and some rural properties. For the transfer of the management of the Minimum Vital Income there is “a pre-agreement”, along the lines of what is happening with the same issue in the Basque Country, and the creation of three technical committees has been agreed: for school grants and aid and for the 120 million that the Moncloa allocates annually to Catalonia to be managed by the Generalitat; for the transfer of the management of school insurance, and for the updating of the economic modules of the judicial bodies, which have been out of date since 1990.
Rodríguez insisted on the idea that after this meeting in Barcelona, “normality, dialogue and compliance with the Statute” have been restored. In order to ensure this, she cited the three technical papers, which for the Generalitat simply means moving forward slowly. The minister replied that in six months Catalonia has made progress in self-government that it has not achieved in a decade. And she even remarked on the transfer of the Turó de l’Home observatory, framing it in terms of “emotional issues” for the Catalans.
Despite the different versions, in any case, the Catalan Government is confident that progress will be made, even if it is at a much slower pace than it would like. There is a good tone in the Bilateral, above all, the two parties admit, since the two delegations are clear that everything related to the political conflict must be dealt with in another space: the dialogue table. The last meeting of the Bilateral was only five months ago, which had not been convened since the summer of 2018. And furthermore, the previous meeting dates back to 2011 – Mariano Rajoy’s governments wanted nothing to do with a mechanism enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy. Moreover, everything points to the fact that for the first time since 2009 this space will meet at least twice.
The Moncloa exhibits a willingness to dialogue in all its appearances and brandishes the 535 million euros it has allocated to agreements with different Catalan administrations since 2 August 2021, when the Bilateral Agreement was resumed. The Govern puts a footnote and recalls that these agreements “are within normality” and outside the Bilateral. It is this space that they want to promote, as they claim that this is a good instrument for improving the Generalitat’s capacity and for making progress in decentralisation, but also for consolidating trust.
“If this is the table where the government places the main focus, it is clear that this is not enough,” Puigneró stressed. Vilagrà agreed: “The building of trust is achieved through results, and today we have had results on some issues, but we want more relevant and tangible results”. On the horizon is the commitment to hold at least one more Bilateral meeting this year.