Cablegate: Divergent Party Conventions Unite Catalan Parties

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1. (SBU) "We love you a lot, Mr. Zapatero, but we love Catalonia
even more," declared Generalitat and PSC president Jose at the
close of the PSC eleventh party congress. For the PSC,
Montilla's words were especially poignant, a sign that their
responsibilities of governing Catalonia would take some priority
over supporting their co-religionists in Madrid. Substantial
policy differences between the PSC and the PSOE also emerged as
the Catalans refused to follow PSOE's sharp turn to the left.
This new push to claim the center reflects the unusual electoral
situation for the PSC, which does not battle for votes with the
Popular Party of Catalonia (PPC), but with nationalist,
center-right coalition Convergence and Union (CiU). At their
party convention the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC),
the majority party of CiU, emphasized a "big tent" form of
nationalism that seeks to welcome the entire nationalist
spectrum, from moderates who favor the status quo to those who
favor outright independence. The Republican Left (ERC), the
other independence party, one of PSC's coalition partners in the
tripartite government (Govern), attempted to address why it has
lost so many votes since 2006. The ultimate winner of a four-way
presidential race ran on a "stay the course" platform, but with
a bare plurality, new president Joan Puigcercos will not lead
with a mandate and will have to carefully balance the demands of
the ERC's partners and his intra-party critics. The convention
of the PPC (PPC) was extremely contentious, as their
newly-elected president was practically forced upon them by the
national leadership. The PPC's major problem is that many
Catalans perceive them to be actively undermining Catalonia's
interests, hardly a winning strategy in a region with a strong
national spirit.

2. (SBU) While Catalan parties used the summer to sort out
internal issues and re-position themselves vis-a-vis each other,
this fall will see them work together to some degree to wrest
even more autonomy from Madrid. First, the PSOE-led Spanish
government and the PSC-led Generalitat are negotiating the terms
of a new system for financing the Catalan government. Catalonia
regularly provides more revenue to the central government than
it receives in services; thus, all the parties except for the
PPC, are in favor of receiving more money from the central
government. The other point of contention continues to be
implementation of the Estatut (Statute) governing relations
between Catalonia and Madrid. Approved via referendum in 2006,
the Estatut granted increased powers to the Generalitat,
including its own police force. It was, however, immediately
challenged in the Constitutional Tribunal (TC), Spain's highest
constitutional authority. The TC is expected to issue a final
ruling on the Estatut this fall. In their conventions, the
parties called on the TC to keep the Estatut intact, though they
have not outlined concrete plans in the event it receives a
negative ruling. END SUMMARY

PSC: Catalonia First

3. (SBU) At its party congress this summer, the Socialist Party
of Catalonia (PSC), long accused by the nationalist parties of
putting PSOE ahead of Catalonia, struck an independent tone from
PSOE in hopes of shoring up support. On the ideological front,
the PSC's centrist move was mainly intended to seize the center
from CiU. In their platform, the PSC did not call for wider
access to abortion, support for euthanasia, nor removal of
religious symbols from official ceremonies and schools, which
were all moves PSOE made just weeks before. However, this was
not just a political move, as historically the PSC has had a
less confrontational attitude with the Catholic Church in
Catalonia than PSOE does with the wider Spanish Church. This
difference is attributed to the close relationship the Catalan
Socialists have with the progressive sections of the Catalan
Church, which date back to the Franco era, as well as the
overall reputation for moderation that the Catalan bishops have.

While the PSC's newfound moderate attitude is an important
development for the party, more surprising is its more
confrontational stance with PSOE. Vowing that they would
aggressively pursue a fairer financing scheme for Catalonia, the
PSC seeks to neutralize one of CiU's most effective weapons
against them. At the same time, however, the PSC realizes that
they must balance demands from PSOE and Catalonia. Although the
PSC is technically an independent party, it has sat with PSOE in
the same parliamentary group in the Congress of Deputies. While
some sections of the party seek for it to have its own group,
the leadership realizes that this, and other 'separatist'
actions can damage both parties. If PSC completely breaks away,
PSOE would have to form a Catalan federation of its own, the way
it operates in the rest of Spain, and something it has not had
since 1978. This would most likely lead to the defeat of both
parties at the national and regional levels. Thus, the PSC seeks

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balance in order to maintain power both in Catalonia, and with
PSOE in Madrid.

ERC: Where Do We Go From Here?

4. (SBU) The leftist, independence party, the ERC scored
surprising electoral victories in the early part of the decade,
enabling it to join the PSC-led coalition in the Govern in 2003
and 2006. Since then, however, the ERC has suffered a large drop
in votes, going from 8 seats to 3 in the Congress of Deputies
after the March 2008 elections. After this defeat, party
president, Josep Lluis Carod Rovira resigned that office, though
he remained Vice President of the Generalitat. The internal
struggle to replace him was a proxy battle over the future
direction of a party seeking to regain its popularity.

5. (SBU) A bitter 4-way race for the top two party positions,
evolved, pitting two "stay-the-course" tickets against two "new
direction" tickets. The winners, Joan Puigcercos for president
and Joan Ridao for general secretary, won on a platform to
largely continue the party's current policies, albeit their low
share of the rank-and-file's vote (37.2% and 37.5% respectively)
was not a solid endorsement of their views. Indeed, the
presidential runner-up, Joan Carretero, campaigned as a harsh
critic of both Carod and Puigcercos' policies, especially in
regards to the party's relation with the PSC. Many in the ERC
feel the Socialists compromised too much with Madrid over the
Estatut, so much so that the ERC called for a 'no' vote on the
referendum. In dealing with these critical factions, Puigcercos
has vowed to mark three lines the Govern cannot cross without
losing the ERC's support. These are: unwavering support for the
current Estatut; promotion of Catalan language and culture,
including having Catalonia's 1= million new arrivals learn
Catalan; and a new finance regime that allocates more tax
revenue for Catalonia. To further appease intra-party critics,
Puigcercos said he will ask President Montilla for a formal
meeting between the tripartite partners to "evaluate the
accomplishments" of the coalition. It is clear that Puigcercos
will have to carefully balance the demands from both his
coalition partners and critics inside the party. Failure to do
so could lead to the dissolution of the Govern and even harder
times for the ERC.

ICV: A Third, But Important, Wheel

6. (SBU) The third member of the tripartite coalition, also
known as the Entesa Catalana de Progres, the ICV, did not hold a
convention this summer, opting instead to convene next year. The
ICV, while not independence-minded, desires more power for
Catalonia, and largely supports the Socialists on most issues.
However as a Green party, they are stern critics of the PSC's
environmental policies. ICV leader and Catalan Councilor for the
Interior, Joan Saura, often tries to maintain balance between
the PSC and ERC.

CDC: Fighting an Uphill Battle

7. (SBU) CDC, the majority party of CiU, has focused on
recovering the presidency of the Generalitat since they were
unable to win a majority in 2006. CDC's convention this summer
underlined a party strategy that will mostly continue its
current policies with minor adjustments. Among these slight
tweaks was the adoption of party leader Artur Mas's pet project
of "the great house Catalan-ism" (la casa gran del catalanisme).
It is an attempt to make the party appear more welcoming of the
different strands of Catalan nationalism, thus trying to expand
its electorate and regaining a majority in the Generalitat. The
party's platform does not explicitly call for independence,
though it does emphasize Catalonia's right to self-determination
and vaguely foresees Catalonia as a free and sovereign state in
21st century Europe. CiU will also have a seat at the
negotiating table this summer and fall as the regional and
national governments wrangle over a new financing system.

8. (SBU) In a perennial move, the CDC reiterated its desire to
completely merge with rightist Democratic Union of Catalonia
(UDC) into a single party, which UDC, again, flatly refused,
although it has not held a convention this summer. However, the
two will continue as partners in CiU. The CDC also opted for
more inclusion of the rank-and-file in decision-making, stating
that the executive committee will consult with the membership on
those matters of vital political transcendence, but their
opinion will not be binding. Long accustomed to being perceived
as the socially centrist choice among Catalan parties, it is not
yet clear how the CDC will respond to the PSC's move to the

PPC: Down but Not Quite Out

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9. (SBU) The PPC, the Popular Party's Catalan subsidiary, is
plagued by the same problems faced by the national party:
unpopular leaders pushing unpopular ideas. For example, party
members arrived at their convention to find that national PP
president, Mariano Rajoy, had unilaterally imposed a last-minute
candidate for PPC president, Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, a senator
from Girona. Rajoy also dispatched the new PP Secretary for
Organization, Ana Mato to persuade the other candidates, bitter
rivals Alberto Fernanez-Dmaz and Daniel Sirera to drop their
bids. Still, a fourth candidate, Montserrat Nebrera, refused to
end her candidacy, and in the final vote, lost to
Sanchez-Camacho by a slim 53%-47% vote.

10. (SBU) Still, unpopular leaders are not the PPC's only
obstacle to winning elections. In 2006, the PP opposed the
Estatut for the complete opposite reason as the ERC; they
claimed it gave too much autonomy to Catalonia. This is but one
instance in which the PP was thought by most Catalans to be
working against Catalonia's interests. In a region dominated by
fervent nationalists, undermining Catalonia is hardly a winning
strategy. If the entire goal of a political party is to win
elections, the PPC has to drastically reform the way it does
business if it ever hopes to govern Catalonia.


11. (SBU) As in many other ways, Catalan politics differ
markedly from the rest of Spain, a product of the strong Catalan
national spirit that has seen a resurgence in the past three
decades of democracy. Still, despite this deep-seated
nationalism, less than a third of Catalans support full
independence from Spain. In Barcelona, the beating heart of
Catalan politics and economy, support is even lower. It is
difficult to imagine Spain without Catalonia and impossible to
imagine Catalonia without Barcelona. Why, then, are the Catalan
parties strongly advancing even more autonomy? Why are the
Catalan Socialists pushing against PSOE, ranking "Catalan" over
"socialist"? The answer is that while the vast majority of
Catalans do not want independence, they do want respect from the
rest of Spain. They want recognition of the importance of the
region in the Spanish context - that they pay more into the
system than they get out of it, that they are, at least in their
own minds, the hardest working, most productive, and most
efficient. We also believe they want acceptance of Catalonia as
a people with a different "story", much like the Basques or the
Galicians, that make them unique in Spain. And recent history
indicates that Madrid is ready to give them that respect, as the
development of the Estatut showed. The central government
voluntarily limited its power over the region, allowing the
Catalans to police and educate themselves. Now, despite much
bickering and hand wringing on all sides, most signs point to a
new financing system that allows them to better fund themselves.

12. (SBU) Since presiding over the Generalitat, the PSC has
fully acknowledged that this desire for respect exists, and that
to keep power, they must accommodate it. However, as the next
regional elections (scheduled for 2010) approach, the PSC will
have to strike careful balances, not only between PSOE and
Catalonia, but between its left flank and the need to win the
center. To some extent, the tripartite alliance is a real boon,
as the PSC's partners, the ERC and ICV, will mostly likely pick
up the leftist votes lost by the Socialists' attempt at the
middle. This complicates things enormously for the CiU, which
lacks a similar arrangement on the right. The PPC, though an
occasional ally in the past, is so fraught with its own problems
that it can provide little support; even should both parties
desire it. In this light, the CiU's new policy of big-tent
nationalism comes across as an aggressive electoral strategy to
woo the staunch independents of the ERC, and win an absolute
majority. In addition to placing nationalism at the forefront,
the CiU can also hope that Spain's current economic woes,
expected to last well into 2009, tarnish the incumbent
Socialists enough to win. Indeed it may be that this is CiU's
best hope, since the resolution of the Estatut and successful
negotiations for a new finance system may fulfill Catalonia's
desire for greater respect. END COMMENT

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