It was not an easy decision, on the contrary, hence the serious countenance of Gabriel Rufián when addressing the Spanish Congress today. He told Pedro Sánchez that although he has not been able to reach an agreement with Pablo Iglesias, ERC would make the symbolic gesture of abstaining, even knowing that this uncomfortable position would not solve anything. Rufián, angered, scolded both Sanchez and Iglesias for their inability to understand each other.
"We will all regret it," he warned them. "Do you know the huge gesture of responsibility that this group is making? Do you think we can repeat it in September?", he asked, making a veiled reference to the Supreme Court's verdict against the pro-independence leaders, expected after the summer, a fact that "will make politics difficult".
The spokesman for the Catalan Republicans in the Spanish Congress had criticisms for both Sánchez and Iglesias. Pointing to the conservative bench, he said "look at them, they are applauding enthusiastically, if they had to agree, they would have agreed even on bonuses by now." He criticised Sánchez for the mistake of vetoing Pablo Iglesias because it "raised the price" of the negotiation. With regards to Iglesias he expressed regret that he did not accept what he had been offered. Even if they were "a couple of ministries," because "[then] you would have four years of life, which is extraordinary, and can show from within the government that you are better and cash in on it at the polls".
Earlier, Rufián had appeared with the Basque left -EH Bildu- to announce that the 18 deputies of the two pro-independence parties would vote abstention whatever may happen, in a last minute attempt to pressure PSOE and Podemos to reach an agreement. What's more, on Wednesday night, Rufián himself called both sides to ask them to act responsibly. But no luck. The differences between Sánchez and Iglesias have grown.
Despite knowing that without a left-wing alliance their votes were useless, ERC has decided to accept the wear and tear that this symbolic abstention can lead to between them and their pro-independence partners in the Catalan government. They agreed to it in a long and (in)tense meeting at the highest level on Wednesday evening. The meeting included the party's senior members, including secretary general Marta Rovira -an exile in Switzerland- who took part via videolink. From Lledoners prison, Oriol Junqueras had made his position clear: they had to send a message in favor of dialogue and negotiation to resolve the Catalan conflict.
At the end of his hard-hitting speech, Rufián gave Sánchez and Iglesias the storybook that Oriol Junqueras has written from prison for his children. This was done at the express request of Junqueras himself, ERC's president. Another gesture, like their abstention, charged with symbolism.