"Outraged", "perplexed", over a "pressure ploy", a "veto"... Catalan president Pere Aragonès was visibly annoyed this Thursday morning and said so when he spoke to the media on the Spanish government's decision to suspend the plan to expand Barcelona's El Prat airport. He attributed the move to an attempt by the Spanish state to impose its own will as well as to the internal differences within Pedro Sánchez's executive, assuring reporters that this crisis will not derail the dialogue table on the political conflict to be held next week. “There are a lot of people who want the negotiating table to fail, I won’t be the one to make it do so,” he advised.
In his appearance in the Generalitat palace, the president, in an indignant tone, went through what he described as changes in the Spanish government's position after the agreement on the airport expansion was reached on August 2nd, explaining that yesterday, unexpectedly, Spanish minister Raquel Sánchez publicly communicated the breaking off of the deal. He said that Spain's government had broken that pact "unfairly and unilaterally" and reiterated the blackmail employed by the Spanish executive and the airport operator AENA .
"Either their way, or not at all"
"Either we accept their way, or there's no deal. It is therefore a blackmail operation, and they have never had a will to invest in Catalonia, and least of all in the airport," he retorted, while attributing the U-turn to "excuses" after trying to impose a "developmental model from a bygone era."
Aragonès, who even admitted that he doesn't usually speak in such a tone, attributed the decision to "making poor excuses for an attempt to pull a swindle" on the Catalan government, when in fact, as he said, the differences on this issue are within the Spanish government. The Catalan executive pointed out that the announcement of the suspension came the day before Spain's third deputy PM Yolanda Díaz (Unidas Podemos), who yesterday celebrated the suspension, was due to accompany the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, to the Ricarda lagoon to protest against the expansion plan.
Differences with Junts
He did not want to enter into the differences that this situation has made evident between the two Catalan government partners, after vice-president Jordi Puigneró yesterday aired his own annoyance at the statements critical of the plan made by ERC leaders. "With this pressure ploy, the Spanish government will seek to find differences in the Catalan institutions. It is the government of the Spanish state that is today responsible", he said, as they "do not want to debate this project."
However, Aragonès sought to avoid any spillover from the new storm between the two governments into the dialogue table that is to come together next week. "Next week we start a very important negotiation, on the underlying political conflict, our proposal is very clear: referendum and amnesty, the state must formulate its own proposal," he said. Moreover, he added that "not only does [the airport U-turn] not damage the dialogue table meeting, but on the contrary, we'll now go there with more strongly than ever."
The head of the Catalan executive classified the difficulties raised by the Spanish minister as excuses for not making progress, "because it is clear that our plan to go to the table to assert the right to self-determination and claim an amnesty from the Spanish government does not thrill them" and "there are many people who want the negotiating table to fail". "It won't fail because of me. I'll put all my energy into it, because there is no alternative," he affirmed.
The president has frequently reiterated that the expansion of the El Prat airport had to preserve the natural space and the environment, affirming that this had been agreed with the Spanish government on August 2nd and that there there was a margin of two years to finalise the Master Plan, which was where the details had to be specified. However, he criticized that the August agreement was undone when AENA's own project proposal, which shows the alll-important third runway extending into La Ricarda, was made public days ago, and that the plan has to be passed at the end of this month by the Spanish cabinet. “We don’t want to give up an investment, but we do want to do it well, and that takes time,” he warned.
However, Aragonès also denied any connecton between this new storm between the two governments and a possible agreement on the Spanish government budget. “What we’re not going to do now is get into a blackmail dynamic,” he argued.