CATALONIA

Catalan deadlock affecting not just politics, government workers warn

Spending projects on hold as politicians fail to produce new leadership before fresh election must be held

Posters demanding freedom for "political prisoners" in the Catalan Justice Department.
Posters demanding freedom for "political prisoners" in the Catalan Justice Department.Albert García

Over three months after Catalans voted in a snap election, and after three failed nominations to the regional premiership, a new deadline looms on the political horizon. If a new government leader is not appointed before May 22, the Catalan parliament will be dissolved and fresh elections called.

There are four solutions to the ongoing deadlock in Catalonia: finding a candidate that can legally be appointed, creating a national unity government, forming a government made up of independents, or holding a new election that nobody seems to want.

Strategic decisions are not being made because the boards are not meeting

Lluis Rovira, director CREA

While politicians battle it out, government workers in the region are growing increasingly impatient with the situation that was created when Madrid invoked Article 155 of the Constitution to temporarily suspend home rule.

Government employees and agency representatives consulted by this newspaper said that the situation is akin to a long, drawn-out post-election process, during which new projects cannot be implemented until a new government is appointed.

“The day-to-day administrative work is getting done, but strategic decisions are not being made because the boards are not meeting,” notes Lluís Rovira, director of CREA, the Research Centers Institution of Catalonia.

Joan Maria Sentís, coordinator of public affairs for the trade union CC OO, feels that “the longer this lasts, the worse it will be, because there are issues that are non-negotiable.”

There is also an undercurrent of tension among government staff, said sources at CC OO: some employees are openly supporting the separatist politicians in pre-trial detention, while others prefer not to take sides in public.

Jordi Sànchez has offered to stand again as a candidate and has the support of Puigdemont

Since September 2017, all Catalan government expenditure requests must come with a certificate guaranteeing that the expenditure meets all legal requirements. But authorizations to release funds for expensive equipment or for future projects are on hold, says the head of CREA. And big expenses are slow to receive approval, even when they are going to the health department. Even private investments that require political mediation, such as the BCN World center in Tarragona, are experiencing delays.

All sources agreed that the central government has been making a minimal amount of decisions throughout this time. “They are staying in the background,” said one source at the Catalan department of home affairs. The central government has also backed down on its early intention to give Castilian Spanish a bigger presence in Catalan classrooms.

Candidates

The two main separatist parties, Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and Catalan Republican Left (ERC), are exploring the possibility of a repeat nomination for Jordi Sànchez, a grassroots activist who is in pre-trial detention on rebellion charges in connection with the failed independence bid.

Court date in Brussels

Álvaro Sánchez

Three Catalan ex-government officials who fled to Belgium after the unilateral independence declaration are due to appear before a judge in Brussels on Thursday. Antoni Comín, Meritxell Serret and Lluis Puig are doing so two weeks after the Spanish Supreme Court activated a European arrest warrant. Prosecution services in Brussels justified the delay by saying that none of them are viewed as a flight risk. Following the hearing, the judge will have to decide whether they are allowed to avoid custody while a decision is made regarding their extradition to Spain, a process that could take around three months.

On Thursday, Sànchez sent a letter offering to be a candidate again for the premiership. His first candidacy did not prosper because nominees must be physically present at the investiture debate, which he could not do from prison. Likewise, ousted premier Carles Puigdemont was unable to secure a remote appointment from Belgium, where he had fled to evade the rebellion probe. Puigdemont has since been arrested in Germany and is awaiting a decision on his extradition to Spain.

Separatists are now hoping for a supportive statement by the UN Human Rights Committee, which is investigating Sànchez’s situation. This would help their claim that the Spanish justice system is politicized, and rekindle Puigdemont’s own chances of reinstatement.

Puigdemont however, has sent a letter supporting the investiture of Sànchez.

Meanwhile, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) is defending the need for a national unity government with all the main forces in parliament, but so far this idea has not met with much success. Neither has the government of independents proposed by Catalunya en Comú-Podem, the Catalan branch of Podemos.

English version by Susana Urra.

More information