A possible breakthrough has been made in the Catalan budget negotiation. Early this morning, the opposition Socialists (PSC) made their position very clear: if the governing Republican Left (ERC) voted today against its motion that includes the B-40 motorway and the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport, it would make an agreement on the 2023 budget "impossible or more difficult". And what was the Republican response? They gave way, announced their vote in favour, and avoided rupturing the delicate negotiations for the budget, despite the fact that the PSC did not accept their amendment about simply "studying" the B-40, otherwise known as the Barcelona metropolitan area's Fourth Beltway, or the Ronda Nord. The motion will therefore go ahead. The text seeks to promote both the B-40 between Sabadell, Terrassa and Castellar del Vallès and the expansion of El Prat airport, over which the governing party abstained. Despite ERC's gesture, the Socialists note that there are still "issues" that remain in the air.
The motion, with ERC's proposed amendment left out, was passed in the original terms set by the PSC: "Make effective, within the first quarter of 2023, the agreement and financing through the Spanish transport ministry that guarantees the drafting of the project for the Ronda Nord in the urban systems of Terrassa, Sabadell and Castellar (...) and the execution of the works by the government of the Generalitat of Catalonia". It was passed with 115 votes in favour and only 15 against - those of the CUP and the Commons.
The Republican MP Ferran Estruch justified the vote in favour "presented with a proposal that is not our model" to give priority to passing the new budget for the Catalan administration. He described it as a "gesture of good will" and added: "If it can be used to break the deadlock, we'll do it." Despite the move, voices in ERC regret that the Socialists have continued their "all or nothing" stand to this point, and note that the government has incorporated "54 Junts measures and 187 from the PSC" into the budget project.
Now it remains to be seen if the PSC puts up more obstacles or sits on its current position. Republican sources affirm that, after this gesture, "there is now no blockage" to an agreement on the Generalitat budget, although the parliamentary passage of the bill is still not guaranteed. Before announcing its decision, ERC informed the mayors in the areas as well as the territorial minister, Juli Fernández, one of the main opponents of the project when he was mayor of Sabadell. In fact, the PSC deputy, Jordi Terrades, warned that "there is still an important package" of budget issues where no agreement has been reached.
ERC did not manage to avoid some criticism, such as that of the alternative-left Commons, who denounced that ERC had given in to the "blackmail" of the PSC. For now, it is the only party with which the government has reached an agreement for budget support. However, Jéssica Albiach's party does not intend to jeopardize its support for the accounts.
On the other hand, the part of the motion relating to the expansion of El Prat airport, currently paralyzed by the lack of agreement between the state and the Generalitat, was also approved. Specifically, the text urges the Catalan government to "agree" with the Spanish executive during the first half of this year on "a technical commission to agree on the new airport model that Catalonia needs and to transform and expand the Josep Tarradellas airport into a true intercontinental hub". By means of an amendment accepted by the PSC, the text adds that the work must be done "with minimal impact to the Natura 2000 network and with prior consultation with the European Commission as guarantor of these protected natural spaces".
Breakthrough after earlier warning from opposition
Having swalllowed the Fourth Beltway proposal, the Catalan president assumed that the PSC would be on the side of the government budget. "Now is the time for everyone to be up to the task, to be realistic and clear. It is time to make the approval of Catalonia's budget for 2023 possible," he replied. Pere Aragonès also recognized that he had agreed to a policy which was not his party's own: "I accept the contradiction, the cost and the political and personal attrition. This is the price of serving the public, of leadership, as against the comfort of not taking decisions, but right now this is the only course possible"
On Wednesday, the Catalan government had received a wake-up call on the precariousness of its budget situation. Not even the decree for financial needs as a budget extension, an issue that the executive regards as a "technicality", was able to be easily validated in the Parliament of Catalonia. It was debated this Wednesday in the Catalan chamber and did receive the green light. But the PSC and Junts per Catalunya forced the measure to be processed as a bill. This means that it is processed as an ordinary law and, if agreement is reached, they can introduce amendments. The entire opposition joined in. In this way, the potential allies for the new accounts mark ground against ERC, which for now only has the insufficient agreement with the Commons signed before Christmas.