Respect, confidence and dialogue, great and small challenges facing the new government of Pedro Sánchez in Catalonia

By Esther Niubó

On 1 June 2018, for the first time in the history of Spain a successful no-confidence motion was held against the president of the Government, Mariano Rajoy, after which his party was convicted for corruption. The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) gained the necessary support to evict the People’s party (PP) from La Moncloa with a government programme centred on democratic regeneration, economic and financial stability, and on the impetus for a social and environmental agenda that has been abandoned to date.

With this programme, Pedro Sánchez aims to honour pensions, put an end to labour reform that has generated so much insecurity, put equality at the heart of the political project and, on the other hand, open channels of dialogue to achieve a broad consensus and deal with the resolution of major political conflicts, such as the relationship between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

A sudden change in the political direction that, without a doubt, has opened up a new era in Spain but also, and especially, in Catalonia, exhausted after months of paralysis. The first paralysis is due to the primacy of the independentist narrative, encouraged by the institutions of the Generalitat of Catalonia, and then due to the contribution of self-government. The government of Puigdemont violated the Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia (EAC) without a required social majority and triggered a constitutional provision to that effect (article 155). The independentist majority that won the elections expressly let time pass because of its failure to appoint credible advisers, but rather others in prison or abroad, precisely in order to contribute to maintaining a politically exceptional situation that makes it difficult to get past the confrontation and move on to the next stage.

Meanwhile, days before the no-confidence motion against Rajoy and the formation of a new Spanish government, the new president of the Generalitat, Quim Torra, finally rectified and appointed credible advisers who took office; this in turn enabled article 155 to be lifted and contributed to the return of a certain amount of institutional normality and actual Catalan self-government.

Henceforth, important challenges will open up that the new president Pedro Sánchez, along with Meritxell Batet, a Catalan and new Minister of Territorial Policy, shall have to confront. The first one is the recovery, respect, listening to and recognition of institutional loyalty and the recovery of confidence. This confidence will essentially require the Catalan government to renounce, not its ideas, but unilaterality and commit itself to respecting the law – or changing it with the necessary majorities, and not less than those stipulated in the EAC – or the separation of powers. The second point is the autonomic financing, pending review since 2014, not only with Catalonia but with all the autonomous communities. The third point is the investments neglected by the Spanish government in Catalonia, especially those in regard to highly essential infrastructures and the negotiation of the 45 demands Puigdemont gave to the Spanish government, including points concerning social and financial policies, lack of compliance and conflicts over powers that can and should be addressed from policy. Finally, but no less important, is the simple recognition that Spain is multinational, that all the co-official languages are Spanish languages that the government should protect and promote, etc. Recognition that can also be made within the framework of constitutional reform that the new minister has stated is “urgent, feasible and desirable”. The law has to be respected, and in this regard an effort is being made to build new consensus.

Conversely, apart from its own socialist agenda, the Catalan government has already declared its willingness to ask the new Spanish government to lift the cautionary suspension of 14 laws, mainly social in nature, e.g., people at risk of homelessness having the right to housing protected or the creation of a Catalan Social Protection Agency or universality of healthcare, that are a subject of dispute regarding powers between governments. It is also likely that the new Catalan government will also demand gestures on the issue of prison policy concerning the imprisoned independent leaders as an introduction to Catalan prisons that could delicately take place before the trial.

In spite of the expressed will of the two governments to start a new bilateral relationship based on dialogue, there are many clouds gathering on this new horizon: the pressures they may receive from civil society or from Puigdemont’s actual milieu, the independentist forces obliging them to make gestures and continue the narrative of unilaterality and of unreformable Spain that would rule out any success in this dialogue, as well as the catastrophic and alarmist discourse from PP and Ciudadanos. It is likely that these two parties will again accuse the PSOE of endangering Spain’s national integrity when it has been its stagnation that has led to a greater degree of instability in the country.

In short, even more complex times are approaching in the relationships between the Catalan government and the new Spanish socialist government. There is no doubt that no one imagined this change of scenario that will enable us to confront the Catalan challenge with enormous hope.

For Catalanism and Federal Spain


  1. Negotiation of the demands put forward by the Government of the Generalitat
  2. Development of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia
  3. Address the negotiation of the Autonomic Financing System
  4. State investment in strategic infrastructures of Catalonia
  5. Recognition of the language, culture and symbols of Catalonia
  6. Federal reform of the Spanish Constitution


Read the article in Spanish