FT Graduate Trainee Programme application, Jasper Cox
Barcelona and Madrid are set for a collision, after Catalan pro-independence politicians finally agreed on a candidate for First Minister of the region and pledged to secede from Spain.
After three months of negotiation, the two separatist parties in the Catalan parliament, Junts Pel Sí (‘Together For Yes’) and CUP (‘Popular Unity Candidacy’), struck a last-minute deal yesterday afternoon to allow the former to govern, averting new elections which would have been called if no agreement had been reached by today.
Mariano Rajoy, still for the time being Prime Minister of Spain since December’s national elections gave no party an overall majority, claimed tonight that he has given instructions for any separatist acts to be stopped. He said the declaration of separation “is a clear violation of the rights of Spanish citizens and especially those who live in Catalonia.”
Junts Pel Sí formed as a coalition ahead of last September’s regional elections, as separatist politicians grouped together under one banner to make the vote a de-facto independence referendum.
The group fell just short of a majority, hence the need to negotiate with the CUP, a left-wing separatist party which did not join the coalition. The CUP were opposed to the investiture of Artur Mas, the combative centrist Junts Pel Sí politician, as First Minister.
Mas agreed to step down, and in exchange the CUP promised to give two of their MPs to Junts Pel Sí, ensuring them a majority. The Mayor of Girona Carles Puigdemont was voted in as First Minister last night instead.
The battle set to play out between central government and Catalonia only adds to political uncertainty in the country after the inconclusive national election results. The centre-right Popular party won the most votes, but were left a long way from a majority. The Socialists came second, beating the two insurgent parties, far-left Podemos (‘We Can’) and centrist Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’).
Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez has announced his desire to create a progressive coalition, taking inspiration from the newly-formed Portuguese government. A stumbling block will be the Catalan issue: Podemos, unlike the Socialists, advocate an independence referendum.
Rachel Haynes, editor of SUR in English, an English-language newspaper based in Malaga, told us “people are tired after a year of general, local and regional elections”. Should there be another national election if parties cannot form a government “votes could be lost through general disillusion with politics and politicians’ inability to reach agreements”.
This uncertainty comes just after Standard and Poor’s raised Spain’s credit rating to a more comfortable BBB+ in October, reducing the cost of national borrowing. Michael Baker of Standard and Poor’s told us “given the fragmented political environment, we could see fiscal and structural policy slippages which would worsen sentiment in the credit markets. The Catalan dimension increases the possibility of an impasse”.
After years of escalating tensions, it will be left to the new Spanish government, whenever it is formed, to work out what to do with a region which contributes a fifth of Spain’s GDP.