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Catalan independence movement courts Colau after break with Socialists

Parties see chance to boost power in Barcelona after mayor splits with PSC over support of Article 155

Jaume Collboni and Ada Colau, at the announcement of their leadership pact.
Jaume Collboni and Ada Colau, at the announcement of their leadership pact.

An important new move has emerged in the complicated chess game of Catalan politics in the run-up to regional elections on December 21.

Left-wing Mayor Ada Colau, who is governing in minority in Barcelona City Hall, has decided to pull the plug on a partnership deal with the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) that has been in place since the 2015 local elections. The decision was made after Colau put the issue to the grassroots members of her party, Barcelona en Comú, with 2,059 of the 3,800 participants (54.18%) voting in favor of a break with the PSC. Nearly 10,000 people were eligible to vote.

Colau has ruled out a new, long-term leadership deal given that local elections are just 18 months off

The decision was made based on the PSC's support of the central government in Madrid invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which saw Catalonia’s regional powers suspended in the wake of the recent unilateral declaration of independence that was voted through Catalan parliament.

But the move now threatens to destabilize the fragile political ecosystem in the Catalan capital; it also offers a sniff of a hope to an independence movement that is struggling to regain its footing after Madrid invoked Article 155 and called a snap regional election for December 21.

Colau, who only has the backing of 11 of the 41 councilors in Barcelona City Hall, has always dodged and weaved on the issue of her support for Catalan independence, refusing to pledge her outright allegiance to any particular camp.

But her decision to split with the PSC because of its support of Madrid’s use of Article 155 means Colau will need to find support for her social plans elsewhere. And on the regional level, Catalunya en Comú – a party made up of Barcelona en Comú and the Catalan Greens, among other groups – could now be well placed to strike a partnership deal with the pro-independence Republic Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the radical left-wing CUP after December 21.

Ada Colau’s move threatens to destabilize the fragile political ecosystem in Barcelona

Those pro-independence parties were quick both to recognize the symbolic value of the split for the independence movement and to congratulate Colau on the move. ERC spokesperson in City Hall Alfred Bosch celebrated the fact that the mayor – who made a name for herself in Spain as an anti-evictions activist – had made a break with the politicians “who had ruled the city like always with the same people as always.”

He added that the party was “open” to talks with Barcelona en Comú on the issue of creating an alliance of “forces opposed to Article 155 and [Spain’s ruling] Popular Party.”

The municipal branch of the party of sacked Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, PDeCAT, also said they were ready to “sit down and talk” with Colau if the break with the Socialists was a reality. Meanwhile, the CUP described the departure of the PSC as an “opportunity” and flagged the possibility of an alliance between themselves, the ERC and the mayor’s party.

The break-up of the deal between Colau and the PSC comes at a critical juncture for the Catalan independence movement, with a debate taking place over whether the route of unilateral action is feasible or if a referendum agreed to by Madrid, and without a fixed timetable, is a better option. If the latter option wins out, the position of PDeCAT and the ERC would be closer to that of Colau and her party, which could create room for a closer working partnership in future.

Colau has always dodged and weaved on the issue of her support for Catalan independence

But it should be noted any such leadership deal in Barcelona would be temporary given that Colau has ruled out a long-term deal with local elections just 18 months off.

Meanwhile, Colau stated again on Monday that she was not pro-independence. In an interview with Catalan radio station RAC 1, she also said votes cast for Catalunya en Comú in the December 21 elections could not be counted as votes for independence. The mayor was equally damning of the universal declaration of independence passed by the Catalan parliament in mid-October and of the application of Article 155 by Madrid.

But she went on to recognize that her party had room for both those who supported and rejected Catalan independence. She spoke out against “bloc politics” and stressed the importance of her “social agenda.”

Anti-independence forces are less than impressed by Colau’s about-face. Jaume Collboni of the PSC said Colau was “more concerned about what the independence movement thought about her than the opinion of people in Barcelona.” And the leader of the center-right party Ciudadanos in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas said “Colau, always, always, has been on the side of independence.”

English version by George Mills.

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