There was a time and not too distant in which Albert Rivera was called to be the Spanish Macron and a former French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, his most famous signing. But both of them oversized their possibilities and those who promised their support, also financially, in editorials and dinners, gradually disappeared as the polls predicted the debacles that were confirmed in successive elections. Rivera is gone, although he likes to continue giving lessons to those who have stayed, and Valls is less and less. This Tuesday he has finally announced that he will not continue in the City Hall from September. He has completed just over half the term despite promising to stay until the end.
The former French prime minister, who defines himself as a European, French and Spanish patriot, returned to his hometown because he wanted to change his life. At least that’s what he answered when asked why after two decades in the front line of politics in the fifth world power (that’s how they like to define themselves) he had decided that he wanted to be mayor of Barcelona. He never linked his return to the disagreements with French socialism, which was his political family but which he ended up accusing of being clinging to a nostalgic past, nor the disdain with which he macronism treated him.
“A very village bourgeoisie”
The Catalan bourgeoisie, the little that still remains and the one that aspires to be despite not having surnames to endorse it, welcomed it with enthusiasm. He had been visiting Catalonia often for a while and being acclaimed at the concentrations of the Catalan Civil Society. You don’t have a French prime minister at a demonstration every day, the organizers boasted at the time. Valls allowed himself to be loved and dazzled with a character that has not always helped him. One of the most talked about dinners was the one held at the home of businessman Mariano Puig. Valls reproached those present for not having been more forceful in public against the advance of independence. In the desserts, one of them reminded him that the strategy of the Government of Mariano Rajoy had helped the rise of secessionism. Some time later, and when asked about that dinner, Valls retaliated: “In Barcelona the bourgeoisie is very local,” he told Salvador Sostres in an interview published on ABC in July 2019.
On September 25, 2018, in a press conference that despite the weeks of preparation is one of the most improvised in memory, he proclaimed that he wanted to be the next mayor of Barcelona. He was no longer the former mayor of Evry, nor the former Minister of the Interior, nor the head of government appointed by Hollande. He had become the candidate who was going to kick Ada Colau out of the City Council and prevent the independence movement from taking over the square that he so desired. He would do it hand in hand (and an important part of the financing) of Ciudadanos, but in his own way. The contacts had begun a year before and the former prime minister always made it clear that he intended to be the leader of a platform that did not start and end in Rivera’s party.
The Ara newspaper revealed how, in full celebration of the Conde de Godó Tennis Trophy, the well-known talent scout Luis Conde asked the mayoral candidate how he could help him. Valls’s response was clear: “Votes and money.” It was a month before the municipal elections, the star of the former prime minister no longer shone as at the beginning, at least in Barcelona, since in Madrid they still had many hopes placed on its result. Too many.
Valls obtained a resounding failure, a bad result that he did not try to excuse since he has always recognized that it was bad. He got six councilors, just one more than the Citizens had. “Very, very far from our expectations,” he assumed. Pride can be bitter, although this recognition of defeat was surprising without the usual cloths of electoral nights in the south of the Pyrenees. Despite the electoral disaster, Barcelona’s game was not yet finished, or not at least in the heads of some PSC strategists, who that same night quickly saw an unforeseen move: an alliance that would prevent ERC from taking over the mayor’s office already at the same time it allowed the Socialists to return to the government of the city. The price for Valls was to eat his words in the campaign and contrary to what was promised, not only would he not help to throw Ada Colau from the mayor’s office but his votes would be essential to keep her in office. And that’s what happened.
“The French are not interested in knowing if politics is left or right. They want pragmatism, “he replied to the criticism he received when he was French Prime Minister. It is the recipe that he also applied in Barcelona. His commitment was “to stop populism and independence movement.” Since everything could not be, he had to choose. Saving Colau cost him a divorce with Rivera, although they had been estranged for some time. Where the leader of Ciudadanos saw an ally, Vox, the former French prime minister saw a danger, the extreme right. The photo of Colón, one of the images from 2019, was proof for Valls that he and Rivera could not be in the same boat. Not only did he call it a mistake but also warned that Ciudadanos should “fight the extreme right in the front row.”
Barcelona pel Canvi had registered as a party and despite the failure of the municipalities it was argued that it could act throughout Spain as “a way of being prepared for all possibilities.” The break with Ciudadanos made of the six councilors only two, he and Eva Parera. Speculations began about a possible jump of Valls to the autonomic ones or even in some candidacy for the generals. “It is a political asset that cannot be reserved for the municipal or regional level,” Parera declared. Valls was ruled out for the elections to president of the Generalitat and at first he did not close the door to end up doing politics in Madrid. His presence in the act of The Spain that brings together, a platform that defines itself as progressive, civic, secular and reforming made the rumors circulate even more. But they remained in rumors.
Valls was seen less and less by the City Council, the first confinement caught him in Menorca and he multiplied his agenda in Paris despite maintaining the act of councilor in Barcelona. He denies that he is going to abandon municipal politics but the sugar cane of Barcelona pel canvi is unraveling. The only thing missing was the announcement that Parera, Valls’ right hand, was going with the PP to be number three on the list for the regional elections.
Your number two’s journey
Parera announced that she would continue as councilor and that she would maintain her position as general secretary of Barcelona pel Canvi because she was authorized to reconcile both political affinities. Hers is an interesting trip since she was a member of Unió, defended as a CiU senator the need to hold a referendum in Catalonia, advocated to recover Convergència, was part of the promoters of the Democratic League, a project that sought to bring together the center-right Catalan, he formed a tandem with Valls and ended up sharing meetings with Pablo Casado.
Shortly before the campaign, Gemma Nierga asked Valls if he had decided who to vote for in the next regional elections. He replied that he did not know yet. “In Catalonia, many constitutionalists are orphans,” he lamented, and took the opportunity to launch a taunt at the PSC because he considers that the socialists do not have clear ideas and that is why they speculate on possible future alliances. When Pedro Sánchez was negotiating with ERC the support of the independentistas for his inauguration, he had reminded him of one of Mitterrand’s famous phrases: “Nationalism is war.” He insisted without anyone heeding his request that the “constitutionalism” represented by the PSOE, PP and Ciudadanos join together to configure the new government of Spain.
His admired Camus advocated being aware of one’s own limitations and acting on them. Perhaps Valls has already understood what his are. Until today he was the leader of a party in which only he was. This Tuesday, three years after proclaiming that he wanted to be mayor of Barcelona, he announced that he will not return to the Barcelona town hall.