Reluctantly, and forced into it, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) has come to terms with the fact that the investiture of Pere Aragonès as new Catalan president will take longer than the party would have liked. Even longer than they expected after the first two investiture votes failed. Assuming that the agreement with Together for Catalonia (Junts) will not be reached this week, the Republicans have intensified the pressure for it to be completed in less than a fortnight, before 1st May. In parallel with the government negotiation, each party is also working on a strategy to assert its own narrative. And ERC has been struggling for days to sell the idea that the only party responsible for there being no government yet is Junts.
"ERC's fault, it will not be", "there are no insurmountable obstacles but rather excuses", "we do not understand why an agreement has not yet been closed", are some of the most repeated arguments in recent weeks in public appearances by ERC leaders. This Monday, Oriol Junqueras has raised the tone another decibel. In terms of both the substance and the style. His party accuses Junts of wanting to delay the agreement for partisan reasons and has put a kind of ultimatum to them - without specifying what would happen if the limit set is exceeded - which places May 1st as the deadline to close the alliance.
To give solidity to their version of what's happening - that they have been busy sending proposals to Junts while the other side has kept delaying for no reason - the ERC negotiating team appeared this Monday en bloc to set out the key points of the document which they handed to their interlocutors nine days ago and for which they have only received, they claim, a partial response, covering one of the five areas that makes it up - independence strategy, parliamentary sovereignty, government plan, executive structure and mechanisms of coordination - and which we detail below.
1. Strategy for Independence
This is the section which bogged down the conversations for the first few weeks after the elections and it’s still unresolved. During the first stages of negotiations, Junts neutralized the ERC's proposal to continue advancing in other areas so as not to be blocked. Finally, after laying the groundwork for advancing in this field, they have opened up to tackle the other folders.
The proposal that ERC has put forward - which summarizes in a single document what the two parties have been exchanging over these two months - raises the need to have a new command group that guides the pro-independence strategy. They call it collegiate management. The idea is to incorporate the three pro-independence parties - ERC, Junts and the CUP - as well as the two main pro-independence civil society organisations - Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). ERC emphasizes that president in exile Carles Puigdemont must be present in this space, they circumscribe him in the exile body Council for the Republic but assert that he should be autonomous.
This long period of negotiation has served to smooth out the rough edges around the role of the Council for the Republic, which ERC had hitherto been wary of. The body has begun a reformulation that makes it more participatory, and the proposal is for it to play a key role in the internationalization of the Catalan issue. An element that is essential in the preparation of the basis for a virtual "new contention" with the Spanish state, should it continue to keep the door closed on self-determination and amnesty. The margin given to the dialogue table with Madrid is two years, as stated in the agreement with the CUP.
One of the key points is the independence movement's desire to "resume the initiative". Hence, stress is placed on the need to not stand idly by while waiting for negotiations with the state to bear fruit. It is necessary, they say, to prepare in parallel.
Still in this first block, ERC talks about institutional coordination of action by the pro-independence forces, in Parliament, in the Catalan government, but also in Madrid. This is one of the unresolved sections: the Republicans want to confine this unity of action in Congress and the Senate only with regard to issues that have to do with the independence process, while Junts calls for the unity to be in all areas.
2. The sovereignty of Parliament
The 14th February elections have created the Catalan chamber with the most pro-independence deputies in history. The ERC document insists on the need to make the most of these 74 deputies, coordinating them so that they serve to consolidate the sovereignty of Parliament. A first step was the historic milestone of getting five of the seven members of the Bureau to be pro-independence. Among the goals set is to deepen the anti-fascist pact.
3. Government plan
At the first meeting the two parties held after Easter - which was not till last Wednesday - ERC and Junts began work on their government programmes. The focus is on the deployment of social policies to respond to the economic and social crisis arising from the pandemic. ERC has proposed three lines: strengthening the welfare state, social cohesion, and good governance.
Among other things, this includes the social rescue plan of 700 million euros announced by Aragonès in his inauguration speech, and the injection of another 5 billion euros into the health budget.
4. Government structure
Pere Aragonès is very clear about the structure of the government he wants to preside over. The proposal sent to Junts advocates full parity between sexes in government, with 50% of senior positions to be held by women. At the same time, it envisages the creation of three new ministries, that of feminisms and equality, climate action and universities and knowledge. In order not to oversize the executive, the proposal is accompanied by suppression of other areas.
At the same time, emphasis is placed on a new government figure who will directly manage the European funds, the Next Generation commission. The intention of ERC is for this to be attached to the presidency department, which will be in its hands, and not that of the economy ministry, which will be led by Junts. There is debate on this point, although the Republicans say they are not aware that Junts has any objections.
5. Government cohesion
If the last legislature - when turmoil between members was the order of the day - has served any purpose, it is to take note of the mistakes that are not to be repeated. For this reason, a specific chapter is added to the document dedicated to how to grease the coordination mechanisms to quell crises.
It is taken for granted that in a coalition government it will be inevitable for differences to arise. The intention is not to annul them, but to know how to manage them to avoid them impacting on the stability of the executive. This would be managed through three committees monitoring the government agreement, each limited to a specific area: one in Parliament, a second between the parties, Parliament and government, and a third consisting of days of joint team activities by the members of the executive.