The Observer

Barcelona is mighty

Catalan politics will remain in a standstill until the trial against the political prisoners kicks off. Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez is focused on a budget proposal which he doesn’t even know if he will get to present in parliament. The PP and Ciudadanos leaders —Pablo Casado and Albert Rivera— are competing with Vox [the rising star of the Spanish far right] for the voters who feel nostalgic about the Franco days. The atmosphere surrounding public affairs in Spain and Catalonia is growing ever more stagnant. When one observes the parliaments in Madrid and Barcelona, one can feel nostalgia for the great bygone public speakers who would use irony and don the gloves of rhetoric so as not to end up mired in an exchange of blows. But that was a different time and the constitutional pact borne out of the will and fear that governed the political Transition [following Franco’s death] was still intact. Now wickedness has taken over the political scene and many media shout at the gladiators on the tv arena to egg them on. Perhaps unstoppably, politics is gradually turning into a spectacle where dialogue, nuance and the search for a space that fosters agreement are perceived as the instruments of a certain naivety. It is a spectacle where governance is not a priority and —in terms of government policy— neither are the mid to long-term decisions about the services provided by the administration to the general public.

Rather than policy, lawmakers are churning out vapour; and the other pillars of the State, such as the justice system, are not exactly contributing their share of stability, either. Instead, they are adrift in a sea of disrepute after having allowed themselves to become embroiled in political manipulation —or having joined in with gusto. Apparently, democracy and peaceful coexistence are not among the values that are worth preserving. Instead, they sponsor a certain vision of Spain’s unity and of a State that will pay any price to thwart change, as it sinks lower into its own degradation.

Politics are bogged down with regional elections in Andalusia just around the corner, and perhaps a snap general election on May 26 —the same date when European, regional and local polls are slated— or even earlier. In this scenario, the political parties are beginning to rev up their electoral engines.

Given this state of affairs, the election priority in Catalonia has shifted to its capital, Barcelona, and the city is turning into the must-have trophy which political parties and newcomers are all eyeing up as they prepare for battle. The trouble for Barcelona residents is that seizing the city council appears to be a stepping stone to something else, as far as all the mayor hopefuls are concerned.

Who is thinking about Barcelona city?

The local elections in the Catalan capital have drawn a good deal of unexpected candidates. So far incumbent mayor Ada Colau is the only one who is actually an elected councillor in the local government, together with PSC leader Jaume Collboni (assuming he decides to run again). Former Évry mayor —and French PM— Manuel Valls has garnered significant financial backing in business circles so as to power a machine that belongs to Ciudadanos and [unionist platform] Societat Civil Catalana.

As a candidate, Manuel Valls’ credentials show many years of public service, with high and low career points. His supercop calling card, with making streets safer and re-energising the local economy as his two main pledges, might lure middle class voters and local residents who are fed up with the way public space have been hijacked in the city. Valls himself (and his courtier-like political outlook) are his greatest enemies. If he does his homework, Valls will learn his stuff, but he will hardly get any hands-on time at all. You don’t get to know Ciutat Vella by spending three hours walking around the Boqueria market. Valls showed that he will struggle to sympathise with the people of Barcelona when he didn’t know the cost of public transport fares and brushed the matter aside, even though the City plays a key role in negotiating transport prices, something which indirectly depends on the Spanish budget. And yet he claims that he is in an enviable position to negotiate with Madrid. Based on what? He seems to think it is down to his career in France and his connections with the State’s political elite.

The other new candidate is Ernest Maragall, a man whose ambition is to update the “collective legacy” left behind by brother Pasqual Maragall, who was an outstanding mayor [of Barcelona in the 1990s]. Ernest Maragall knows the city well and he is running for mayor owing to the situation in Catalonia and because ERC leader Oriol Junqueras specifically asked him to from his prison cell in Lledoners. Under normal circumstances, Maragall would not be a candidate.

We may still get a few surprises from the other parties. Jaume Collboni would be the PSC’s natural candidate, but there is a rumour going round about an unexpected ticket led by Spanish minister Meritxell Batet. Likewise, the PDECat takes it for granted that Neus Munté, the winner of the party’s local primary, will be on their slate with Ferran Mascarell, even if it is led by Quim Forn or perhaps Elsa Artadi.

The battle for Barcelona will be extremely exciting. Hopefully all sides will see it as a fight to win back the city and not as a means to other ends.

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