It was an open secret, but the outcome has been surprising in its reach, and in its unilateral media staging. The pact reached by two parties of the center-right — CiU (Catalan) and PP (Spain-wide) — for the 2012 Catalan regional budget was positioned in the media like no other before, surpassing the smiling photos of a similar PP-CiU agreement: the so-called Hotel Majestic Pact between Pujol, Aznar and Duran Lleida in 1996.
Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, leader of the Catalan PP, has hogged media attention in the role of grand fixer of the pact, which was agreed upon in the small hours of Tuesday morning. CiU has chosen not to appear on camera to give its side of the story.
The PP has obliged the CiU Catalan government’s economy chief, Andreu Mas-Colell, to solve various Sudokus, turning a matter as serious as the budget into a whimsical, volatile question, at the mercy of a party — the PP — that holds the key to a parliamentary majority. CiU has dropped its talk of Catalan sovereignty in the face of the PP, which has toyed at leisure with its double weapon: the coffers of the national government — whose powers to transfer funds to the region afford it a convenient carrot and stick — and that of the PP’s votes in the Catalan regional parliament, which CiU requires in order to govern with a clear majority.
What the PP hopes to obtain in return is the faithfulness of CiU in the national parliament, in support of the proposals for economic reform that the PP government plans to bring forward there. In Catalonia, the PP — which has raised national taxes, such as income tax, to Swedish levels — has put stumbling blocks in the way of the tourist tax (reducing it and postponing it to November, the end of the season); it has imposed exceptions on co-payment for medical prescriptions (from which the lowest incomes remain exempt); and it has forced a six-month delay for a hike in water rates.
As such, the three sources that the Catalan government relied upon for raising its own income have been throttled — and thus the regional finances are subject to the goodwill of the national administration, now in the hands of the PP, which has moreover imposed a Decalogue of injunctions on CiU that reflect its own political whims, even in minor budgetary areas — increasing, for example, compensation payments for terrorism victims and eliminating subsidies for historical-memory exhumations.
CiU is determined to grin and bear it, but the party cannot fool itself as to the character and scope of this pact. As was the case after the municipal elections, the PP has prepared a capacious political grab-bag, reaching as far as municipal policy — for in the City Hall of Barcelona, too, CiU has only a minority government.
The deal as a whole could be dubbed a kind of “super-majestic.” While the 1996 agreement was one of mutual help, the conspicuous note in this case is that of imbalance in favor of the party of Rajoy and Sánchez-Camacho.