When the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, got up this Friday, his Catalan nightmare continued at full boil. Not just that. Against his hopes, on 22nd December, the pro-independence parties still held an absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament and they won't even need any votes from CUP to stop the rest of the chamber dead, whilst the PP, led in Catalonia by Xavier García Albiol, came last and could end up sharing the "mixed parliamentary group" with CUP who, moreover, beat them by one deputy and so would have the louder voice.
In Brussels, Carles Puigdemont watches developments from a distance without hiding his satisfaction. From exile, he plans to savour the moment, not hasten events and make no false steps. This was the first point for his to-do list once, on Thursday evening, the results were confirmed: the struggle with the Spanish state. The president's public appearance this Friday to evaluate the situation, beyond the comment that "the Spaniards have a hell of a mess" caught by a live microphone, was designed to keep the initiative in the showdown with Rajoy's executive.
Puigdemont has offered to meet the Spanish prime minister for talks in Brussels or wherever he wants in the EU, outside of Spain where he's dogged by a judge's warrant. He formulated his offer in a new large press conference, covered live by media from all over Europe. He proposes talks without conditions, however, given the election result, calls for the removal of article 155, the withdrawal of the Spanish police deployed in Catalonia and the freedom of the Catalan prisoners.
It wasn't an improvised, but a well-considered proposal. I came right at the start of the press conference. And, despite everything, Rajoy wasn't skilled enough to accept the invitation. Being asked about the question minutes later, he shrugged off the offer saying that the person he has to speak with is the leader of the party which won the most seats in the election, namely Ciutadans' Inés Arrimadas.
Those close to Puigdemont don't understand Rajoy's lack of competence. And they repeat: the key word is patience. There's no rush. Patience is also essential for the second item which the president finds on his to-do list: the investiture. The new Parliament has 20 working days to be inaugurated, so a deadline of 23rd January. The investiture debate has to begin at the latest ten days later. A long time to calculate moves well.
During the whole campaign, JuntsXCat said they have no plan B, that their only objective was the restore Puigemont to the presidency alongside the rest of the government. But the Parliament's rules say nothing about the possibility of investing a president in exile, a president who cannot attend the debate. As such, they've asked for reports from experts to see what solutions there might be to this situation if the Spanish executive don't allow him to return. Different ideas are being studied for the different scenarios which might arise.
Even if a long-distance investiture proves possible, for the 15 days of the election race, Puigdemont and his circle insisted that the wish is for the president to be at the government palace that day, and not in Brussels. Puigdemont, however, has avoided revealing what his movements might be on the subject.
The third item is the parliamentary group. The head of the list has called the deputies-elect to Brussels in the coming days. Some already headed there the night of the election itself or the following day. From now on, a team put together three weeks ago and to a large extent foreign to the world of politics will have to learn to carry out the internal work of a parliamentary group. On this point, alongside the person he trusts the most, his campaign director, Elsa Artadi, another key figure to emerge is Jordi Sànchez, former president of the Catalan National Assembly and second on the candidacy's list.
Despite still being imprisoned in Soto del Real near Madrid, his long career in the world of political activism and the trust built up over the last few months with the president make Sànchez seem one of the pillars of the group. And it's not inconceivable he could be for the government too. With him, ministers Jordi Turull and Jordi Rull also have to be there as essential pieces.
Similarly, his work during the campaign has left Eduard Pujol, former editor of Catalan radio station RAC1, the candidacy's spokesperson, in a notable position. The same can be said of the former member of the National Pact for the Referendum and new deputy, Francesc de Dalmases.
The fourth item which has to occupy the president's attention is his party. Puigdemont hasn't hidden his distance from PDeCAT during the campaign. Rather the opposite. The party's coordinator, Marta Pascal, took part in none of the main JuntsXCat campaign events. Nor did the party's president, Artur Mas. On the other hand, they made a show of all their signings coming from other parties, whether from PSC, ICV, or even ERC, apart from the explicit call former Unió leaders gave to vote for the list.
Although Artadi was part of PDeCAT's executive committee when it was founded last year, she had to resign her role in the leadership over incompatibility rules and, shortly afterwards, definitively cut her links by leaving the party. It appears, therefore, that the relationship between the party and the group won't be easy given that no notable member of the party's leadership is among the new deputies, at Puigdemont's volition. The closest is one of the latest inductees to PDeCAT's leadership, Lluís Font, who took on responsibility for Studies and Programmes at the start of December in the party's latest leadership shuffle and who was elected as a deputy this Thursday.
The distance between the party and JuntsXCat is such that, from the moment of the list's inception, speculation began that Puigdemont's candidacy could end up becoming the embryo for a new party which definitively overcomes the inheritance of the Convergència brand hanging over PDeCAT.
The fifth item, also fundamental, will be the relationship with ERC. After a very intense, extremely difficult campaign, Puigdemont will have to recover a dialogue which, according to the two parties, has never been interrupted, but which the campaign might have left tender. Neither JuntsXCat nor ERC has at any moment renounced its claim over the whole government. Puigdemont insisted that he wants to return to the government palace with Oriol Junqueras as vice-president and JuntsXCat events always saved a seat, empty except for a yellow ribbon loop, in protest of the imprisonment of their opponent. That said, both candidacies showed their teeth at times during the race.
Until Junqueras leaves prison, it will be Marta Rovira, the party's secretary general, who will lead ERC's negotiations with Puigdemont. This is nothing new, given that Rovira, as JxSí's spokesperson, already had a leading role in the coordination between the government and the parliamentary group.
Work is piling up for Puigdemont in Brussels. He'll have to face up to two intense, momentous months and take them on with a much reduced trusted circle and a largely inexperienced parliamentary group. And without rushing.