THE OBSERVER

Undercurrent

The wave action generated in recent days in the Catalan Parliament is so over the top that the movement behind the scenes could pass unnoticed, and does not indicate clearly enough the underlying shift that is happening in both Spanish and Catalan politics. Center-left alliances are being created in both Madrid and Barcelona, and while no-one knows where they will lead, they do open up political possibilities because they break the blocs that have existed up to now. Nobody yet knows what result these attempts at bridging the gap will have, but they are clearly taking place in very diverse scenarios.

PARLIAMENT. In Catalonia, if we look past the details and rhetoric of the parliamentary brouhaha between JxCat and ERC over the status of imprisoned or exiled representatives, the two groups have employed strategies that are very different in both form and substance. ERC has prioritized the functioning of Parliament in the manner exercised by Speaker Roger Torrent since the beginning of the term; in addition to guaranteeing that votes are counted and can be enacted, this sends a message to the Socialist Party and to Justice Llarena. In contrast, JxCat has put the legitimate complaint against Llarena for meddling in parliamentary activity ahead of everything else. The decision was made with the approval of Puigdemont, but it is to a great extent a result of the indignation and emotion felt by a great number of its delegates, some of whom spoke of a "catharsis" on Thursday.

The fact is that the parliamentary majority in favor of independence that had already disappeared due to the CUP's actions at the time of the Jordi Turull investiture vote was damaged even further during the voting on general political debate resolutions. The Catalan government, despite the maneuvering of Torra and Aragonès the week before, lost a dozen votes, and the crutch of the Comuns became necessary in other votes, such as the reprimand of Felipe VI. The Comuns —or their Podemos colleagues— also appeared on the political front lines in Madrid.

MADRID. Pedro Sánchez is not only still afloat, but the budget agreement signed with Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has given him some breathing room. The Sánchez government is afloat despite the scandal of having a cabinet minister, Josep Borrell, fined by the CNMV (Spanish Securities Agency) for having used insider information to sell stock in Abengoa while a member of its Board of Directors. The case of Foreign Minister Borrell was picked up by leading international newspapers, but in Spain it seems to be a lesser concern compared to the gossip about the Justice Minister. Sánchez is stronger today because of the announcement of the agreement with Podemos on budgetary intentions, which is an unequivocal gesture to those who have most suffered under the worst recession of our lifetime. Five billion euros will go towards helping to leave behind the decade of the Great Recession, with highlights including the greatest increase in the minimum salary in 40 years (22%) up to €900 per month, a rise in pensions (with a cost exceeding €1 billion), a surge in spending on science and education (€1.3 billion), unemployment and dependence subsidies (€850 million), and housing (€600 m), and a responsible equalizing of paternity leave (a futher €300 million). The budget at the moment is a declaration of political intentions and comes at a time when the country is weakened by 15% unemployment, public debt of around 100%, and tax collections that could be greatly improved if business fraud could be reduced. The Finance Ministry's revenue forecast (€5.678 billion) should cover the expense, but it will also entail a significant tax hike on working incomes.

The budget will have the votes of Podemos, and probably those of Compromís and the Canary Islands groups as well (156 representatives). With the PNB it would be 161, but Sánchez will need to beat the combined PP and C's total of 166 seats, and as such, the support of one of the pro-independence groups and the abstention of the other will be essential.

The same day that the agreement was approved, Spanish vice president Carmen Calvo —before a meeting with her Catalan counterpart, Elsa Artadi— tested the waters on an improvement of the political prisoners' situation. Meritxell Batet, Josep Borrell (on the BBC), and Teresa Cunillera had already spoken along the same lines. The Ministers now not only go on RAC1 radio, but have also spoken of "preventive release", despite the fact that they later created a controversy or directly lied about the Scottish referendum.

LLEDONERS. This is the pressure cooker of Catalan politics, through which all political, trade union, and business speakers pass. The strategy of ERC and also Òmnium’s is carefully laid down in Catalonia’s Lledoners prison. In contrast, JxCat, Crida, and PDECat spin around in a state of agitation that can be seen in tense parliamentary groups in Barcelona and Madrid, and with their leadership formally anchored in the legitimacy of the restitution of positions and powers. The PSOE's contacts with the entire political spectrum are ongoing. The representatives are seeking a way out before the trial kicks off and —once again— inflames public opinion in Catalonia; or an accident leads to the calling of snap elections in a Spain always tempted by reaction.

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