Tensions between Catalonia’s two main pro-independence parties boiled over on Friday night when the hardline Junts party abandoned the regional coalition government, leaving the region in the minority hands of the more moderate Catalan Republican Left (ERC).
The two parties, who formed a coalition after the regional election in February 2021, have profound and longstanding disagreements over the best way to achieve their shared aim of Catalan independence. The ERC wants a negotiated political solution, while Junts favours a more confrontational and unilateral approach to seceding from Spain.
Matters came to a head last week when Catalonia’s ERC president, Pere Aragonès, sacked his Junts deputy, Jordi Puigneró, after it emerged that Junts were planning to call a vote of no confidence in his government. On Friday, after a ballot in which 55.7% of its members voted to leave the coalition, Junts announced that it was departing the government.
“Junts has won and Aragonès has lost because we thought he was capable of leading a coalition government and it hasn’t turned out that way,” said Laura Borràs, president of Junts.
Aragonès ruled out a snap regional election and said his minority government would “dedicate itself 100% to serving the public”. He also promised a reshuffle.
“Today everyone must think of the country, of Catalonia and of all citizens, in the difficult months ahead,” he said. “It is about the country winning. This is my responsibility and that of all the institutions in Catalonia.”
Spain’s Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez – who has taken a markedly more measured approach to the so-called Catalan question than his conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy – called for stability at a time of massive international upheaval.
“Having stable governments is fundamental,” he said. “I favour stability when it comes to the Catalan regional government. Whatever the circumstances of the Catalan government, we will always offer an outstretched hand in the name of dialogue to bring about agreement within Catalan society.”
The minority ERC government means Aragonès will have to make deals with other parties to advance his legislative agenda. The Catalan Socialist party, which won the largest share of the vote in the last regional election, has already said it is prepared to help negotiate to get the regional budget approved.
The Catalan question attracted international attention five years ago when the regional government of the then president, Carles Puigdemont, staged a unilateral, illegal independence referendum in defiance of Rajoy’s government and the courts.
The vote attracted a brutal and heavy handed response from some of the thousands of Spanish police officers who were dispatched to stop the referendum. Voters were dragged from polling stations and beaten, and rubber bullets were fired into crowds.
When secessionist Catalan MPs followed up by voting to establish an independent republic, the Spanish government responded by sacking Puigdemont and his cabinet, assuming direct control of Catalonia and ordering a fresh regional election.
Although Puigdemont fled to Belgium to avoid arrest, the issue of Catalan independence has not gone away – even if support is waning.
According to a survey conducted this summer by the Catalan government’s Centre for Opinion Studies, 52% of Catalans oppose independence, while 41% are in favour.