The Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, has finally given a response on the crisis that opened up yesterday between the two coalition government partners - his own party, ERC, and Junts - following ERC deputy Gabriel Rufián's severe criticism of the president in exile, Carles Puigdemont, and his close circles, over the alleged Russian connections with the independence process. During a statement from Germany where he is on an official trip, Aragonès dodged controversy over Rufián's words, but also warned that "the government's reference must be Europe and the framework of rights and freedoms."
"I will not get into evaluations of statements that were made. We need to focus on the important issues," the president said when asked about the controversy that has kept the two major pro-independence parties on edge for the last day. However, when asked about the information, published in Spanish media, referring to meetings by Puigdemont and his entourage with Kremlin representatives, he said he did not want to assess such meetings when "we don't know if they took place or not." He also demanded that the frame of reference of the Catalan government as a whole be made clear. "Our reference point, the countries that we want to relate to, and the political spheres we want to relate to, are those of Europe, those of the states that defend democracy and the framework of freedoms that we share," he asserted.
This was the response he returned to again and again when he was asked about the issue. "We make it very clear what our framework is, and the partners that we want," he insisted, "especially now that this space of democracy and rights and freedoms in Europe is under threat."
The issue exploded during a press conference in the Congress of Deputies on Tuesday, when Rufián seemed to accept the veracity of a Russian connection to the independence process, referring to Puigdemont and his entourage as "rich types playing James Bond". The general secretary of Junts, Jordi Sànchez, described the ERC deputy as "small-minded", while the Catalan vice-president, Jordi Puigneró, conveyed his anger to Aragonès and asked if this was the position of ERC as a party. The chairman of the parliamentary group of Junts, Albert Batet, called on ERC to disavow Rufián's statements.
Until this afternoon, Aragonès had avoided making any comments about the crisis, but in the meantime, the crisis between the partners had evolved further. Rufián himself has publicly apologized for the way he expressed himself, while reiterating the need for a distancing between any possible link of the Catalan independence process with Russia, while the Junts spokesperson replied that the party appreciated the rectification but also insisted that it did not "want any doubts to be left about the independence movement's international action".
Confidence in education minister
In relation to the teachers' strike, Aragonès said that his government is ready to "broaden the dialogue" and reiterated "full confidence in the education minister, Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray, to tackle the necessary changes and the dialogue - 'the active conversation' - with teachers. The president quoted the words of the unions themselves in disassociating the strike from the changes to the school calendar - "the teachers' unions themselves say that the main reason is not the calendar change and therefore it is not a mistake to have proposed it", he said - and he also highlighted that the Catalan education budget is the highest in history, and so is the number of teachers.
The president made these remarks after the second day of five planned days of strike by the educational community, industrial action which was triggered by bringing forward the start of the next school year by a week, without prior discussion with the unions or the special consultative body, the Catalan School Council. The government yesterday called on the unions to sit down at the negotiating table, but meanwhile, they are demanding the resignation of the minister Cambray.