Catalan pro-sovereignty parties seek deal for united ballot front

ERC will consider joint candidacy for EU parliamentary elections if independence vote goes ahead

ERC leader Oriol Junqueras with the Catalan flag in the background.
ERC leader Oriol Junqueras with the Catalan flag in the background.PERE DURAN

The month of December is key to Catalonia's right-to-decide aspirations: before year's end, the parties that back a referendum on the region's independence must agree on the question to be put to Catalans, a proposed date to do so, and the path to approach Congress with the two.

It is a balancing act that could serve as a double or nothing for ideological allies CiU and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). If the referendum is put in motion, ERC is willing to negotiate a joint candidacy for the European elections next May and possible integration into the regional government. If it should fail to materialize, regional premier Artur Mas of CiU will have to seek a different partner for the rest of his mandate.

Convergència (CDC, the larger CiU coalition component) insisted this week on the necessity of approaching the European elections with a partnership that it considers to be another step forward in the sovereignty process. "A candidacy representing the country would make Catalonia and the process stronger. It is what best represents the will of Catalan people that Catalonia be a separate state in the European Union," said Lluís Corominas, acting secretary general of CDC in the absence of Oriol Pujol, who is the subject of a legal investigation.

CDC officials insist their aim is not merely to avoid a whipping at the European ballot box, which is less important to the party than regional and general elections. Rather, they are being viewed as a sort of referendum rehearsal, to rally nationalist voters to a joint candidacy in elections that habitually have a low turnout: 37 percent in 2009.

But in order to achieve its pact with ERC, CDC first needs to convince Unió, whose leader Josep Antoni Duran Lleida is opposed to any deal with ERC; despite the governing agreement in the region, Unió is openly in conflict with ERC. However, CDC officials believe that if ERC can be convinced to integrate with the governing CiU coalition, Unió will not oppose a joint European candidacy for the May elections.

ERC's stock has risen on pro-sovereignty rhetoric and government cutbacks

ERC, meanwhile, does not rule anything out due to the weight of the issues to be resolved before January 1. The party has placed all of its eggs in the pro-sovereignty basket and is willing to extend its pact with CiU if that will produce a 2014 referendum with a question that refers explicitly to independence.

The republicans view a pact solely with CDC as detrimental to its recent rise in voter intent on the back of its pro-independence rhetoric and the regional government's unpopular spending cuts.

While the question of the referendum hangs in the air, ERC has already started its electoral preparations and on Saturday announced its chief candidate, the independent philosopher Josep Maria Terricabras, who does not reject a pact with CiU and says party leader Oriol Junqueras should negotiate "the best panorama possible for Catalonia." Terricabras warned against using the elections as a rehearsal for a referendum due to the turnout issue, but said they should serve to show Europe "what interests us and what we want."

CDC, ahead of any possible pact and joint candidate, has cited the serving eurodeputy Ramon Tremosa: "A very valued person in the party and in Europe," said Corominas of the candidate, adding of the joint candidacy: "We'll talk about that when the time comes." Another issue CiU and ERC have to broach is their tangled European alliances: CDC is part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; Unió eurodeputy Salvador Cedó belongs to the European PP; ERC forms part of the the Greens-European Free Alliance. However, ERC, CiU and the green-left Iniciativa have worked together on questions relating to Catalonia during this legislature.

The same applies to electoral alliances. CDC formed part of the Coalition for Europe in 2005, alongside the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the Canaries Coalition and the center-left nationalist Andalusian Party. ERC has regularly negotiated with Basque radical leftists Bildu and the Galician National Bloc to form a coalition, but these talks are "at a very early stage" according to party sources.

ERC has made contact with one of CiU's European allies, via an informal meeting this weekend with the PNV in acceptance of an old invitation to national ERC deputy Joan Tardà from the Basque nationalists to attend a soccer match at Athletic Bilbao's new San Mamés stadium. Also in the visiting party was Junqueras, who met with PNV officials for the first time since assuming leadership of ERC in 2011.

According to ERC sources, the PNV deputies, Pedro Azpiazu and Aitor Esteban were interested in Junqueras' take on Catalonia's drive to hold a referendum on independence.

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