Sunday, August 7

The expansion of El Prat tests the cohesion of the governments that must implement it

Virtually none of the parties interested in the project to expand the El Prat airport has refrained from participating in the intense crossing of articles and statements that have taken place in recent days. From the Third Vice President and Minister of Energy Transition, Teresa Ribera, to the Government Delegate in Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera. From the mayor of Barcelona, ​​Ada Colau, to the former president of the Generalitat Quim Torra, through the ERC spokesperson, Marta Vilalta, or one of the most well-known deputies of Junts, Joan Canadell.

The City Council of the Minister of Transport criticized in July Aena’s plans to expand El Prat

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All of them and some more have wanted to establish a position and give their own nuances to one of the great debates of the summer, despite the fact that they are all part, in one way or another, of parties and governments that signed an agreement to carry out an investment of 1.7 billion euros in improvements to the Barcelona air base. But the pact, announced with great fanfare both for the amount of funds and for being the symbol of the thaw between both administrations, is far from having a concrete fine print and accepted by all. Precisely, if the war of articles has served one thing, it is to make it clear that opinions about where El Prat should go are more than disparate, even among those who share a government coalition and even a party.

In the central government this difference of opinions on the expansion of the airports (in addition to the investment of El Prat there are another 1,600 million provisioned for Barajas) divides, from the outset, the ministers of the PSOE from those of United We Can. Ada Colau already stated that her position, very critical of the project, was the same as that of Minister Yolanda Díaz, which makes clear the opinion of the five ministers who represent the purple formation and its confluences. But the divergences have surfaced even among voices of the Government that do not identify with UP. Last Tuesday, the delegate in Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera, remarked that the expansion of the airport proposed by Aena is compatible with environmental objectives. A few days later, Ribera clarified: the project “will not go ahead” if it does not meet “all environmental guarantees.”

The difference between the two may be one of tone, but it will not take long for the issue to pass the litmus test when the new Airport Regulation Document (DORA) reaches the table of the Council of Ministers, at the latest on September 30. This plan will already contain the details of the investments planned for the expansion of both infrastructures, which, a priori, Unidas Podemos does not like. Only after that should the specific master plans for each airport be negotiated and drafted, where local institutions will be given a voice.

It is in this second phase when the Government can play a more prominent role, after having limited itself to signing a verbal agreement on the amount of investments. Pere Aragonès and his followers consider that the Generalitat can assert its interests in the drafting of the master plan and when it comes to specifying what is being expanded, how the airport’s capacity is increased and what priority is given to the rail connections with Reus and Girona . They also have that the regional administration is the manager of La Ricarda, a wetland that has European protection and that the expansion could turn into a paved area.

As they defend from the Government, the Department of Climate Action of the Generalitat will be one of the most important offices in the decision on the possible lengthening of the third runway, one of the central proposals of the Aena project, to the extent that this Conselleria will be the one that allows or not to modify the space of La Ricarda, not without first requesting permission from the European Union. A community endorsement that the Government considers difficult to arrive, after last July 27 the Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, sent a letter in which he recalled that Spain has an infringement procedure open for not having established the measures of adequate protection in the natural environment of the airport.

Profile ERC, Split Junts

The Government of Aragonès plays with the European card to achieve the investment without the need for an extension of the slopes such as the one planned by Aena. But, again, the Catalan Executive is far from cohesive on this issue. In ERC they have preferred to put themselves in profile on the specifics of the project, although the Republican spokeswoman, Marta Vilalta, has insisted that the agreement only contemplates improvements to the airport system and does not imply lengthening the runways. For his part, the head of ERC in Barcelona, ​​Ernest Maragall, has also published a article in El País in which it marks as a red line to preserve La Ricarda but in which at the same time it considers it necessary for Catalonia to have intercontinental flights.

The voices of Junts have been clearer, a formation that has placed as an unofficial spokesperson on this issue the deputy Joan Canadell, former president of the Chamber of Barcelona and businessman with self-declared economic interests in up to two fuel companies. Canadell has repeatedly defended the extension of the base with all kinds of arguments, including the idea that the runway would be amortized before being flooded by rising sea levels. At another level, also the vice president of the Government, Jordi Puignerò, is clearly committed to the expansion of the airport, considering that the most important thing is to provide Catalonia with infrastructures that allow international flights to operate and increase its passenger reception capacity. He himself was the one who finished closing the agreement with the recently appointed Minister of Transport, the Catalan Raquel Sánchez.

Within Junts these opinions coexist with others, such as those expressed by local party groups in municipalities around the airport, such as El Prat, Viladecans or Gavà. These groups consider that the project involves destroying protected natural areas and fueling speculation. But the most influential voice for Junts against the expansion of airport capacity has come, unexpectedly, from former president Quim Torra. The one who was head of the Government until less than a year ago published an article in the newspaper Ara on Thursday in which he strongly charged against the project: “Enough of putting economic interests ahead of nature.”

No less important for the Government than this internal division of opinions is the vision of the CUP, a key party to carry out the next Budgets. The anti-capitalists have issued harsh warnings to Aragonès and his family, not only for El Prat but also for the Catalan candidacy for the 2030 Winter Olympics. “It goes in the opposite direction. [al acuerdo de investidura] and it will be an obstacle to negotiate the Budgets “, assured this Friday the deputy Carles Riera.

Colau and PSC, differences without war

The mayoress of Barcelona has been another of the leaders who has explained her position on El Prat through an article. Colau marked the line of his formation by crossing out the expansion proposal as “climate denial”, since in his view there is no way to increase airport capacity without increasing CO2 emissions by 60 to 80%, he said. “The only certainties”, assured the leader of Barcelona in Comú, “are the destruction of the protected area of ​​La Ricarda, the increase in flights (more emissions) and the arrival of 20 million more passengers, essentially tourists.”

Colau’s opinion is the one shared by all the ‘comuns’, and the one also held by the mayor of the municipality of El Prat, Lluís Mijoler, from his own formation. But neither is it a consensus within the Barcelona municipal government, which it shares with the PSC. A few days after the mayoress published her article, the deputy mayor and socialist leader, Jaume Collboni, fought back with his own writing, this time in La Vanguardia. “Having direct flights to other global cities has a direct relationship with the location of international project headquarters,” he argued in an article in which he considered that the expansion of the airport should be a “transformative lever” for “the economic and ecological transition “.

The differences are obvious and, in both cases, they advance the strategy that each party plans to deploy not only with regard to the municipal level, but also in the type of opposition with which they will try to mark the Government. However, both the ‘comuns’ and the PSC have chosen not to turn El Prat into a matter of internal war within the City Council. “The coalition remains untouched. This issue is not part of the government pact and is not within our powers,” Collboni closed the matter in statements to Rac1. For those of Colau, the war should not be in the City Council but, if it comes, within the Government. The arrival of DORA to the Council of Ministers will be an opportunity to return to the charge.