Catalan president Quim Torra has said that the continuity of his government will be in question if it fails to pass the budget for 2019. In an exclusive interview with the Catalan News Agency (ACN), the head of the pro-independence ruling coalition opened the door to calling a new election if the parliament rejects his financial plan.
“Governments often resign when they fail to pass a budget, I take that to be a self-fulfilling democratic mandate,” he said.
Yet Torra made it clear that having the bill rejected is not among his plans, as he is confident that he will get at least the votes from far-left CUP, the smallest pro-independence party in the chamber.
In response, CUP demanded of Torra a “180-degree turn” for the party to back his budget. Laia Estrada, a party spokesperson, advised him not to count on them if the government planned to abide by Spain’s territorial status quo and enforce “neoliberal policies.”
With only four seats, CUP was instrumental in appointing Torra as president last May. Their abstention allowed Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) and Esquerra (ERC), the two main pro-independence parties in parliament, to outnumber no-votes from unionist parties.
But just like the election of Torra as president can serve as evidence to the CUP’s loyalty, it also shows that pleasing the anti-capitalist party is no easy task.
In 2017, the price the government had to pay for getting CUP’s support to pass the budget was calling an independence referendum. The vote took place on October 1 and Spain responded by sending thousands of police officers to close down polling stations. The Catalan government went on to declare independence. Currently, most former ministers are either in jail or seeking refuge abroad to avoid prosecution in Spain.
When allowing Torra to be elected president last May, CUP did again lay down its conditions: making the independence of Catalonia a reality, urging JxCat and ERC to “disobey” Spain and not be “submissive.”
With Catalan and Spanish governments opening a new phase of dialogue to de-escalate tensions, Torra might find it increasingly difficult to please the far-left party.
CUP criticized the Catalan executive for resuming the bilateral summit with Spain on Wednesday—the first time such a meeting took place in the past seven years. The Spanish government rejected the latest demand for an agreed referendum, and the minister in charge of the meeting stated that Catalonia’s right to self-determination “does not exist.”
For the CUP, this came as no surprise. “It is the answer to the people of Catalonia and their exercising of self-determination on October 1,” said CUP MP Vidal Aragonés. “We are beginning to think that it is complete contempt when meeting after meeting there is no answer.”
With the Catalan parliament due to resume its plenary sessions next October, Torra’s government faces the challenge of satisfying CUP’s demands while benefiting from an improved relationship with the Spanish executive.
“CUP are our key partners, and to us they were never part of the problem but part of the solution, just like any other independence supporter,” Torra told ACN. “We’ll negotiate the budget with CUP and also with other parties, of course. But we’ve always said that this project encompasses 70 MPs that support independence and we’d like this budget to go on with CUP’s support.”
Three opportunities to make Catalan independence a reality
The Catalan parliament declared independence on October 27. Immediately after, the Spanish government responded by imposing direct rule in Catalonia and dismissing all government members.
Pro-independence parties maintain that the independence declaration was legitimate and valid, no matter Spain’s stance on the issue. The challenge though is how to make the independence of Catalonia effective.
Torra envisions three different moments when pro-independence parties might have a shot at succeeding. First, when a final ruling comes out on the fate of jailed Catalan leaders. If they are found guilty and the prison sentences are severe enough, pro-independence supporters might take to the streets in mass to protest.
The Catalan president says the opportunity could also come if pro-independence parties win the local election expected for next year, or any other election in which parties wanting to separate from Spain unite in a single candidacy.