On 14 February, Catalonia has elected a new Parliament. This was the fourth snap election in the region in almost ten years, a clear illustration of the political instability that has become installed in this north-eastern region of Spain.
It was also the last episode of a three-year-long internal fight between the two coalition partners (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya [ERC] and Junts per Catalunya [JxC]) who seemed to share nothing else than the desire to cling to power despite of their endless policy disagreements and their diverging political strategies regarding the offer of the Spanish government to engage in a permanent dialogue.
In a context where turnout was extraordinarily low (53.55 per cent), influenced by the coronavirus pandemic, the Party of Catalan Socialists (PSC) led by the former Spanish health minister Salvador Illa won an important victory. It won for the first time in 18 years, obtaining 23 per cent% of the votes and was the force that most increased its representation compared to the previous elections, almost doubling its seats from 17 to 33.
Illa ran a constructive campaign based on a message of dialogue, reconciliation, moving past the social fracture that separatism has created among Catalans, and putting social policies as well as strengthening the welfare state back at the heart of the political debate again, after 10 years of pro-independence right-wing governments with other priorities.
The citizens responded very positively: out of the 30 most populated cities and towns of Catalonia (those with more than 40.000 inhabitants), the Socialists won in 21, and they also secured a clear victory, with more than 25 per cent of the votes, in the largest of the four Catalan provinces, Barcelona.
This outcome and this victory constitute a clear endorsement of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his strategy of dialogue, negotiation and agreements with regards to Catalonia. The two political forces that are leading the inter-institutional dialogue and working to channel a successful political exit to the long-lasting Catalan debate, the Socialists and ERC, have been the two clear winners of this election. Yet it remains to be seen if ERC will be able to maintain a constructive position, or whether they will be pushed back into a more radical stance by the other pro-independence parties.
Altogether, the results were mixed for the pro-independence parties ERC, JxCat and Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), which have been part of or supported the different regional governments in the past decade. While they lost almost 700,000 votes compared to the 2017 election, they nevertheless managed to secure and widen their parliamentary grip by achieving a solid absolute majority of 74 seats out of 135. This is explained by higher differential rates of abstention in the working-class areas which are traditionally more against independence.
At the same time, the new chamber will be the most left leaning in Catalan history: there will be 83 left-wing members to 52 right wing members. This should be interpreted as a signal that it is time to turn the page on a decade of useless confrontation and embrace a new era of cooperation with the rest of Spain and Europe via an alternative government led by Salvador Illa and supported by a pro-dialogue and progressive parliamentary majority.
Unfortunately, this possibility is severely hampered by the attitude of the pro-independence parties, who signed, incredibly, during the last days of the campaign, a document that established a cordon sanitaire against governing with Social Democracy, something that is unheard of throughout Europe.
The citizens have spoken, and they have expressed a desire for change. The Socialist victory and the victory of those who push for dialogue and cooperation instead of polarisation and political confrontation prove that the opportunity for Catalonia is real. It is time to leave the confrontation aside and for the other progressive forces to allow the Socialists to govern. The PSC is the only strong party with a pro-European political project that is centred on tackling the real problems and challenges Catalans face today: inequalities, climate change, the fight against the pandemic, a fair economic recovery for all, and the efficient and transformative use of the Next Generation EU Recovery Funds, which will be crucial for our economies over the next decade.
The Socialist victory and the change of leadership in the independence bloc should lead to political de-escalation, to more dialogue and to a better use of the tools of self-government. The citizens of Catalonia have voted to open up a new set of opportunities for Catalonia. These opportunities should be seized.