A step too far

This week the ERC made its most audacious demands of the Spanish government to date - and Sánchez, desperate to push his 2021 budget through, has tentatively agreed to satisfy them

Mark Nayler

Friday, 27 November 2020, 11:12


The pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC) has become steadily more confident over the last two years, using its small but pivotal presence in parliament to pin Pedro Sánchez to the wall. This week, the ERC made its most audacious demands of the Spanish government to date - and Sánchez, desperate to push his 2021 budget through parliament before the end of year, has tentatively agreed to satisfy them. This time, though, he's gone a step too far.

Sánchez has theoretically agreed to abolish "tax dumping" in Madrid - i.e. the reduction of the capital's tax rates to attract business and investment. The principle, rather than the specific content, of this clause is the most objectionable aspect of his pact with the ERC. Spanish politics has apparently become so deal-orientated that the fiscal policies of the capital can be indirectly altered by minority parties from other parts of Spain, without the assent or collaboration of Madrid's Conservative-led administration.

The Socialist leader wasn't always so accommodating of Catalan secessionists. "We do not accept ultimatums": this was the apparently principled stance of his government in late 2018, as ERC and other pro-independence groups celebrated the first anniversary of their failed attempt to break from the rest of Spain. It was assumed in response to a threat made by Catalonia's then-president Quim Torra, to the effect that, unless Sánchez guaranteed a legal referendum on secession within a month, the Catalan parties represented in Madrid would cease to support him. On this occasion, the Socialist leader toughed it out.

Just over a year later, after the two elections of 2019 had failed to award any single party a parliamentary majority, Sánchez was again in a position of needing the votes of Catalan separatists, this time in order to be sworn in as prime minister. He eventually secured them, but only after agreeing to discuss the issue of Catalan independence, or at least the possibility of a legal referendum on the matter, with the region's secessionists. That concession was vague and mainly symbolic, but those secured by the ERC this week are more concrete. They also show the disproportionate amount of control exerted by Catalan separatists over national parliament.

The ERC has praised its deal with the Socialists as a symbol of the "paradigm shift" that's occurred in Spanish democracy over the past forty years. In a way, it has a point: the plurality of ideologies represented in today's lower house would have been inconceivable ten years ago, let alone immediately after the death of Francisco Franco. But hastily forming or altering policies of national importance without due process, in order to satisfy the demands of a group that sits on thirteen of the 350 seats in congress, is far from democratic.

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