CiU gives ground on 2014 budget as ERC emerges as leading Catalan political force

New survey shows 46 percent voting in favor of region’s independence, falling to 30 percent if more powers were devolved to Barcelona

ERC leader Oriol Junquera (l) converses with Catalan premier Artur Mas.
ERC leader Oriol Junquera (l) converses with Catalan premier Artur Mas.ALBERT GARCÍA

For the first time since he took the reins of Catalonia’s regional finances, Andreu Mas-Colell on Tuesday presented a budget without any new austerity measures. Instead, the region aims to bring down its deficit and increase revenues by introducing new taxes and privatizing services. Mas-Colell expects an income of around 1.5 billion euros from the sale of assets, especially real estate and water infrastructure.

In 2013, the Catalan regional government was operating on a budget extension from the previous year, and the approval of the 2014 accounts is dependent on the approval of leftist-nationalist ERC, the parliamentary partner of the governing CiU bloc. Among ERC’s conditions were that the budget must come into effect from January 1 (recent years have been beset by delays) and include a raft of taxes to avoid the need for further social cutbacks. The leftist grouping, aware that spending has been curtailed by 25 percent since 2010, wanted income to cover spending, rather than imposing more hardship on citizens, and for the bulk of the outlay to go on primary services. The regional government is therefore to spend 71.1 percent of the 19.8-billion-euro 2014 budget on education, healthcare and social services.

As well as introducing taxes on sugary drinks, empty houses and ADSL providers — with funds from the latter to be reinvested in Catalan cinema — the CiU has been forced to reintroduce the inheritance tax, the removal of which was one of its electoral campaign banners in 2010 and which is worth 110 to 130 million euros a year. This tax will affect above all legacies of over one million euros.

CiU has been forced to reintroduce the inheritance tax, one of its electoral campaign banners in 2010

CiU has to rely on the support of ERC to push through the budget, but polls show that the leftists are benefiting considerably more from premier Artur Mas’s sovereignty drive than the ruling bloc itself, whose internal divisions over a split from Spain have been very public.

The most recent Metroscopia survey, commissioned by EL PAÍS, shows that ERC leader Oriol Junqueras is the most valued Catalan politician. If regional elections were held today, CiU would win just 32 seats compared to the 50 it currently holds, while ERC would increase its share by 16, to 37 seats. Thus, the CiU-ERC partnership would retain its majority — 69 out of 135 seats — by a whisker.

“If [Prime Minister] Mariano Rajoy does not want to negotiate with Artur Mas [over a regional referendum], one day he’ll have to do so with Oriol Junqueras from a far more complicated position,” CiU leaders have warned.

The Metroscopia poll also asked Catalan citizens how they would vote in a hypothetical referendum on independence for the region, with 46 percent saying they would vote for it and 42 percent saying they are in favor of staying in Spain. When offered a third option, in which Catalonia was given greater powers but remained as part of Spain, 40 percent took this choice, compared to 31 percent who still backed independence.

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