The stratagem of using the Catalan budget as a containment measure to make it possible to maintain the legislature with only 33 deputies - those that the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) has in Parliament - seems today an almost impossible task for Pere Aragonès after the Catalan Socialists (PSC) announced their conditions for lending their votes to the accounts. Things would have to change a lot for the Republicans to accept proposals that they have been rejecting for months and that the Socialists publicly present as pre-requisites for passing the budget: the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport and the commitment of the Catalan government to not obstruct it with initiatives in the Llobregat Delta that would affect it and delay its deadlines; the construction of the Ronda Nord highway between Sabadell and Terrassa (also known as the quart cinturó, Barcelona's fourth beltway); and support for the Vila-seca i Salou leisure project, better known as Hard Rock, obliging the Catalan executive to definitively approve the Urban Master Plan (PDU) to start construction in 2023. As well as a detailed and extensive investment plan in the most disparate areas, from the production model and the industrial fabric to the knowledge society and the implementation of renewable energies, and in between, spending in the departments of health, social rights, education, security and a long et cetera.
Thus, Salvador Illa has made a move after noting that the talks between ERC and PSC were, rather than progressing, going in circles after several meetings. In fact, the memorandum presented by the PSC this Wednesday is more the confirmation of the overall failure of the negotiations held since the beginning of October, when Together for Catalonia (Junts) left the government, than just another episode of being stuck. The device designed by the executive to conclude an agreement with Catalunya en Comú and from there to put pressure on the Socialists and reduce their room for manoeuvre, seems not to have given the expected result. In fact, Aragonès and his team have repeated the move made to achieve the president's inauguration: back then, they closed an agreement with the CUP and then pressured Junts to reach accord on became the coalition government. Illa has explained in recent days that what happened with the CUP and Junts, with whom ERC has breached its commitments, will not be allowed by the Socialists and that their trust in Aragonès is limited.
Aragonès's dilemma in this situation is not easily resolved. He needs the budget like the air he breathes, because if he doesn't get it passed, the end of the legislature runs a serious risk of arriving early. It is true that in five of the last ten years there have been budget extensions, but it is obvious that politically it is not the same to be missing three, four, five or half a dozen MPs to push them forward as it is when you have only 33 parliamentarians to govern while an absolute majority requires 68. If the issue is looked at a higher level, the government has already lost the opportunity to repeat the success of former economy minister Jaume Giró last year, when the public accounts came into force on January 1st for the first time since 2010: something that undoubtedly would have happened again this year if ERC had not pushed for Junts to leave the government or if the latter had not naively rushed into the abyss.
We will see how Aragonès solves the riddle: extending the accounts if he runs out of room for negotiation, as Oriol Junqueras initially proposed when Junts left the government; swallowing the difficult-to-digest recipe of the expansion of El Prat airport, the fourth beltway and the Hard Rock project - this is the easiest option within the complex package due to the interest it raises in the Tarragona regions - in addition to other not so pleasant demands from the Socialists; using, if he can, his negotiating power in Madrid to try to soften the PSC; or reconfiguring things with Junts, which would obviously go far beyond the negotiation of the Generalitat's budget and has much to do with breaches of the investiture agreement between the two parties.
He can also give this awkward can a good hard kick down the road, knowing that a no-confidence vote is practically impossible, since it would require an agreement between PSC and Junts, which, at the outset, must be ruled out . But politics is so changeable, much more so nowadays, that no ruler - Pedro Sánchez aside - likes a scenario which has many more complications than the manuals of political orthodoxy suggest.