Artur Mas has taken the worst possible road. His independence pact with Oriol Junqueras of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) may be valid, but it is the worst of the imaginable scenarios, above all because of the financial crisis and Catalonia’s lack of liquidity.
The agreement fails to address the divisions within Catalan society evidenced in the latest elections. On the contrary, it will exacerbate them and deepen the growing disengagement of Catalonia from Spain. The program points to a bumpy legislative period marked by conflict and uncertainty, the last thing needed for an economic recovery.
Mas ruled out almost from the start other theoretically conceivable agreements. An accord with the Popular Party appeared difficult because of the CiU’s embrace of independence and the centralist bent of the PP, although not unthinkable because of the common ground they share in austerity policies. With the Socialists (PSC), Mas shared the idea of holding a referendum on independence, although the PSC conditioned this to being a legal consultation, while the CiU has left the issue of legality in a dangerously indefinite state, something that not even Unió, the junior partner in the CiU bloc, shares.
Mas has sacrificed one of the main demands of Unió leader Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, who was opposed to fixing a date for the referendum, which is now due to be held by 2014.
CiU’s submission to ERC is not limited to the imposition of a timetable for the vote. It is also evident in the establishment under the pact of five bilateral extra-parliamentary organizations and working parties that diminish the role of the Catalan assembly. It is a de facto coalition government, but with commissioners from only one of the parties. The ERC’s stamp is also evident in measures that aim to build a state independent from Spain and in the interventionist approach in its economic program, which are at odds with the liberal stance CiU sold to its voters. It is not surprising that the business community, which opted for discretion during the campaign, has clearly expressed its unease with the situation, equally at the level of the large firms in the Fomento association as in the Chamber of Commerce and Pimec, which groups together small and midsized companies and is close to CiU.
The business community’s opposition to the pact is not confined to its tax measures, which include the restoration of the inheritance tax that Mas himself did away with in his previous mandate and the sidestepping of the ban of levying a tax on bank deposits that the central government is seeking to impose on the regions. It also extends to the series of duties on such items as soft drinks, polluting gases and unoccupied homes. The apparently redistributive bent of some of these levies is meant to serve as a cloak to the cutbacks in social services that Mas’s first government proved to be so efficient in imposing.
The smack of interventionism is unmistakable. The creation of a public bank with an undefined profile (originally a central bank) and other unnecessary organizations, along with the residual nature of its proposals for administrative simplification, display an obsession with bureaucracy at odds with the recipes of which the first Mas government availed itself after winning the elections in 2010. The Mas of 2012 is morphing into the image of Junqueras, to whom he is gifting, in exchange for nothing, the leadership of the Catalan movement.