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Fifteen meetings later, the Catalan government and the PSC have still not managed to reach an agreement for the 2023 budget. A pact, however, is close, and could be finalised in the coming days. Socialist spokesperson in Parliament, Alícia Romero, stated this Monday, when in statements to the media she opened the door to an understanding with the Catalan government in the meetings scheduled this week. But just a few hours later, the Catalan government, by suprise, issued a statement in which it said an agreement with the PSC had been reached, having accepted 87% of its demands. These statements hit the Socialists like a bucket of cold water. Alícia Romero talks to a team of to explain her party’s version and charges against Catalan president Pere Aragonès’ government’s last twist in the budget negotiations.

Alícia Romero, PSC's spokeperson in the catalan Parliament / Photo: Pau de la Calle

The Catalan government says there is already an agreement with the PSC. Is that so?
No. There is no agreement with the Catalan government. Neither a preliminary one, nor a partial one, nor any type of agreement. We continue negotiating, as we have done already in the fifteen meetings held. We will have an agreement if we reach the final negotiations and the commitments we ask for are assumed. It is President Pere Aragonès who has the responsibility to submit the budget with the agreement of the PSC.

Has nothing been signed, not even on one side?
Obviously, no document has been signed. There has been some progress in some areas at meetings, but there is no partial agreement. We have covered some issues, there are areas in which there is broad agreement and we are making progress. We presented the document with our proposals, which they had already, and they know what they are. We ask them to fit them in their budget, because we do not have all the data. They are the ones who, knowing the budget’s details, have to make room for our our proposals.

A negotiation ends when you reach an agreement, and it has not been reached

Why does the Catalan government say there is an agreement?
The Catalan government often follows a policy from the past, an old policy. It burns bridges and undermines trust. It cannot exit a meeting and say that when we have not agreed on any figure nor any document yet, but we are negotiating. A negotiation ends when you reach an agreement, and it has not been reached. The Catalan government has very old-fashioned ways and generates mistrust. It is difficult for us to work with ERC sometimes, we hope that they will rectify. We have forwarded the proposals we want incorporated into the budget. A budget that must be negotiated as equals, not be simply accepted. President Aragonès must make an effort if he wants the support of the PSC. The responsibility is his.

You say that the Catalan government "generates distrust" with communiqués like this one. Does it jeopardise a final budget agreement?
We don't think about the Catalan government, we think about Catalonia. We are positive, and we believe we can still reach an agreement. We have been working, and tomorrow we will have another meeting with the Catalan government. We will express our dissatisfaction about the figures submitted and the mention of a first agreement when there is nothing signed. We will continue working because it is important for Catalonia to have a budget. But President Aragonès must understand that all Socialist proposals must be incorporated. Yesterday, figures were given that can be quickly shown to be wrong by taking the document and adding them up. We have always given the same figures, and we have had the same document, we have added nothing.

Speaking of figures, the Catalan government says it has accepted 87% of the demands of the document you presented last week. Is that so?
No, it is not. These 5,386 million are not there. Our proposals for 2023 amount to 3,000 million, and this has always been the figure because there is nothing notably new. I don't understand this 87% either. Some things have been evolving at meetings, and have been accepted, but there is a long way to go. In fact, we may agree on some measures, but we disagree on the figure, and I do not know if the Catalan government has them at 87% or 13%. And there are measures that do not generate expenditure for the Catalan government, and we do not know if they are at 87% or 13%. These are figures that have to be discussed with the other group to see if we agree before publishing them. We have made a proposal of 3,000 million for 2023, which increases to 7,000 if we count the long-term investments, but we have also proposed an 800 million euro increase in the expenditure ceiling, which is feasible, and to eliminate some expenses.

Our proposal is 3,000 million for 2023, which increases to 7,000 million if we count the long-term investments. It doesn't add up to 10,000 million, I don't know where they get this figure from

Have you been told what measures are in the 87% of accepted ones?
No. One reason for our disappointment is that they did not send us the communiqué beforehand, and they have not told us which measures have been accepted, whether they are with figures or without figures. Yesterday, in the meeting, minister Natàlia Mas gave us this percentage, and we already told her that our figures are not the same as hers. When we disagree because a higher figure we don’t agree on is quoted, it's bad to make a press release unilaterally. We should build trust.

The Catalan government says they have accepted measures worth 5,386 million, but that you still want 5,000 million more. You were talking about 3,000 million for 2023 and 7,000 million if long-term investments are taken into account. How do you understand this disparity in the figures?
It is as simple as taking the document we presented on December 28th and adding up the figures. They do not add up to 10,000 million. For 2023 we are asking for around 3,000 million and a bit more, and if you add up the long-term investments they add up to around 7,000 million, assuming that some of them are up to 2030. I do not know where they get this figure from, I do not know what sums they do. If it is a strategy to end up taking the budget to Parliament without agreeing to it with us, it is a bad strategy.

Are you afraid the Catalan government will approve the budget next week, claiming it has already agreed on 87% of it with you?
If they do, it’s up to them. We have stated many times that this is not the way. The way is to agree before taking the budgets to Parliament. The 87% figure is their figure, it is not agreed upon with us. I can also say "30%". If you want budgets, things must be done the right way. If they do that, they know what situation they may find themselves in. We should all be responsible, especially President Aragonès. Our proposals are common sense, in order to move Catalonia forward, they must fit them into the budget. I don't understand this strategy of beating about the bush and making a mess of things when there are still two meetings left to reach an agreement.

Sources of the Catalan government have labelled some of the demands that have been rejected, such as the extension of the L3 Metro line to Esplugues de Llobregat, as “letters to Santa”
They are cheating. We asked for a long-term investment to make this extension, and for 2023 we have only asked for items, even if they are of one million euros, to bid for construction. The 337 million will not be spent in one year. We want to have the commitment that this will be done. It is the same with some hospitals, we do not want them to tell us that the projects will be drawn up, we want a budgetary line to show to show that this is really going to happen. President Aragonès, during the election campaign, presented the model of the new hospital in Calella, and we don't know anything about it. We want to take a leap forward in infrastructures, we have lost opportunities because we have not decided on things, such as the Ronda Nord Beltway and the Airport. The Metro is one of our bets. If they don't want it, let them say so clearly, but for us, it’s important that it is in the agreement.

Alícia Romero PSC / Pau de la Calle
Alícia Romero PSC / Pau de la Calle

Should the Catalan government give in to all your demands, which at the moment it rejects?
It has to negotiate, and that means giving in, it means accepting things you would not if you had 70 MPs, but they have 33. I find it hard to understand that a Catalan government like ERC’s wants to continue imposing its vision of the country. It cannot impose it, it has 33 MPs, it is losing votes in Parliament every day. And something even more serious: it abstains from many decisions. How can a Catalan government have no position? The country waits for the Catalan government to make final decisions, often for electoral interests, whether to move forward with a project or not.

In yesterday's communiqué, the Catalan government accuses the PSC of "budgetary engineering". It says that, if the PSC wants to do that, it would have to accept the tax increase agreed between ERC and the Commons.
The tax increase is not 5,000 million euros, among other things. Their arguments are peanuts. Some taxes they want to create will have no impact on the 2023 budget. Do not be fooled, we are not fools. We have been working on budgets for many years. We are responsible and serious people, and if we increase the spending ceiling it’s because we believe it can be done, analysing the numbers and this year’s budget execution. You could also eliminate some expenses you do not mention. Do we need a delegation of the Catalan government in the province of Barcelona?

There are no additional proposals, there have always been the same ones and they have had them since day one. They are getting dizzy and tangled up.

Is the PSC willing to give up some of its measures which the Catalan government considers too expensive?
Let them tell us which ones are too expensive. The most important and resource-intensive package is Health, and this is probably where there is more agreement because the sector is pressuring us. This is precisely the package on which we all agree and which will probably go ahead. It is with the rest that we will surely have difficulties, and they are smaller figures that can be assumed perfectly. There are things about which they do not agree, but I hope they will, taking into account that they do not have the necessary support to approve a budget.

In the communiqué, the Catalan government says that "now" the PSC asks for "additional proposals".
That is not true, there are no additional proposals. In the December 28th document there is no addition of 5,000 million. They have always been the same proposals. They have had them since day one, with the figures and with the long-term investments. I do not know where they get these 5,000 million from, but they do not exist, there are no new additions to the December 28th document. It is true that we have changed the order, incorporated projects to be unblocked, but none of them have any cost. Honestly, I do not know where they get this figure from. It is all very confusing, and it's not the right thing to do at this time.

Despite the communiqué, can there still be a pact this Wednesday or Thursday?
Yes, we are here in order to agree to a pact, we are working towards it. But the negotiation must have a series of elements that we have put on the table. In spite of the mistrust generated by communiqués like yesterday's, of which we did not know and with data that we do not know where it comes from, we believe that Catalonia deserves a budget, and we are working towards it. But the Catalan government must understand that, in a negotiation, both parties must feel comfortable. At the moment we do not feel comfortable and that is why there is no agreement.

Do you think the Catalan government is in a battle for the narrative with this attitude?
Surely it is in a battle for the story, anticipating the possibility that there is no budget. The Catalan government should be more serious and more loyal to the other party with whom it is negotiating and which has 33 MPs who could support the budget. In spite of everything, and although tomorrow we will share our surprise for the information we did not know, we believe that this budget is important, we have worked hard. Tomorrow we will have a new meeting, and we can still get there if the Catalan government makes an effort to incorporate these measures.

Despite the mistrust generated by statements like yesterday's, we believe that Catalonia deserves a budget, and we are working towards it..

Does the attitude of the Catalan government, beyond approving the budget, pave the way for the PSC to demand elections or propose a vote of no confidence?

We will go step by step, now we focus on the budget negotiation. We will see how it ends, we hope it ends well. This is a very weak Catalan government, which finds it very difficult to approve things in Parliament because it is very difficult to negotiate and maintain a dialogue. That is why it loses so many votes. If the Catalan government maintains this attitude, it is difficult for me to imagine that it can continue, and therefore we will finally see what the PSC decides to do. At this time, the country needs stability.

 Alícia Romero PSC / Pau de la Calle
Alícia Romero PSC / Pau de la Calle