Socialists seek to form Catalan government with separatist support

Spanish prime minister proposes new financing system for region

Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez has suggested his administration would be willing to introduce a regional financing system for Catalonia. Photograph: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg

Spain’s Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez is hoping that a proposal to overhaul the financing model for Catalonia will win enough nationalist support to allow his party to lead a new government in the region.

In a regional election last month, the Catalan wing of the Socialist Party was the clear winner, ahead of the pro-independence parties Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the more moderate Catalan Republican Left (ERC). However, the Socialists fell well short of a majority.

In recent days, Mr Sánchez’s Socialist-led government has suggested it would be willing to introduce a new regional financing system for Catalonia, where nationalists have long complained about the existing model. The proposal seems to be aimed at winning over the backing of the ERC to allow Socialist Salvador Illa to become president of the region.

In an interview with La Vanguardia newspaper, the prime minister said he was proposing “a unique financing model for such an important territory as Catalonia” as part of an overall review of the system nationwide.

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Catalonia has a degree of self-government, including control over education, healthcare and its own police force. However, most of the taxes the region gathers are channelled to Madrid, from where they are redistributed across Spain’s 17 regions.

The Basque Country and Navarre have a different arrangement whereby they control their own tax revenue, something which ERC and other separatist Catalan parties have been calling for as a prelude to independence.

However, ERC responded frostily to Mr Sánchez’s proposal, which party spokeswoman Raquel Sans said did not explicitly lay out a unique system for Catalonia. “We are demanding a financing model that is outside the national framework, of fiscal sovereignty, of having the keys to the money box, of gathering 100 per cent of taxes in Catalonia,” she said.

Socialist representatives are due to meet ERC counterparts on Tuesday to discuss possible support for Mr Illa in the upcoming investiture vote in the Catalan parliament.

However, it is still not certain that he will face the debate and vote, scheduled to begin on June 25th, let alone be in a position to win it.

Carles Puigdemont, the de facto leader of JxCat who is hoping to return to Spain soon on the back of an amnesty law after seven years abroad, has said he hopes to form a new administration. The parliament’s speaker, Josep Rull, of JxCat, must decide in the coming days who will face the vote. If no government can be formed, new elections will be called.

Those on the unionist right have been fiercely critical of the financing proposal. Carmen Fúnez, of the conservative Popular Party, said that Mr Sánchez was trying to ensure that “the independence party is paid for by all Spaniards with a financing regime that favours some while harming the majority”.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

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