Pedro Sánchez’s calendar was an open secret. Announce the agreement with ERC and Junts between Wednesday and Thursday of last week, register the amnesty law proposal that same day or perhaps on Friday, and go to an investiture that would have to be resolved next week. But those plans have been frustrated by the sudden stoppage of Junts which, after seeing how the PSOE signed an agreement with ERC, has chosen to extend the negotiations, in search of an amnesty law that better meets its aspirations.
The PSOE closed on Thursday with the Republicans an agreement that was endorsed by its bases on Friday and of which Oriol Junqueras takes pride. But the independentistas have been immersed in a Cainite competition for years and in Carles Puigdemont’s party they saw the agreement with Esquerra as an affront or, at least, as a good opportunity to propose nuances to the socialists.
Junts wants to be able to present to its people a “historic” agreement, difficult to reproach even for the most convinced pro-independence supporters, and which moves away from the pacts that ERC has signed with Sánchez during the last legislature. Distance, also in time.
Both parties, ERC and Junts, have incentives to set their own profile. Junqueras’ training has focused in this negotiation on material or competence issues, with two main achievements such as the transfer of Rodalies and the forgiveness of 20% of the debt of the Autonomous Liquidity Fund (FLA) of the Generalitat. In Junts, on the other hand, they have opted for issues more closely linked to the process, with an amnesty law as the main course that they want to be accompanied by national recognition of Catalonia and improvements for the Catalan language in Europe.
But this distribution of roles between ERC and Junts, which from the outset could anticipate a truce in the fierce competition between the two, has not been enough to avoid mockery of the opponent’s negotiations. The general secretary of Junts, Jordi Turull, has disqualified before his people the ERC pact on Rodalies, which he considers still leaves the State too much control over the railway network, while ERC has done everything possible to claim the progress in the amnesty law that the PSOE has negotiated with both.
A permanent career
“The fact that there are two parties negotiating similar things with the PSOE, and that neither of them knows that they are talking to the other, has caused a race,” acknowledged this Friday an independence leader who has participated in the exchanges with the socialists.
That race, moreover, has changed a lot since the July 23 elections. If in the last legislature ERC stood out as a necessary partner for the Government – as long as Ciudadanos did not enter the sum –, while Junts was considered a dispensable formation for Moncloa, after the last general elections the two groups are essential for Sánchez to be able to cement a majority. And this arithmetic does not end with the investiture, but will continue to be the case in all the votes that the Government wants to win in Congress. This circumstance has given much more power of influence to Junts, but also to ERC.
While waiting to see the fine print that is closed with Puigdemont, the agreement signed by the Republicans has more scope than any of those that the party closed during the last legislature and it is not an exaggeration to say that it is the first time since the beginning of the process that the Generalitat expands its powers or significantly alleviates its financial situation. Neither the Republican negotiators have improved nor the Socialists have worsened: it is simply explained because the pressure capacity of the independence movement has grown due to its parliamentary position, and despite its poor electoral results, especially that of ERC.
To which we must add that, now, both parties are necessary simultaneously, like those nuclear bombs in the movies that are only activated when two keys are activated at the same time.
As things stand, the position of the two major pro-independence parties has changed radically. If before the summer the Puigdemont party wanted to highlight its role as opposition to Sánchez, in contrast to an ERC that reached agreements with the Government, in this new legislature both compete to stand out as a better negotiator than the opposite. Both Puigdemont and Junqueras know that, the day after the investiture, in Catalonia they will be measured by who has obtained a better agreement.
The amnesty ring
One of the keys is the amnesty law and, more specifically, who is covered by the measure of criminal oblivion. Last week ERC maneuvered to make it clear that they were the ones who had obtained a text that exonerated those accused of two especially delicate causes, such as the CDR and the Democratic Tsunami. Other sources of the negotiation assure that this effort by the Republicans had a lot of representation, because both causes were covered from the first drafts of the rule.
For their part, Junts have tried in recent days to obtain a guarantee for people who, without being directly prosecuted for causes related to the process, are collaborators of political leaders and appear in summary proceedings that could end in convictions. “There are many people here who have taken the risk, who have not given up. We will not leave any soldier stranded,” the general secretary of Junts, Jordi Turull, promised his people on Friday.
Unlike ERC, which for the moment acts as a monolithic block under the tutelage of Oriol Junqueras, in Junts there is an amalgamation of sensitivities on the surface. Puigdemont has gathered authority and has managed to maintain peace and silence in his formation, with underground negotiations of which he has practically not informed even the officials of his party.
But the former president’s challenge is to complete a successful negotiation with the PSOE that, in addition, is applauded by his entire electorate. A feat for which he needs, more than anything else, that his conquests seem incomparable to those of Junqueras. And, also, that they do not obediently fit into Sánchez’s calendar.