The departure of Manuel Valls from the Barcelona City Council has not been a surprise to anyone. He himself had been advancing it in recent months, first when he assured that he would not run for reelection, last March, and then, in May, when he indicated that his stage as a councilor had ended, so he would resign “shortly” . The final goodbye has arrived at the beginning of a political course that he will not begin, after two years of which he himself has little to claim beyond having “stopped the independence movement” favoring the inauguration of Ada Colau. After that, Valls, a mayor promoted by the Barcelona elites and who came to be mayor, has not been able to shine in the council or escape municipal irrelevance.
Manuel Valls, the acclaimed centrist who arrived from Paris and ended up swallowed by the right
The former French Prime Minister has tried to keep his political movement, BCN pel Canvi, afloat as a very significant center-right space against independence but capable of reaching agreements with all other sectors. However, this objective has not been within his reach either and the departures and desertions have been practically constant, to the point that, after the departure of Valls, it is difficult that his platform does not end up extinguishing. The man who will take over, Óscar Benítez, is a complete stranger in politics from Lliures, one of the many currents that emerged from the CiU explosion and not even one of the most successful.
Valls’ trip to Barcelona began during the long hangover of the events of October 2017, when the anti-independence movement was at the point of maximum mobilization. This caused the meeting between two worlds: entities such as the Catalan Civil Society, which had already invited the politician to some demonstrations together with figures such as Mario Vargas Llosa or Josep Borrell, and a part of the Barcelona elites who viewed with concern as the mayor’s office of his city was disputed between Colau and the independence movement. The connecting link was Ciudadanos, a party that had just won the Catalan elections and that all the polls were smiling at in Congress.
Rupture with Cs and internal fragmentation
Manuel Valls appeared in October 2018 in Barcelona and spoke the magic words: “I want to be mayor of Barcelona.” He was a figure of incontestable weight (nothing less than a French prime minister) and called to represent the point of union between many dispersed tendencies on the Catalan political map, from moderate Catalanism disenchanted with the PSC to purely conservative currents but who saw the PP weighed down by corruption. And, of course, also to all the families of the Catalan bourgeoisie who, although one day they had trusted Jordi Pujol, after the DUI they ran away from anything that might sound like Catalan nationalism.
The “3BCN pel Canvi” brand should be able to bring all of this together, but it soon became clear that its internal cohesion was not even guaranteed. From the list of six councilors who entered a candidacy built halfway with Cs, Valls and two others bet on investing Colau, while the other three remained faithful to Albert Rivera’s slogan and opted for a “no.” The group broke up, so the former French prime minister had to start his municipal career only with Eva Parera, a councilor who ended up swelling the list of the PP to the autonomic ones while keeping the minutes of the City Council. Last May it was finally the organization secretary, Fernando Carrera, who signed for the PSC and is now part of the municipal government.
During the last two years, Valls has been left without a party and without a circle of trust, beyond some external support that this same Tuesday he exhibited in his goodbye. The media and economic support that, in his day, some business circles gave him gradually disappeared as his figure faded into local politics. In fact, Valls has done little to carve out his own niche in the Barcelona City Council. In the first six months, the politician only attended the commissions twice. Also at the beginning of the pandemic, his march to Menorca to spend confinement in an imposing recreational estate owned by his wife, Susana Gallardo, was controversial.
With waning support and increasingly frequent criticism in Barcelona, the former prime minister returned to France last spring with his sights set on next year’s presidential elections. He also published a book, ‘Pas une goutte de sang français’ [‘Ni una gota de sangre francesa’], with which he proclaimed his personal and political commitment to the French country. A first step towards a return to the first public line in France that, for the moment, has not resulted in any signings for any game.
Support for Colau’s budgets
Beyond the investiture, his threats to leave the City Council and his controversies, Valls leaves little political work in the city of his ancestors. Perhaps his most successful proposal was the creation of the React Table, of projects that are driving the economy and employment for the reactivation of the city. BCN pel Canvi was also an ally of the municipal government to carry out the COVID fund. It has been in economic matters where the centrist has ended up aligning himself more with the deputy mayor of the PSC, Jaume Collboni, who has also stood out in the defense of initiatives such as the Hermitage Museum, which did not go ahead or, more recently, of the expansion of the El Prat airport.
Valls has also tried to take advantage of cultural wars, such as the withdrawal of the city’s medal to the former president of Parliament Heribert Barrera for his racist statements two decades ago. With this initiative, BCN pel Canvi managed to put its foot in the debate on the change of name of streets and squares that the municipal Executive champion, and again provoke a clash between independentistas and Comuns.
For their part, Colau and his party have tried to get as far away as possible from Valls, trying to erase the toll of having used their votes to maintain the Barcelona government. The Comuns have prioritized throughout the legislature the agreements with ERC and even with Junts, an alliance that has been fruitful on issues such as budgets or the start of work on the Diagonal tram. Valls himself has chosen to frustrate the photo every time Colau and Collboni have agreed with Ernest Maragall, as happened in the last budgets, when the former French prime minister chose to vote favorably despite the fact that he had not negotiated a single item.
The man who one day dreamed of the mayor of Barcelona has said goodbye this Tuesday, claiming again his first and only great feat: having blocked the existence of an openly pro-independence mayor in Barcelona. That movement, two and a half years later, has lost political power with regard to ERC, who have already assumed that they will not have a chance to win mayor until 2023. However, this unexpected maneuver still has collateral effects in Barcelona in Comú and, specifically, in the career of the mayor. After an investiture that needed to gather a majority of the plenary session, the mayor, even if she wanted to, could not leave the mayoralty mid-term without submitting her successor to repeat the bitter experience of receiving the votes of the formation. A situation that, desired or not, screws Colau to the chair that presides over the plenary session for at least two more years.