Following an internal survey of members, the independentist party Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña (ERC) has moved to support the proposed coalition government in Spain in return for talks between the Spanish and Catalan governments.
The survey revealed that 94.6% of ERC members would support the new coalition in return for talks to address what is referred to as Catalonia’s “political conflict with the state”. This support would involve abstaining in the investiture vote in parliament set to take place in the next few weeks.
Without the support of smaller, secessionist parties such as the ERC, the leader of the Socialist Party, Pedro Sánchez, will be unable to form his promised “progressive government”. A preliminary coalition deal was reached several weeks ago between the Socialists, who topped the November polls, and the far-left Unidas Podemos.
But having won only 120 seats – down from 123 in April’s election – even with the 35 from Podemos Sánchez still finds himself 21 seats short of a majority. The ERC’s willingness to trade talks for abstention could prove to be crucial in securing the investiture of the proposed government.
If the coalition does receive the required support, it will be Spain’s first coalition government since its return to democracy in the 1970s.
The November general election – Spain’s fourth since 2015 – did not break the deadlock as Sánchez had hoped when he called it after no party reached a majority in April. Instead, the results brought to light Spain’s move away from traditional two-party politics to a multiparty political system, with vote shares further fragmenting. While a deal with nationalist parties is considered by some as politically risky, analysts have highlighted that the complexity of the current political situation will likely require an unprecedented solution.
“Pedro Sánchez has to make a move,” ERC spokeswoman, Marta Vilalta, said after the release of the poll. “He needs to choose between a negotiating table or a failed investiture. The ball is in his court.”
The ERC has proposed four conditions for its support. The negotiations must be between the Spanish and Catalan governments as equals, and no issues are to be left off the table. There must also be a clear calendar of steps to be taken as well as guarantees that any agreements reached will be honoured.
“It could be the first step to find a democratic solution to the conflict,” Vilalta added.
The 2017 referendum on Catalan independence sparked a political crisis in Spain which has showed no signs of dying down since. Just days before the November election, protests broke out in Barcelona following the sentencing of nine separatist leaders over their roles in the referendum.
The leader of the ERC, Oriol Junqueras, was given a 13-year sentence, the longest sentence of the nine.
A legal dispute has also been brewing in recent weeks concerning two other Catalan leaders, Antoni Comín and Carlos Puigdemont, currently living in Belgium fleeing Spain’s demands for their arrest. Elected as MEPs in May, both were prevented from taking their seats in the European Parliament unless they first returned to Madrid to swear an oath to uphold the Spanish constitution. An initial court opinion ruled that these additional requirements imposed by Spain were illegal.
Spain has faced criticism for the way in which it has dealt with the situation in Catalonia. But the ERC’s proposal to support the coalition in exchange for negotiations could provide some optimism for much-needed progress. While out on the streets of Barcelona last month, Catalan protesters suggested that talks needed to begin between the governments to try to find a lasting solution.