After a weekend fraught with tension over whether the Catalan government would be able to reach a pact to keep its draft budget alive, the hours leading up to this Monday's parliamentary vote on the bill - with a pact having been reached in extremis with the Comuns - were also full of stress between the two pro-independence government partners, Republican Left (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (Junts). The president of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, spoke at noon from the gothic gallery in the Generalitat palace, publicly announcing the agreement reached between his party, ERC, and the left-wing, non-independence party En Comú Podem to approve the admission to parliamentary processing of the budget this afternoon. He did so at the same time as Carles Puigdemont's Junts party was debating its response to this agreement, which the party's ministers in the Catalan cabinet had distanced themselves from on Sunday and whose details they learned this morning at an urgent meeting of the Catalan cabinet. Aragonès avoided giving any response to the complaints of his government partners and limited himself to asserting his confidence "that everyone will be up to the task".
The president also avoided explaining whether breaking the accord with the CUP will lead to the government being freed from submitting to a no-confidence vote at the mid-point of the legislature. When pressed on this point, he limited himself to admitting that the government partners will have to look at “how the agreement with the CUP continues”. "The legislature agreement is a chain of trust. I do not interpret anything as having been broken," he said, adding that he would keep his hand outstretched to the far-left pro-independence party.
The need to get a new Catalan budget passed was the recurring argument of the head of the executive in the face of all issues raised during his press appearance. It was also his response with regard to the uncertainty on the final position that would be taken by Junts in the vote. "As a government we must be above party positions that can be understood in a short-term context," he warned, adding that during this morning's cabinet meeting, the Junts ministers welcomed the possibility of being able to get the accounts passed by Parliament.
For Aragonés, "a majority is only broken if its goals are broken" and, more than the statements, "the important things are the facts and the votes". The president defended Catalonia's need for a new budget and yet again stressed the newest features of the project that the Government has finally agreed with the Comuns. "Catalonia needs a budget and it will have a budget, and it will come into force on January 1st," he said.
Aragonés made sure to express his gratitude to all the actors who still have to make it possible, with their votes this Monday evening, that the project will go ahead, and he assured that the pact with En Comú Podem "improves the government's initial proposal", but as well, he three times repeated his praise for the work carried out by the minister of economy, Jaume Giró, for a budget that he has described as "transformational" for life in Catalonia.
He also poured cold water on the suggestion that the agreement between the pro-independence parties, which obtained 52% of the popular vote in the February 2021 elections, had been destroyed, with the withdrawal of the CUP's support for the budget and the uneasiness of the Junts members. In fact, he said, the pro-independence majority had been strengthened with the entry of the Comuns.
A weekend of back and forth
The possibility of the CUP supporting the entry into Parliament of the budget disappeared on Saturday when the party's Open Parliamentary Coordination Group rejected the new offers made by the Catalan executive, which had included increasing housing funding to a total of 1 billion euros and setting up a working group to prepare for a new independence referendum within this legislature. “The budget does not respond to the political turn to the left or to the defence of social and democratic rights,” CUP deputy Eulàlia Reguant said.
Thereupon, the negotiations already underway with the Comuns took on a new urgency. On Sunday morning, however, a special meeting of the Junts party executive decided that it would not send representatives to the meeting between the government and the Comuns to be held yesterday afternoon, asserting that it would be dealing with questions of a political nature rather than budgetary issues. The Junts leadership asserted that the completion of a budget deal with En Comú Podem "breaks the majority of 52%" achieved by the pro-independence parties in February's election.
On Monday morning, after a special Catalan cabinet meeting, the government announced in a short note that a budget agreement with the Comuns had been reached.
Some of the content of the accord covers issues which had been subject to debate with the CUP - housing, the 061 emergency service, the Mossos' use of foam projectiles - but other agreements included a series of measures to boost public transport. As well, it was agreed with ERC that that party would, in the end, support the budget in the Barcelona city council as part of the deal for the Comuns' support of the Generalitat's 2022 accounts.
The first parliamentary debate on the draft budget bill began after lunch this Monday and will culminate in a vote at the end of the day's session on whether to admit the budget to parliamentary processing or send it back to the Aragonès executive for a rewrite.