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Economy the priority for Catalan election victors

The CiU nationalists' overwhelming election victory has significance both in the northern region and in broader Spanish politics.


Much has been made of the fact that the CiU nationalist candidate in the Catalan elections, Artur Mas, has said he would vote “yes” in a putative referendum on independence. However, having won the November 28 ballot in resounding fashion, he and his party will be worrying more about the state of the region’s economy than stoking the fires of separatism – at least in the short term.

CiU won 62 seats in the regional parliament, up from 48 in 2006 and just six short of an overall majority, enabling it to govern alone for the next four years, although it will need help to push laws through. The governing Catalan Socialists saw their share of seats drop from 37 to 28 and their tripartite partners both suffered losses: the ERC republican nationalists from 21 seats to 10 and the ICV greens from 12 seats to 10.

One of the day’s most noteworthy outcomes was an increase of four seats for the conservative Popular Party, which is now the region’s third force.

But the main conclusion from the result is the resurgence of Catalan nationalism. The tensions between Barcelona and Madrid over the last year have thrown the relationship between the two once more to the forefront of Spanish and Catalan politics.

Mas’s party is traditionally not seen as overtly pro-independence, but during the campaign, its leader exploited resentment at Madrid’s meddling with the Estatut, which granted greater autonomy to the region, and alarmed conservatives in the capital with remarks such as: “Independence might take four years, it might take 40 or it could be a lot quicker than some people think. It also depends on how Spain acts towards Catalonia,” while also defending the possibility of holding a referendum on breaking away from Spain.

With the mandate he has been handed, Mas and CiU will undoubtedly feel emboldened to pressure for concessions from Madrid; most obviously for the kind of special fiscal status the Basque Country and Navarre enjoy.

But we might see a good deal less nationalist agitation than expected. Mas was inevitably going to play the “Catalan” card during the campaign, especially when seeking to topple a Catalan Socialist Party whose own loyalty to the region is under question. Moreover, there is little chance of putting Catalan-Madrid relations on the national agenda until after the next general elections – probably in 2012. If a PP administration is in power by that time, it will oppose any attempts at increased autonomy by Catalonia. Meanwhile, there is the more pressing issue of the wider economy to worry about.

“One of the problems with the tripartite coalition is that they have focused on issues that didn’t always affect people’s lives so much,” Ramón Pacheco-Pardo, a lecturer in European Studies and Spanish Contemporary Politics at London’s King’s College, told Iberosphere. “CiU are very worried about fixing the economy.”

And with the economic powerhouse of Catalonia being deeply affected by the Spanish recession, Mas knows his priority is to get it rolling again rather than frustrating his voters and riling non-Catalans by focusing on narrower issues of identity.

Looking beyond the northern region, this result resounds on the broader Spanish political stage. For the PP it is encouragement that nationalism is not the only platform that appeals to Catalans as the 2012 vote looms. For the Socialists in Madrid, the failure to mobilise its base is a deep worry, with 2012 also in mind.

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Published: Nov 29 2010
Category: Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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