ERC breaks Tripartit in Barcelona

Yesterday afternoon, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya mayoral candidate, Jordi Portabella, pulled out of talks to convene a tripartite city government in Barcelona. His move has shocked PSC officials and, apparently, even his own party leadership.

As El Periódico points out, ERC lost 43,000 votes in the recent local elections. This disaster called for one of two moves from Portabella; his immediate resignation or some sort of major strategy change. Evidently, he considers himself above resignation.

It’s evident that while outwardly backing Portabella, the ERC leadership don’t agree with this tactic. To put ERC back in to opposition after a period of shared government is not part of party strategy… but with some voters dissatisfied with the modern party (they’ve done much to drop their nasty, racist image of previous decades) voting for PxC and other more extremist groups, Esquerra has lost its way. Portabella’s move will likely precipitate a major internal crisis for the party.

10 thoughts on “ERC breaks Tripartit in Barcelona

  1. “(…)but with some voters dissatisfied with the modern party (they’ve done much to drop their nasty, racist image of previous decades) voting for PxC and other more extremist groups, Esquerra has lost its way.”

    This comment smacks of ignorance about the history of ERC and Catalan politics. Esquerra has never had any “nasty, racist image of previous decades”, unless you believe pro-Spanish propaganda. Esquerra has always been a left-of-centre party. It has always been welcoming to people from outside Catalonia, during the República, during Franco’s dictatorship and after democracy. The only requisite is that you put Catalonia’s interests first, no matter your birthplace. Common sense to me.

    To suggest that the people who voted Esquerra years ago is now voting for the nutters of PxC is just nonsense. I agree that some votes will have gone to the CUP and others back to CiU, but not to PxC, let’s be serious. There has been a lot of tension in the Osona region between ERC and PxC supporters. They are total opposites in the political spectrum.

    Voters and supporters of ERC are not dissatisfied with the “modern party” as you put it. The modern party, whatever that means, is great: it is the 3rd party in Catalonia and it is now mainstream. However, they are dissatisfied with the current leadership because although the party is in a government coalition, there is little to show for it.

    “Portabella’s move will likely precipitate a major internal crisis for the party.”
    Wishful thinking methinks, similar to your pre-election prediction in your local council! 😉 (banter mode)

    IC-V has lost more votes (in absolute terms and %), yet we don’t hear about crisis for them. The town of Santa Perpetua, where my parents live, historically a IC-V stronghold, has also fallen to the PSC, as other towns in the Baix Llobregat. They lost Sabadell a few years ago. Has this precipitated a crisis in IC-V? No.IC-V will continue to be the sidekick of PSC-PSOE, despite their mixed electoral results (good progress in the last Catalans elections, but a hammering at the Municipals).

    ERC are, despite a hostile media and a “mixed” experience in government, the 3rd party in Catalonia. I always wonder why this obsession to always portray ERC in a bad light. It is remarkable they are still in that position given the environment in which they have to operate.

    The drama, and the strategic error made by the ERC leadership is that they thought they would eat into the PSC and IC-V space outside the Barcelona area, and that has not happened and it is unlikely to happen in the short term, while they have all the press against them. ERC is always portrayed in a negative light by the media. A most challenging environment to make gains.

    It is surprising how the CUP, despite getting much better results than Ciudadanos, they don’t get a fraction of media attention and publicity. The CUP are described as radical, but Ciudadanos are mainstream. I don’t think so. It is not a mystery however. We are well used to the pro-Spanish media giving pro-Spanish parties (like Ciudadanos and other minority groups) plenty of airtime. Yet other groups with opposite views, and better electoral results, get the blanket, or hostile, treatment by the media: CUP or ERC.

    To me these results remind me of the Scottish Parliament elections in 2003, when the electorate, fed up with the current set of “professional politicians”, voted in significant numbers for minority parties like the Greens, the SSP and other independents. However, four years later, the status quo was resumed and only the Greens remain in Parliament with 2 seats, down from 7.

    I predict the same will happen in Catalonia in a few years time. One thing that will not change however is the hostility of the media establishment towards ERC, the only mainstream party that wants to change the constitutional relationship between Catalonia and Spain.

  2. Perhaps it would be healthy for Esquerra to have some sort of internal crisis?

    I guess a big question has to be whether ERC is willing to give up power by not pacting with PSC and ICV. Don’t you think it irritates many core ERC voters to see their party constantly allying with parties which are operated from Madrid?

  3. Geez… ERC voters voting PxC… Just a relation of ideas:

    – PxC’s leader said he was down with Franco.

    – Franco assassinated Companys (President of ERC and the Catalan Republic) and put members of ERC in jail during the dicatorship.

    Besides that, I do think the main point here is ERC voters are fed up with seeing their party allying with PSC, especially now with Montilla. You know, they expected greater results with ERC in the government and now what do we have? A shitty Estatut and the same sumission to Madrid. Anyway, Mas didn’t make things easier sucking Zapatero’s cock and making such dvd’s and ERC needs to penetrate into Spanish immigrants towns (nobody knows how, moreover after this election).


    My serious opinion about Esquerre (I guess you understand Catalan or at least Spanish)

  4. I think we should recap what the electoral results actually were so that we avoid being misled by the establishment media. Number of councillors elected first, percentage of the vote in brackets:

    Partit 2003 (Turnover: 61.48%) 2007 (Turnover: 53.80%)

    CiU 3687 (24.34%) 3384 (25.2%)
    PSC-PSOE 2281 (34.02%) 2570 (32.23%)
    ERC 1279 (12.77%) 1584 (11.67%)
    PP 350 (11.11%) 283 (9.88%)
    ICV 397 (10.35) 456 (9.03%)
    CUP n/a 20 (0.65%)
    Ciudadanos n/a 13 (2.35%)
    PxC n/a 17 (0.43%)

    In my view, very little has changed. In terms of percentage share of the vote, hardly any significant shift.

    The decrease in ERC’s share of the vote is taken by the CUP, and some may have returned to CiU.
    The decrease in PSOE’s and PP’s share of vote is taken by Ciudadanos, and perhaps some has been captured by PxC in some towns.

    There has been a significant increase in the number of councilors belonging to local independent parties. The discrepancies between share of the vote and elected councilors are due to the parties’ performance in their respective strongholds and weak areas. Also, we need to bear in mind that there is a 5% threshold to get a councilor elected, which explains why the C’s have not got more councilors. The CUP only submitted lists in a handful of local councils but did very well in these, hence their number of councilors being higher than Ciudadanos; whereas C’s presented more lists across the country (higher %) with mixed results (fewer councillors).

    The big shock of course is the very low turnout, the lowest in the Spanish state, and the number of blank votes, the highest. The feeling of disenfranchisement, both in the metropolitan area and in the countryside, is huge. People, regardless of their political views about Spain/Catalonia or right/left, are just fed up and could not care less.

    Thus, there is no need for a “cathartic crisis” in ERC, unless there is one in every single mainstream party. All the media furore about a crisis in ERC is just the pro-Spanish media playing the same old game: hostile coverage towards the only party capable and *willing to change the status quo with Spain.

    In terms of a crisis, it looks to me that the PP are in deeper trouble: 67 fewer councilors (from 350, a loss of 19% of their elected political representation) and a loss of 1.23% of the total share of the vote. If this result is repeated in the Catalan elections, the PP could easily become the fifth party in Catalonia, behind those nasty separatists of ERC and those pesky communists of IC-V. (irony)

    The party which claims to be central to Spanish politics, more marginal than ever in Catalonia. Now, I don’t see the establishment media reporting on this crisis, do you?

    (*Admittedly ERC’s delivery while in coalition government has been patchy, to say the least…)

  5. Rab – thanks for your comments. It’s interesting to hear a different point of view on these things, especially from someone who knows a lot more about ERC than I do.

    The 19% drop for PP is interesting… I think it’s clear that a totally negative campaign, like that executed by PP is rarely truly effective. Across Spain, the PP had a pretty disastrous day when you consider that local elections are traditionally used to kick the ruling party without un-electing them.

    As to ERC’s performance in the Generalitat, I’ve heard much to suggest that they have fucked up big time in their handling of the Universities Etc department. But there’s a lot to be said for the argument that they get handed the more difficult ministries in the Tripartit… it’s the pay-off, I suppose.

    My statement that the PxC had soaked up rebel ERC voters was clearly mistaken. But do you really maintain that La Vanguardia and El Periodico are firmly pro-Spanish? If so, what do you reckon would be their position should the PSC take the admittedly unlikely step of breaking away from the PSOE?

  6. Grey – your English is perfect and much better than my Catalan or, for that matter, Spanish. Thanks for your comment!

  7. I think Rab is right. There’s no big real crisis in ERC, or not bigger than in the other parties. I’d say there are two big ‘communities’ who want ERC to disappear or at least to be a minor party like back in the days:

    – Spaniards. Of course they don’t want an independentist party to get bigger and bigger.

    -PSC (and their paper, El Periódico) and CiU (La Vanguardia). For 30 years this has been a game of two and none of them like it’s becoming a game of 3. So, maybe those papers ain’t firmly pro-Spanish (hmmm… but why La Vanguardia is only written in Spanish?) but they do are firmly against ERC. And ERC is still weak, or weaker than their experienced competitors. Change from a hard ideologist party to a real party who wanna be in the government is being hard.

  8. Hi Tom,

    I would not claim to know much about ERC, especially since I am not a member of the party and I don’t live in Catalonia any more, but I keep up to date with friends who are in politics, in ERC or other parties.

    1) There is not doubt that both La Vanguardia and El Periodico are pro-Spanish newspapers and both display hostility towards ERC in their coverage of politics. Their editorials are always against the pro-indepedence route and in favour of the unity of the Spanish state, etc.

    Only during the electoral campaign of 2003, El Periodico provided a decent and, sometimes even generous, coverage of ERC.

    However, let’s not forget why they did it: CiU had been in power for 22 years in the Catalan government and Pujol had bowed out of active politics. The PSOE and their friendly press thought that CiU would collapse after Pujol. El Periodico’s coverage of ERC at the time only had the objective of weakening CiU, which it did to some degree. However, ERC did not gain votes from CiU only: in the countryside, ERC has grown at the expense of the PSC-PSOE too.

    Once the objective of having a PSC-PSOE candidate running the Generalitat was achieved, the non-hostile coverage of ERC stopped and it is back to normal again.

    With regards to La Vanguardia, they hate ERC for they represent (or try/tried to) a political tradition alien to La Vanguardia: challenging the status quo.
    Let’s not forget that La Vanguardia has always been friendly with whoever has been in power: Suarez, Pujol, Gonzalez, Aznar, Zapatero or Maragall.

    (I did not want to mention Franco in the same sentence as all the above, but La Vanguardia was never too troubled by the Franco regime either).

    Being cosy with those in power is their modus operandi.

    2) Separate group in the Spanish parliament for PSC.

    It will never, ever happen. This is something that has been talked about since 1981, and it has always been noise and hot air. In almost 30 years, there has not been a single vote in the Spanish parliament where the PSC have voted differently from the PSOE.

    The PSC is a complex party. A separate group in Madrid would probably split the party in Catalonia, and we would have a branch of the PSOE in Catalonia, or rather Barcelona, keen to play the Lerroux (i.e Ciudadanos) card, as they tried in 1979 and 1981 –with no electoral success I may add.

    In the unlikely, unthinkable, extraordinary event of this happening, La Vanguardia would probably give moderate support (as long as the new PSC remains federalist) as it would weaken the “left” vote in Catalonia and increase CiU’s prominence. El Periodico would probably oppose such a move for it would split their constituency: easier to publish a newspaper catering for one broad and complex church than two separate social constituencies with differing aims.

    In any case, it will never, ever ever happen. I am willing to bet my house in Scotland, that’s how sure I am.

    We are more likely to see CiU splitting up and UDC collaborating with the Catalan PP in some sort of pact (as in Navarra) but this will only happen when the PP itself conducts a spin-off of its far—right and ultra-nationalist wing, itself an extremely unlikely event, and become a normal, centre-right party like the Tories.

    And that is the conundrum for the political elites: probably both events would be positive for Spanish politics, but if one of these two events happens in isolation, it would weaken one party and not the other. Thus, in an ideal world, the two events (PSC-PSOE split, and PP abandoning the far-right and joining up with UDC in Catalonia) would happen at the same time. It would be a nice re-adjustment.

    But the likelihood is so low that it would be what the statisticians call an outlier. Or a “black swan” as it is fashionable to say now.

  9. From my perspective, ERC simply abandoned the tripartit in Barcelona in order to show itself “honest” to its lost audience and look forward for the next Catalan elections (what really counts at the moment since the drop of votes they are having lately)
    As you can see, today PSC + IC formed a minority government. They will anyway depend on ERC if they need a stronger consensus. So I don’t see a big deal in all this. The sacrifice for ERC is less than the purpose they have in mind since they are not loosing that much anyway…

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