Catalonia Calling! #17

A New Government of the Generalitat Takes Office - 16/1/2016

Following the special episode on Carles Puigdemont's investiture as president, Catalonia Calling #17 is called A New Government of the Generalitat of Catalonia Takes Office and centres around the make up of the new government.

The situation in Spain is also interesting as the Spanish Congress was constituted this week and the pacts and agreements will provide the backdrop to how the Catalan independence process pans out.

I close by tying up some loose ends regarding relations between Catalonia and Spain, Carles Puigdemont and the CUP.





Congress Moves into Gear

Following the outcry about Carles Puigdemont not mentioning the King and the Constitution in his oath when accepting the office of president of the Generalitat, it seems that the oath is perfectly legal and although they're still looking into it, the Spanish government's legal office can't do anything.

It was also quite amusing to see the new MPs in the Spanish Congress accepting their seats using all manner of different oaths. I think one of them even said it in Basque. Obviously if the government doesn't want people to break the rules, it needs to have some official regulations.

Incidentally, Esquerra Republicana leader Gabriel Rufián refused to meet with King Felipe, as is customary for all party leaders at the start of Congress, as a retaliation for the King not receiving Carme Forcadell.

In the choosing of the President of Congress, which is roughly equivalent to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the parties managed to agree to vote in the PSOE candidate, Patxi López, who is former Lehendakari of the Basque Country. The Catalan parties Democràcia i Llibertat and Esquerra Republicana also managed to get their own parliamentary groups with PSOE's help.

However, following the agreement in Catalonia, it appears that Pedro Sánchez of PSOE is keen not to be seen as giving in to the Catalans so he is refusing to accept any pact to form a government with Podemos unless they give up any idea of a Catalan referendum.

Fair play to Pablo Iglesias for sticking to his guns but a left-wing coalition is looking more unlikely, particularly as it will need the active support from the PNV and at least the abstention of the Catalan parties. The very powerful Andalusian bloc and most of the other PSOE barons are completely against softening their approach towards the Catalans so the rather affable Sánchez is in a bit of a fix.

Given the threat of Catalan insubordination, I think there has to be a reaction so some sort of government will have to be formed, even if it's only for a relatively short period, so the most likely option I can see is Partido Popular and Ciudadanos coming to an agreement and PSOE abstaining to make Mariano Rajoy, or quite possibly an alternative PP candidate, president of Spain. I might be completely and utterly wrong about this, though.

New Catalan Government

Meanwhile, Catalonia has managed to get a government together. After Carles Puigdemont was sworn in as president of the Generalitat on Tuesday, the new government took office on Thursday.

The make-up of the new government was already decided as a result of the Junts pel Sí agreement when Convergència and Esquerra decided to fight the election together and the agreement between Junts pel Sí and the CUP, which will hopefully give stability to the new government.

When Junts pel Sí formed Convergència and Esquerra agreed to divide the ministries roughly 60-40 and in order to get the CUP to provide stability, it was agreed to resprict the powers of the president by having three mega-ministries or areas under Oriol Junqueras, who is vice president, Raül Romeva and Neus Munté.

The three areas are Economy and the Treasury, Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency, and Welfare.

It is interesting to note that whilst Convergència have proposed party members, Esquerra have put forward a large number of independents.

Economy and the Treasury

Economy and the Treasury will be headed by Esquerra Republicana leader Oriol Junqueras, who is also vice president of the Generalitat.

Under him there are Jordi Baiget at Business and Knowledge and Josep Rull at Territory and Sustainability. Both are members of Convergència and very close to Artur Mas, who gave up his seat as an MP yesterday and so will be leading the party, and the independence process, in the shadows.

There are also two independents on Junqueras' team. Trades unionist Dolors Bassa will be Minister of Welfare, Work and Family and ANC activist Meritxell Serret will be Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Fishing and Food.

This is a particularly tough area to lead because finance has been the main bone of contention between the Generalitat and central government for over a decade and Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro keeps very tight purse strings especially if there's any suspicion that money is being spent on the independence process. It appears, though, that Junqueras will simply ignore deficit restrictions and allow the Catalan debt to build up. When Catalonia is finally ndependent not only will the Generalitat be able to finance itself but the responsibility for the debt will have to negotiated with other players.

From a tactical point of view, it's very good that a left winger is leading the Ministry of Economy because when a right winger is in charge, the CUP are permanently suspicious that any cuts are due to ideology rather than central government controlling finance. Even so Junqueras has announced that he will probably not try and get a new budget through Parliament, and work within last year's budget, in order to avoid a confrontation with the CUP.

Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency

Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency be headed by independent left-winger Raül Romeva, who also headed the Junts pel Sí electoral list in September and is a former MEP for Iniciativa.

He will be accompanied by two Convergència heavyweights. Meritell Borràs will be Minister of Governance, Public Administration and Housing and Jordi Jané will be Minister of the Interior, a role he occupied under Artur Mas. Esquerra Republicana will be represented by Carles Mundó at the Ministry of Justice.

This is the first time that the Generalitat has had a Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Spanish government are not surprisingly very annoyed at Catalonia already behaving as if it was a sovereign state. Apparently, the government's legal office is looking into ways to declare the ministry unconstitutional so look out for this as a potential source of conflict in coming weeks.

Welfare

Welfare will be headed by Neus Munté, who is also Minister for the Presidency and the government spokesperson.

Under her are independent socialist Toni Comín at the Ministry of Health, proposed by Esquerra, and Santi Vila and Meritxell Ruiz, both of who are proposed by Convergència, at the Ministries of Culture and Education respectively.

The CUP will be paying particular attention to this area because one of their prime interests is the social emergency plan and obviously, health and education are an important part of this.

They were particularly critical of Toni Comin and Meritxell Ruiz's predecessors, Boi Ruiz and Irene Rigau. In fact, at the start of the week, they announced that not that they had designated not only Artur Mas but also Boi Ruiz, Irene Rigau and former Interior Minister Felip Puig to "the wastepaper basket of history".

Some Loose Ends

This has been a particularly complex week in both Catalan and Spanish politics and by concentratng, on Congress and the new Generalitat government I was bound to leave some loose ends.

One of the things I failed to mention is that I think the independence process has become much more institutional than personal. Until now it often seemed like Mas versus Rajoy but with Mas standing aside and Rajoy, as only acting president, with much less authority, the conflict has moved onto to an institutional level. This can be seen by the failures to observe protocol in the king not receiving Carme Forcadell and the government not thanking Artur Mas for his services on one side and the King and Constitution not being included in the oath when Carles Puigdemont was sworn in on the other.

The creation of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs is another structural bone of contention and things are going to get even worse when the Catalan Parliament passes laws to create its own Treasury and Social Security system. We have some interesting weeks ahead.

Carles Puigdemont was interviewed on Thursday night and he came across as moderate and reasonable but also as very committed to the independence process. On the breakdown of institutional relations again, he pointed out that none, not a single one, of the political leaders in Spain had telephoned him to establish relations with the new president of the Generalitat yet. This was remedied by Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias on Friday but gives an idea of how much the breach between Catalonia and Spain is widening.

Puigdemont made it clear that he had become president of the Generalitat out of circumstance thereby leaving the door open for the return of Artur Mas, who has definitely not gone away and will have his office in the Palau Robert. He also mentioned that the period of 18 months was just a guideline and depending on what happened, the constituent process might be shorter or longer, which brought an immediate response from the CUP.

As I said last week, the CUP are here to stay because a certain section of society likes their aggressive approach. I'm coming to the conclusion that I don't like it very much and have always felt that they could help the independence process and also achieve their social objectives by joining the government and taking responsibility rather than sniping from the outside. Also if they were in such a hurry for Catalonia to become independent, if they had reached a definitive decision on the investiture of Artur Mas sooner, the constituent process would be well under way now.

They have announced that Gabriela Serra and Benet Salellas will be their first representatives on the Junts pel Sí parliamentary group. These are not the most diplomatic of choices but let's see if they start to understand the complexities of government and work in favour of the process rather than against it. Once Catalonia is independent their far left agenda will be perfectly legitimate and in fact quite desirable but whilst Catalonia has one hand tied behind its back by Spain, any hopes of social justice are quite simply impossible.


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