Catalan parties agree on new pro-independence government

Deal repeats ERC-JxCat coalition of the last legislature and avoids repeat election

Catalonia’s two main pro-independence parties have ended more than three months of stalemate by agreeing on the formation of a new coalition government.

The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (JxCat) will repeat their coalition of the last legislature. However, this time, ERC is the senior partner with its leading candidate, Pere Aragonès, becoming president of the region.

“We have an agreement to put into movement the new republican Catalan government,” Mr Aragonès said, in announcing the accord alongside Jordi Sànchez, of JxCat, who will be vice-president.

In an extremely tight election on February 14th, ERC came a close second to the unionist Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), with both securing 33 seats. With the Socialists unable to form a majority in the 135-seat regional parliament, ERC has been seeking the support of JxCat, which won 32 seats, to form a new administration.

However, with the two parties at loggerheads for much of the last legislature they were unable to form a new government until now. Their disagreements included the distribution of ministerial posts and the strategy to pursue regarding independence.

In March, Mr Aragonès lost two investiture votes, only receiving the support of the leftist, pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).

But with a May 26th deadline approaching, which would have triggered a repeat election, ERC and JxCat hurried to iron out their differences in recent days, leading to a deal that gives each party seven cabinet ministries. They are also likely to need the CUP’s support in the upcoming investiture, which is expected to take place later this week.

New deal

Mr Sànchez, who is serving a nine-year prison term for sedition for his role in Catalonia’s failed bid for secession in 2017, carried out negotiations from Lledoners jail. He was granted a special leave to appear before the media to announce the new deal.

“We are determined to work, from the first day of this new government, to ensure that if the [Spanish] state does not give a positive response to the demands of the independence movement, we will keep advancing to make self-determination viable,” he said.

ERC has taken a relatively gradualist approach to independence since 2017, advocating negotiations with Madrid in the hope of holding a formal referendum. JxCat has criticised that strategy, warning that the leftist Spanish government is not committed to serious talks.

The role of Carles Puigdemont, the leader of JxCat who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium, has been particularly divisive. ERC was concerned at the influence his so-called Council for the Republic sought to wield over independence strategy.

Salvador Illa, the Socialist candidate who won the February election, described the fact the same two parties were forming a new coalition as “the ongoing death throes of a failure”.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain