A case of sexual harassment in the Catalan foreign ministry which came to light this Monday, focused on the minister's chief of staff who was sacked from his post because of the issue in January, has, in a matter of hours, led to the resignation of the minister, Alfred Bosch, himself. Bosch is accused of failing to respond properly and not activating the protocols provided for such situations, and this Monday night has accepted responsibility and resigned.
Bosch announced his decision at Catalan Republican Left (ERC) party headquarters in a joint appearance with spokesperson Marta Vilalta after an extraordinary meeting of ERC's national executive. Before announcing his decision, he had informed president Quim Torra, with whom he had held a meeting earlier in the day, which, according to sources close to the executive, was extremely tense. "I have submitted my resignation as a minister and have asked for it to be accepted," he said, finally delivering a mea culpa.
Bosch's chief of staff, Carles Garcias Hernández, was fired on 24th January, but this did not come to light until this morning, when Catalan newspaper Ara reported the matter. No explanation had been given for Garcias's dismissal, but after investigating, Ara reported that it was a case of ongoing sexual harassment of several female employees in the department. Garcias, for his part, assured the newspaper that he had announced his decision to leave the ministry in November, motivated by a desire to return to the private sector.
The news caused a great deal of malaise among the already-divided partners in the Catalan coalition government, ERC and Together for Catalonia (JxCat). Quim Torra, of JxCat, expressed his discontent to his minister this morning and demanded an explanation and a "reflection", according to sources in the Catalan executive. In the early afternoon, Torra also communicated his annoyance to his vice president Pere Aragonès (ERC).
Subsequently JxCat, whose members claim to have only heard about the matter through the press, asked for explanations as to why the department had not initiated the protocol laid down in the Catalan administration to respond to sexual harassment cases; then, in the afternoon, the public functions ministry, headed by Jordi Puigneró, ordered an investigation into the issue. JxCat's Elsa Artadi also said publicly that she did not rule out the possibility that Bosch could himself be sacked on the issue.
"I do more service by leaving than staying"
The denouement, however, arrived this evening in a press conference without questions, when the minister Bosch said he had sought to resolve the alleged harassment case, but acknowledged that he had not done so "well enough or fast enough", and said he had "to take responsibility." Bosch also acknowledged that harassment is contrary to "Republican values" and expressed regret over the defenceless of the women who were the victims. The situation, said the minister, had ended up becoming "unsustainable". "I do more service by leaving than by staying," he concluded.
Bosch appeared with his party spokesperson Marta Vilalta, who also spoke, defending the party's performance in the case, in which it had activated the internal protocol against harassment and forced the dismissal of Garcias. She described the case as "intolerable and unacceptable".
Unlike in the morning, however, when Vilalta had spoken in defence of the minister's response while acknowledging that some things could have been done "better", she now argued that it was necessary to be "inflexible" and "self-demanding" on this issue and asserted that the party had put "the need for this rigor above everything". She stated that "in the face of values that are not Republican values", one must be "thoroughly rigorous with everyone."
When ERC became aware of the case, the party's internal protocol was activated, as the person accused of the harassament was also a party member. However, the Catalan government's protocol was not activated. In addition, according to the reports in Ara, it was the ERC leadership which forced Garcias's resignation, as the minister's intention was to try and relocate him. He was ousted from the government on 24th January and last week suspended from party membership, despite an internal investigation still underway which could end up in court.
From dialogue table to resignation
Just two weeks ago, Alfred Bosch saw the government and his party reward him by naming him as a member of the intergovernmental dialogue table. The foreign minister was part of the first negotiation meeting in Madrid two weeks ago, and at the second meeting, where it is envisaged that the leader and deputy on each side will step aside, Bosch was to have remained as the highest ranking member in the Catalan government team seated at the table. But his former chief of staff's sexual harassment case, and the minister's handling of the issue, have ended up claiming his political scalp.