As was predictable, the Catalan government budget for 2023 has successfully jumped its first hurdle in the Parliament of Catalonia. This Tuesday afternoon a majority in the chamber defeated the proposals for "amendments in the entirety" - that is, outright rejection of the budget. These motions had been presented by two pro-independence parties, centre-right Junts, and the far-left CUP; as well as the trio of Spanish right-wing parties, Vox, Ciudadanos and the PP. But the 59 votes of these five parties fell short of the 74 who favoured the budget. And thus, the majority forged by the governing pro-independence party, ERC, with two parties that don't support independence - the Socialists of the PSC and the alternative-left Commons - imposed itself. The second budget of president Pere Aragonès thus continues its march through parliament, and is scheduled to complete its circuit in record time with a final vote set for March 10th. The debate once again showed the gulf between the different pro-independence groups, with mutual accusations flying.
Both Junts and the CUP, for different reasons, pointed out the ills of the governing ERC party's pact with the PSC. Aware of this, even in her initial speech, economy minister Natàlia Mas made it clear that the budget deal is only a "concrete and specific agreement" and "nothing more than that". In addition to claiming that the budget constitutes the "most expansive [Catalan] public accounts in history", the ERC leadership reiterated their "outstretched hand" to other parties to come on board with their support, with their eyes fixed on former coalition partners Junts. An "outstretched hand" and "all the will" that ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta also offered.
But they didn't manage to convince either of their pro-independence critics. Junts railed against a budget in which they denounce that "autonomy wins and independence loses". Spokesperson Mònica Sales criticized that "the majority of deputies who will approve the accounts - 41, the 33 of the Socialists and the 8 of the Commons - are against independence, and therefore, the budgets are a brake on moving towards Catalonia's own state". In a very different vein, the CUP denounced a budget in which the PSC has slipped in "all the crap of big business", making reference to the macro projects which found their way onto the government's discussion agenda - without being fully green-lighted - thanks to Socialist pressure. CUP deputy Eulàlia Reguant criticized that president Aragonès for "tying the legislature and the country to the grayer, more right-wing and more Spanish PSC".
ERC's Marta Vilalta answered both of these critiques. She criticized Junts for constantly abandoning their responsibilities: "We don't know what their proposal is, beyond their criticism or abandonment of the government". She demanded Junts to explain themselves: "You say that budgets are a brake on independence. In which points? In what ways?". In response to the CUP, Vilalta regretted that they had not even want to sit down and talk about possible budget approval, that "they decided to retreat and not leave a mark on politics". She also rebutted that there are "zero euros in these budgets for the projects that you call toxic".
Neither PSC nor Commons are "underpinning" the Government
The two parties who are supporting the Catalan government in this budget also took it upon themselves to remind the chamber that they are in opposition. This was done by the PSC's parliamentary spokesperson, Alicia Romero, who denied that her party has "any intention of fortifying the executive", despite being open to reaching new understandings with the ERC executive. Romero defined her party's stand as "constructive opposition". On behalf of the Commons, party leader Jéssica Albiach argued that it is better to have a budget "than not to have one". At this point, faced with criticism from Junts, she reminded the pro-independence party of the alliances it has with the PSC on some regional councils, as well as in some municipalities in Catalonia. "A little more solidity in your arguments", she requested. And she also addressed the CUP. In reply to the request from the pro-independence left that they break the pact, she responded that the CUP had made Pere Aragonès president and Jordi Puigneró, of Junts, vice president.
Only one off-script moment
The entire budget debate in Parliament went almost according to the planned script. Except for the moment when ERC spokesperson Marta Vilalta finished her speech. At that precise moment, several activists sitting in the public seating unfurled a large banner against the three macro-projects - Barcelona airport expansion, the N-40 highway and the Hard Rock leisure centre - on which discussions are to move forward thanks to the agreement between the government and the PSC. The activists' banner informed the public of the demonstration of opposition to these projects that will take place on March 4th in Barcelona's Plaça Catalunya. The parliamentary ushers had the large cloth banner removed in a few seconds.