Neither the initial disagreements at the dialogue table nor the shock over the expansion of the El Prat airport had caused ERC to falter in its intention to negotiate the General State Budgets with the Government. “Let’s not mix folders,” assured Pere Aragonès, using himself in his role as Moncloa’s preferred partner. But the audiovisual law is something else. The Government was finalizing the procedures to approve it in the Council of Ministers but this Tuesday it ended up withdrawing it after ERC was planted. The Generalitat has been demanding that the norm establish a minimum percentage of 7.5% for Catalan, Galician and Basque on platforms such as Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime or Disney +, among other measures. Some requests that have now become a requirement for Republicans to sit down and talk about the accounts.
The disagreement between Moncloa and the Palau de la Generalitat over the audiovisual law dates back to last year, when the Ministry of Economic Affairs presented the draft bill. The Executive of Aragonès understood, on the one hand, that the articles invaded autonomous powers and, on the other, that it was not very sensitive to the “plurinational reality”. The project did not set linguistic quotas in Catalan, Galician or Basque, although there were for European and Spanish production. Regarding the language, the draft specified that, of the 30% of compulsory contents of European production, half had to be done in Spanish or in one of the co-official languages. It is here where the Generalitat is suspicious and demands that at least half be set for minority languages, that is, 7.5% to be distributed among the co-officials in Spain.
So last July the Government sent some allegations with a specific quota for languages that have no official status at the state level, and not only optional as it was in the original draft. The amendments also contemplated investment obligations in productions in Catalan and of independent local companies, or to maintain the competences of the Consell de l’Audiovisual (CAC), among others.
The project finally submitted by the Government to the Council of State at the beginning of September, as the last step before reaching the table of the Council of Ministers, contained some of the Government’s claims, but not the most important, as El Periódico de Catalunya advanced Last monday. The alarms in the Palau de la Generalitat had already gone off a few weeks before and had started the machinery at the highest level. Both the Regional Minister of the Presidency, Laura Vilagrà, and her team communicated their concern to the Government during the summer. Finally, during the meeting between Sánchez and Aragonès in Barcelona, within the framework of the dialogue table, the Republican stressed to the socialist the importance of this law for his party and demanded that he introduce changes before it reached the Council of Ministers.
An underground battle
Until this week the battle for the General Law of Audiovisual Communication between Madrid and Barcelona had remained underground. But once the drafting of the bill came to light, the discussion was made public and ERC quickly linked this issue with its position regarding the General Budgets, precisely in the week that the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, began the round of contacts with the groups to carry out the accounts for next year. “Let no one take ERC’s vote for granted,” warned Gabriel Rufián this Tuesday. “The ERC vote is sweaty and negotiated,” he added, “and especially now in a scenario in which it is not known if Ciudadanos is on roll or mushrooms.”
In the folder of the Republican spokesman there is the audiovisual law, but also others such as the democratic memory law or the university law. In full rapprochement between the Government and the Generalitat and after the reactivation of the dialogue table, in ERC they are convinced that they can obtain important legislative achievements in Congress in the negotiation of the budgets, in which they want to go all the way from the start. Now, the audiovisual law is a true touchstone and, although the Republicans are not very fond of marking red lines, in the Government they do treat this as a ‘sine qua non’ condition.
“Ultimately, it is the parliamentary group who decides their vote, but I would find it very difficult to approve the budgets with this audiovisual law,” says a senior government official. “If you don’t want to talk about this, which is vital for me, don’t expect me to want to talk about yours,” he ditch. It is so vital that, in the last part of the negotiation, the reins of the negotiation with Madrid have been taken by the Aragonès team, with Vilagrà at the helm. This Tuesday in the Government the words of Vice President Nadia Calviño sounded good and even better the news that occurred a few hours later, when it was learned that the Government was paralyzing the law to be able to negotiate with ERC. “Things are going well, but nothing is decided until it reaches the Council of Ministers,” they explained cautiously from the Catalan Executive.
ERC and Junts disagree on the formula
With the pro-independence parties, not only Catalans but also Bildu, on the warpath against the bill, ERC and Junts have once again clashed over the best formula to prevent Catalan language and productions from being relegated in the new audiovisual landscape. In Junts they insist that the best way is to approve an autonomous audiovisual law. “The best amendment to Spanish law is to approve Catalan law,” said the spokeswoman in Parliament, Mònica Sales. From the training led by Jordi Sànchez, they plan to make a banner about the problem of the Catalan language on the platforms and also about social use, for which they have already registered a full monographic proposal.
However, ERC considers that the Catalan audiovisual law is not the solution and is committed to negotiating the project that the Government has on the table. According to the Republicans, a rule that emerged from the Parliament would be appealed to the Constitutional Court, either by the Government itself, which would paralyze it, or by the opposition of PP and Vox. In addition, they recall that the experience with respect to the fees imposed by the Generalitat on marketers, in the case of film exhibitions, was not entirely satisfactory since in practice it was difficult to twist the arm of large companies from an autonomous community.
In Esquerra they also understand that the law that is being processed is a unique opportunity to introduce content in Catalan by law on the platforms, where until now the presence of languages other than Spanish is absolutely relegated to the minimum expression. Therefore, if their 7.5% demand is accepted, to be distributed between Catalan, Galician and Basque, the jump would be monumental, both for what it represents for users, who would finally have entertainment in their language, as well as by promoting production in these territories.
For its part, the CUP does not close to negotiating this law, but demands that the parties of the Government be ambitious. In a resolution proposal presented in Parliament, the anti-capitalist formation claims to “press” for the project to have “significant modifications.” According to the CUP, the wording of the law “expressly goes against the Catalan language” and warns that it does not comply with the European directive on the protection of minority languages.
The allegations of the Government
The document that the Department of the Presidency sent to the Ministry with allegations introduced modifications in 17 articles, of the 164 contained in the first draft of the law. The main complaints that it manifests are regarding issues of competence and promotion of the language, territorial production and regional television channels.
The amendments to articles 25, 53, 54 and 55 or 72 deal with the alleged invasion of competence, since, in the opinion of the Generalitat, in all of them the legislator gives the basic regulations too broad power, which laminates the possibilities of the autonomies to decide on their radioelectric space, on their regional channels or on the broadcasts of other regional televisions in their territory. The latter is especially important in Catalan-speaking territories, where there are three regional television channels in this language, Catalan TV3, Valencian À Punt and Balearic IB3, which have long sought territorial reciprocity, that is, all citizens of those territories can see all the channels in their language.
The linguistic protection as such comes between articles 113 and 117, in which quotas are imposed on European production both on conventional television and on content platforms such as Netflix. For both areas, the reserve is 30% for continental production and, of this, half in Spanish or in co-official languages. In the same vein, the bill imposes on these channels and platforms the obligation to allocate a part of their profits to finance in advance the European audiovisual work and, of this, that there is a part in Spanish or co-official languages. Given this, the Generalitat claims that this obligation also extends to the financing of products in Catalan, according to the profits obtained from presenting services in Catalonia.
It also calls for the law to explicitly include the need for platforms to include in their catalogs the content that is already available in dubbed or subtitled versions, something that on many occasions does not happen and that has put the dubbing sector on the warpath. In the same vein, given the creation of a film protection fund, financed by channels and platforms, the Generalitat asks to be able to manage the part of the fund that corresponds to it in order to guarantee local production and in Catalan.