16th June 2019
Pedro Sánchez Barcelona
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Sánchez seeks Catalan support for budget

Spain’s Socialist government has presented its draft 2019 Budget, and which will start parliamentary procedures on Monday – but whether it will succeed remains far from certain. It will depend on the support of Catalan pro-independence MPs to get it through parliament.

Okayed by the cabinet, the budget contains many social measures and a rise in investment in Catalonia, whose regional government wants independence but whose lawmakers in the national parliament are crucial for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s minority government.

‘This budget is good for Catalonia and therefore those who defend Catalonia should approve it,’ Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero told reporters, in reference to MPs from the northeastern region.

‘The (Catalan) government is constantly asking for more resources for Catalonia, and it has an opportunity in this budget. I’m optimistic.’

Although the exact figures have not been yet made public, some Madrid sources say Catalonia will get an extra 1.7 billion euro.

Overall the Spanish budget foresees earning 5.6 billion euro more than last year and will spend 57.3% of the total money on social policies.

The lower house will start examining the draft budget on Monday.

Sanchez’s Socialists only have 84 MPs out of 350 and need the support of a far-left coalition led by Podemos – 67 seats – as well as other lawmakers, the most crucial being the 17 Catalan MPs.

Pedro Sánchez Barcelona
Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez waves beside socialist candidate for the Mayor of Barcelona, Jaume Collboni, during a political rally in Barcelona on 12 January 2019. (Lluis Gene / AFP)

These backed Sanchez’s no-confidence motion against his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy in June, thereby helping topple and replace him.

That has earned Sánchez, who has pledged to keep going until the next general elections in 2020, furious criticism that he is cuddling up to Catalonia’s separatists.

‘A political solution to a political conflict … not budget allocations’

This time round, though, Catalan MPs may not be so accommodating as the mega-trial of pro-independence leaders who participated in the October 2017 attempt to break from Spain looms.

If they don’t vote for the budget, Sánchez’s government will likely fall.

Catalan vice president Pere Aragonès, an Esquerra (ERC) party member, said the Spanish Prime Minister needs to make a move on self-determination and against ‘repression’.

‘If he and his government want to make gestures to clarify that they reject the repression politics begun by the PP, that deciding Catalonia’s future belongs to the citizens of Catalonia with a free and democratic decision, as we’ve stood for,’ proclaimed Aragonès, ‘it will be a step forward that’ll make everything easier.’

He made these remarks in a meeting of his party in Geneva, alongside the exiled ERC secretary general, Marta Rovira.

Marta Vilalta, also of the ERC party, told Spanish radio on Friday: ‘If there is no political response to the crux issue, the crux debate that is self-determination … there will be no budget.’

In Brussels, Catalan president Quim Torra backed Aragonès’ words and said the two large pro-independence parties will stay ‘united’ in the final decision on the Spanish budget.

He spoke while meeting Carles Puigdemont in Belgium. The former president also had his say over the budget debate.

‘We’re talking about a political solution to a political conflict, not about specific budget allocations, this is about fundamental rights that are being violated, and especially, an important one: the right to self-determination,’ he said.

Despite reluctance shown by the pro-independence forces, the Spanish government is still hopeful that the budget can succeed.

Rise of the right

Catalan parties could also opt for pragmatism and save the government of Sánchez to avoid early general elections that could bring the right to power.

A coalition of the Ciudadanos (Cs) party and the People’s Party (PP) has only just taken over the Socialist stronghold of Andalucia after December polls in the southern region.

They did this with support from far-right party Vox, which managed to get MPs in a regional parliament for the first time since Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s.

At a national level, right-leaning parties have said they would be tough on Catalan separatism and possibly take over some of the region’s powers.

As such, Dolors Bassa, a former regional minister who is now in pre-trial detention for her role in the separatist drive, told Catalan radio this week that ‘we cannot let the government of Pedro Sánchez fall’.

‘The alternative to knocking down this government is way worse with the PP, Ciudadanos and the far right,’ she added, with polls suggesting these three groupings could have a majority in the national parliament if general polls were held.

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