If someone had bet a few years ago that the Christmas speech of a president of the Generalitat of ERC would not mention the phrase "independence referendum" several times, they would have been branded deluded. But it is like this. Pere Aragonès spoke of exercising an ambiguous “right to decide” in a future to be determined. Junts was quick to reproach him for his lack of ambition from the standpoint of independence. However, the PP raised the alarm at what it considers an inevitable and almost imminent event, a referendum that could even be held in 2023 at the hands of Pedro Sánchez. Why are there such disparate readings of the same discourse? It is true that there are times when Catalan politics and that emanating from Madrid are each installed in their own bubble. However, the main reason is that the independence movement is once again the determining phenomenon of the speech of the PP of Alberto Núñez Feijóo for the next electoral year.
The portrait that the conservative leader draws of Sánchez is clear: a frivolous president, without a sense of State and a liar. A profile based on his relationship with Catalonia. The message of the PP is that we are facing a politician who, if he needs it to stay in power, will not hesitate to allow an independence referendum, be it in 2023 or in the next legislature if he repeats in Moncloa. An omen based on "his pattern of behavior" in the past, according to Feijóo, since the president has given in to the ERC's demands for pardons, the elimination of sedition and the modification of embezzlement.
To build this discourse, the PP has the statements of the Republicans. It already happened a few weeks ago, when ERC presented its paper for the next party congress in which it advocates an agreed referendum. The word "referendum" fell like a bomb in the middle of the discussion about embezzlement. At Moncloa they already knew that ERC would make the text public, but they assumed that the condition that it was agreed limited the controversy. Republicans also saw it that way. Basically, the proposal for a pro-independence consultation agreed with the central government is, for the pro-independence supporters aligned with Junts and the CUP -even for some of the ERC-, the admission that any secession referendum will not be seen on the radar of the next years.
So Aragonès replaced any allusion to a referendum on self-determination with the “right to decide” in his Sant Esteve speech, an expression that goes back to the first years of the procés, when it sought to encompass support in more tepid sectors of sovereignty. In fact, what the president has proposed for 2023 is to discuss in Catalonia the conditions under which that agreed consultation would have to be held. He calls it a "clarity agreement" in Canada, although in that country it was a law approved by the federal Parliament. The truth is that Aragonès will have to work in 2023 to achieve it given the little consensus that exists in Catalonia in this regard, even within the independence movement, not to mention that it would later have to be agreed with the central government. Long trust me. Hence, no date is set. ERC seeks to buy time to establish itself in power and expand its electoral base.
But every reference to the referendum is ammunition for the Spanish right. Unlike Pablo Casado, Feijóo tried to bring the water to the mill of the economy and the reduction of taxes, which always gave revenues to the PP. Little by little, he has been putting the focus again on Sánchez's alliances with the independence movement to shore up the president's profile as a politician with such few scruples that he would be capable of selling the country to continue in Moncloa. In turn, the socialist leader paints Feijóo as a bluff, a political fiasco, a leader without authority, capacity or criteria. He also takes advantage of the blockade of the Council of the Judiciary to establish himself as the defender of the Constitution and recalls that he contributed to applying it in Catalonia with 155. Finally, Sánchez will begin to distance himself from ERC immediately.
The dialogue table is not going to meet and the president is going to insist that the process is over and that there will be no independence referendum. In 2023, Sánchez will speak about Catalonia to underline the current calm in contrast to the turbulent years in which Mariano Rajoy ruled. So much so, that it is by no means ruled out that the PSC does not support the Generalitat's budgets, unless it can get ERC to agree to back down from its positions on emblematic projects such as the fourth ring road, the Hard Rock in Tarragona, the expansion from the airport or similar.
Salvador Illa wants to sell a vote dearly to the Aragonès accounts. The budgets of the Generalitat are not part of the ERC claims package to support those of the State and from here to an eventual new investiture of Sánchez there is a long time left. Only if the budget agreement in Catalonia makes it clear that ERC has given in to the PSC, will Illa support the accounts. On the verge of the municipal elections in May, and with Barcelona at stake, the Catalan socialists cannot afford to give the impression of being a party subservient to Esquerra. And in this they have the support of Sánchez, who shares the strategy, since it would be of great help for him to reach the mayoralty of Barcelona and present it as a triumph of his policy of appeasement in Catalonia against the "go for them" of the right. . For all this, during 2023 we are going to listen more to Feijóo talking about ERC than to Sánchez.