Three months after Catalans went to the polls in a regional election that delivered a majority to pro-independence forces, two separatist parties on Monday announced a preliminary agreement to create a coalition government. The opposition has called the plan “a repeat edition of a failure.”
The deal was struck by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), a heterogenous party that leans harder than ERC toward unilateral secession from Spain and whose best-known figure is former premier Carles Puigdemont. The journalist-turned-politician is currently living in Brussels to avoid arrest after his involvement in a unilateral breakaway attempt in the region in 2017, when an illegal referendum on the future of Catalonia was held and a unilateral declaration of independence subsequently passed in parliament. Other former members of Puigdemont’s Cabinet who stayed in Spain were tried and found guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds, and are serving prison sentences in Catalan jails. This includes ERC president and one-time deputy premier, Oriol Junqueras.
Under the terms of this preliminary agreement, Pere Aragonès of ERC would become the next Catalan premier. Aragonès has already been the acting regional leader since September 2020, when Quim Torra was barred from office by Spain’s Supreme Court over his failure to observe political neutrality rules during an earlier election campaign.
The goal is none other than to serve the country, to govern for everyone and to keep advancing towards the independence of Catalonia
Text of preliminary governing deal in Catalonia
Aragonès and Jordi Sànchez, the secretary general of Junts, gave a news conference in Barcelona later on Monday to provide further details about the plan. No date has been offered yet for the parliamentary session to endorse the new leader, although it is widely expected to be held this week. As for how the Cabinet posts will be shared out, each party will head seven departments.
“The goal is none other than to serve the country, to govern for everyone and to keep advancing toward the independence of Catalonia,” reads the document.
On Monday, the president of the Catalan Socialists (PSC), Salvador Illa – who won the most votes at the February election but not enough for a majority – described the deal as “an agonizing extension of the failure” of the previous ERC-Junts government that led the region. The term was ended early due to constant clashes between the coalition members. In statements to the radio station Cope, Illa said that this new project is “a government for half of Catalonia.”
Separatist leaders on Monday were apologetic for the long delay in finding consensus. For months, ERC and Junts seemed unable to agree on the way independence should be pursued, and each side accused the other of trying to force a repeat election. This would have put at risk the 52% majority that the combined separatist forces obtained on February 14 at an election where turnout was around 25 points lower than in 2017.
“We pledge to build a government that will seek to rebuild trust among the citizens of Catalonia,” reads the document, acknowledging social weariness after months of public bickering between these two forces. At one point in early May, ERC said it would try to form a government all by itself; a third separatist party, the small, left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), eventually got ERC and Junts back at the negotiating table to hammer out a text setting out points that everyone could agree on.
May 26 is the deadline for holding the parliamentary session to endorse the new leader, after which a new election would automatically be called. If all the separatist lawmakers – 74 out of 135 – were to vote as one, Aragonès could be successful in the first round. But Junts said it will survey its own party members first to see if they agree.
Junts has accused ERC of abandoning the fight for independence in favor of more pragmatic political routes, while ERC has accused Junts of going after its goals without sufficient support from voters. Relations between both parties, which are already sharing Cabinet posts in Catalonia, have been further strained by occasionally differing views on how best to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
The most successful candidate at this year’s election was Salvador Illa of the PSC, which is the Catalan branch of the Socialist Party (PSOE), but he was unable to attract enough support from other non-separatist parties to craft a working government. Meanwhile, far-right Vox made it into the Catalan parliament for the first time by taking voters away from the center-right Popular Party (PP) and the liberal-right Ciudadanos (Citizens). This latter party won the 2017 election but also fell short of a majority and was unable to form a government.
English version by Susana Urra.
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Brexit: British Embassy launches survey on key issues affecting UK nationals in Spain | Brexit | International
The British Embassy in Madrid has launched a survey aimed at finding out how UK nationals in Spain have been affected by key issues, in particular, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit.
The poll is for Britons who are full-time residents in Spain (not those with second homes) and are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. they were officially registered in the country before December 31, 2020, when the so-called Transition Period came to an end.
Questions in the survey address issues such as access to healthcare and the uptake of the TIE residency cards, which were introduced as a replacement for green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).
The aim of the poll is to gather vital information on the experience of UK nationals living in Spain that will help the British Embassy provide feedback to Spanish authorities. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and all answers are confidential.
Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.
‘The challenge for us now is drought, not war’: livelihoods of millions of Afghans at risk | Global development
The war in Afghanistan might be over but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab valley face a new enemy: drought.
It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are questioning how much longer they can live off the land.
Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm along with his father and grandfather in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s southern province. Famous for its fruit and vegetables, the area is known as the bread basket of Kandahar.
Like most in the valley, Rahim’s family relies solely on farming. “The fighting has just stopped. Peace has returned,” Rahim says. “But now we face another war: drought.
“Now we have to dig deep to pump water out of the land. It has been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our coming generations can rely on farming the way our ancestors used to do.”
Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not long ago, there were water channels flowing into the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, the water was running after us, flowing everywhere – but now we are running after water.”
The water used to come free from the river but now the daily diesel cost for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£21).
“We don’t make any profit. We are in loss, rather. Instead, we are using our savings. But we don’t have any other option as we do it for survival,” says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has affected the quality of crops as well.”
About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought.
Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, said severe drought was affecting 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.
He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will drive up malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.”
Arghandab has been a favourite destination for farming because of the abundance of water and fertile lands. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left the Dand district of Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. When he arrived he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.
“It used to rain a lot here and we could not cross the river and come into our farms. We had a life with abundant water. But the past is another country now,” he says.
According to a report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, many local farmers were caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.
“For the past 20 years, we did not have peace and could not work after dark in our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear,” says Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just restoring peace but the drought and escalating cost of essential commodities.”
Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and assistance from the new government headed by the Taliban to help them survive.
Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.”
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