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With no Catalan government in sight, Madrid prepares for long-term control

Authorities have to address pressing needs in education, healthcare and emergency planning

PM Mariano Rajoy was expecting a new Catalan government to be formed by now.
PM Mariano Rajoy was expecting a new Catalan government to be formed by now. EFE

Faced with continued political gridlock in Catalonia, the Spanish government is preparing to roll out measures to deal with pressing needs in social services, welfare and emergency planning in the northeastern region.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had originally hoped that the Catalan election of December 21 would produce a new working government, ending the takeover of regional affairs by Madrid under Article 155 of the Constitution.

We are not going to change three million Catalan school books

Spanish government official

But the new parliament that emerged from the vote has so far been unable to name a new regional premier. Carles Puigdemont, the ousted leader who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, is seeking a remote appointment that is not allowed by local legislation, and no alternative candidate has been found.

With no clear end date for restoring self-rule to the region, Madrid is now planning to take action in socially sensitive areas where lengthy delays are not an option, including education, healthcare, disability benefits and forest-fire contingency plans.

Sources familiar with the situation said that Rajoy’s decision to handle “the regular running of Catalan government affairs” will not make any changes to existing policies in the region, nor will Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) seek to introduce any ideologically biased projects.

Ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont.
Ousted Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont. AFP

However, there are voices within the PP calling on the executive for more overtly political policies in Catalonia. Public education and the public broadcaster TV3 are often cited as examples of pro-separatist bias that need reform.

But government sources consulted by this newspaper said there are no such plans in the pipeline. “We are not going to change three million schoolbooks,” said one official. As for the Catalan broadcaster, “its director has to be appointed by the Catalan parliament.”

One of the most urgent tasks involves student enrollment at public schools, which takes place in March. The healthcare sector is also awaiting new measures to be implemented. And job-seekers are waiting for authorities to publish lists of new civil service work opportunities. Finally, forest-fire contingency plans need to be reviewed and implemented before the summer.

“The technical secretaries at each government department are the ones who spell out their priorities to the central government, because they are the ones with the information and experience about what needs to be done in their region,” said government sources. To date, the central executive has been following suggestions from Catalan government workers.

Political paralysis

EL PAÍS

The pro-unity opposition in the Catalan parliament has complained about the political paralysis gripping the region, although it is unclear how this situation will be overcome. The separatist parties together hold a majority of 68 seats in the regional assembly and so far refuse to present any candidate other than Carles Puigdemont. And the unionist Ciudadanos, Popular Party and Catalan Socialists collectively have 57 seats. Even if the unaligned Catalunya en Comú agreed to side with them – an unlikely scenario – its eight deputies are not enough to overtake the separatist bloc.

English version by Susana Urra.

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