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The Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, has sought an alliance with key Catalan economic agents over the tussle he is having with the leader of the opposition Catalan Socialists (PSC), Salvador Illa, over the passing of the 2023 government budget. This Monday at midday, Aragonès called together the so-called Social Dialogue Council, which includes employers and unions, to inform them about the state of the budget negotiation. At the end of the meeting, the representatives of the economic agents agreed on the need to have the budget passed as soon as possible and called on the government and the opposition to reach agreement.

The meeting took place just hours after Illa placed the responsibility for passing the budget bill on the shoulders of the Republican Left (ERC) leader and warned him, again, that the PSC has already stated what its demands are. The forcefulness of the position of the Socialist leader, who warned last Wednesday that his party had set a deadline of one week for the agreement, is increasingly worrying the Aragonès government, which wanted to explain to the economic agents the progress that the new budget would imply in an attempt to obtain their pressure to facilitate the deal. From the president of employers group Foment, Josep Sànchez-Llibre, to UGT union leader, Camil Ros, there were calls for "maximum responsibility" from the politicians. "They must represent a recovery of everything that had been lost with the cuts", said Ros.

However, the executive is preparing for a scenario of non-agreement. The minister of the presidency, Laura Vilagrà, who appeared at the press conference after the meeting, insisted that the PSC has not yet responded to its latest proposal, stated that the executive does not understand "the delay in the response to the government" and criticized that the negotiation with the Socialists is blocked "by political calculations and by one specific issue [the Fourth Beltway]". Both Vilagrà and the economy minister, Natàlia Mas, who also appeared, pointed out that "if you put people first, there will be a budget as soon as possible" and that, otherwise, the reason will be that "other political calculations" have been prioritized. The ministers demanded "responsibility and solvency" from the negotiators.


Fourth Beltway

The ministers assured that the talks with the PSC have served to reach agreement on the budget issues and that the government has agreed to enter into negotiations on what it calls "the extra-budgetary issues" that the PSC has demanded, and that at this time the difficulty for the agreement continues over the so-called Fourth Beltway section, a highway between the metropolitan cities of Terrassa and Sabadell, which has long been a proposal and for just has been controversial. "We don't understand this blockage due to a specific issue", warned Mas, asserting that, nevertheless, the executive "is ready for all scenarios", referring to the possibility that an agreement will not be possible

In fact, the Fourth Beltway was the subject of a further political manoeuvre this Monday afternoon, when the ERC parliamentary group presented an amendment to a parliamentary motion earlier registered by the PSC on the highway. The Socialists' motion, to be debated at the next plenary session of Parliament, seeks to demonstrate that completing the infrastucture has the support of the house, but the ERC amendment attempts to water this down.

Thus, instead of making the agreement and financing effective during the first three months of the year, ERC wants to "agree on the project within the first semester of 2023", thus giving itself more time. In addition, the new text avoids referring specifically to the B-40 to defend the need for an agreement "that guarantees the drawing up of the project to improve mobility in Vallès Occidental will be agreed by the government with the councils involved". An option, then, that aims to leave the door open to study "all possible road improvement proposals", but among them, yes, the Fourth Beltway.

When questioned about the effect that this lack of agreement may have on ERC's support for the PSOE government in Congress, Vilagrà limited herself to replying: "If there has been a budget in the Spanish state and in the Barcelona City Council, I don't understand why there shouldn't be one in Catalonia."