Pedro Sánchez has stood up to the discrepancies within the Government over the project for the expansion of the El Prat airport. The Government has decided to paralyze that investment of 1,700 million euros that the socialist party defends tooth and nail because it considers it beneficial for the economic interests of Catalonia, but that United We can reject. Faced with the growing opposition of ERC to this plan agreed by the Catalan vice president, Jordi Puigneró, and the Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, in a secret meeting, Moncloa has chosen to stop the project while waiting for the partners of the Generalitat to agree. The decision comes a week before the dialogue table meets, the details of which have not yet been closed largely due to the tension between the pro-independence parties, according to government sources. Now the situation is tense even more: Junts singles out the Government for “disloyalty” and has acknowledged that he is “angry” at the position of the Republicans while Pere Aragonès ignores the pact signed by his vice president and accuses the Government of an “operation of blackmail”.
The Generalitat accuses the Government of “disloyalty” for paralyzing the expansion of El Prat
“The pact has been broken due to a manifest loss of confidence, it is impossible to bring a project of this magnitude to fruition without clear and determined support from the Generalitat,” said Minister Sánchez, who referred to the change of position in within the Government after ERC has assumed that it would have representation in a demonstration against enlargement. “The Government wants Catalonia to once again be an economic engine for Spain, but it is not going to impose this project because the Generalitat does not make it possible,” Sánchez declared. In addition, the Executive is concerned about the image that can be given in the EU when carrying out an investment of such magnitude without the consensus of all the actors.
Despite the fact that Transportes and the Catalan vice president agreed on the project in August – which the Government later reported on at the meeting of the bilateral commission attended by ERC -, government sources point out that the “evolution” of ERC makes its immediate approval. Although Moncloa emphasizes the existing divergence in the Generalitat, there was no unanimity in the coalition either. United We can has made its opposition clear. In fact, the second vice president, Yolanda Díaz, was going to visit this Thursday together with the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, a natural area affected by this airport expansion.
In the Government they unlink the decision of the dialogue table that in theory has to meet next week. Government sources deny that the coup on the table has to do with the appointment scheduled for next week or that it is a gesture to ERC, but they acknowledge that it is the Government that has to “clarify.” “It is the mess they have between them, we are not going to enter there,” says a minister.
However, the expansion of the El Prat airport is one of the 44 points of the Reunion Agenda that the Executive takes as a roadmap to that body, so the matter could have been addressed there.
Vice President Puigneró does not see it that way, who has differentiated the dialogue table from the negotiation of that project by ensuring that they understand the table as a body in which “they talk about sovereignty and political conflict.” “It has nothing to do with what today’s decision means [por el miércoles] in terms of infrastructures and that is dealt with in bilateral commissions “, he pointed out.
The Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, has chosen to point exclusively to the Government and not to his partner and has ignored the agreement signed by Sánchez and Puigneró. “It has been verified that AENA and the Government were only willing to make the expansion if it was as they have tried, from the beginning, to destroy a protected natural area and without listening to the territory or the Government of the Generalitat,” he expressed on Twitter the Republican, who has accused the Executive of having carried out “blackmail”. “The Government of Catalonia considers that investments – and more so in the case of one of such transcendence – should be carried out through dialogue and consensus, never since the imposition,” he added.
The agreement reached between the Ministry of Transport and the Vice-presidency of the Government on August 2 unblocked an investment of 1,700 million euros until 2031 to carry out a large expansion in the Catalan air base that included, among other improvements, the extension of the third clue. This modification, however, may affect the Ricarda area, a natural area protected at European level for its biodiversity. In the agreement, the environmental issue was not clarified, although it was not ruled out either.
Impact on the natural area
But that commitment was blown up last Friday, when Aena presented to the actors of the Catalan coordination committee the draft of the Airport Management Document (DORA), in which, in addition to projecting and budgeting for the expansion of El Prat during the next five years, an impact on the natural area was foreseen. That made ERC and the president of the Generalitat jump, at first, and finally the Government as a whole.
“We demand explanations and the rectification of a DORA that damages the protected area of La Ricarda”, reaction President Pere Aragonès from his Twitter account, with messages that this Wednesday were used by the Government to explain the reasons that have led them to suspend investment. Another of the statements that went wrong in the Ministry of Raquel Sánchez were those of the ERC spokesperson, who admitted that some members of the Government could attend the demonstration on the 19th, called by environmental organizations against the expansion.
Despite the blow on the table this Wednesday, socialist sources recall that it is a suspension and not a final decision, for which there is time until September 30, the day on which the DORA must be approved. “The Government must clarify itself and decide if it wants to expand El Prat or not,” claims the spokesperson for the Catalan socialists, Alicia Romero, in an interview on elDiario.es. The message from the government side is that the ball is in the court of the Generalitat and that, if you want the multimillion-dollar investment to be projected, you must show your unequivocal commitment to the expansion and the Aena project. “It is impossible to bring a project of this magnitude to fruition without clear and determined support from the Generalitat,” the minister stressed.
The Government, for its part, has always seen in the project maneuvers by the Government to end up putting the Generalitat between the sword of investment and the environmental wall. Sources from the Catalan Executive pointed out this week, before the project’s suspension was known, that in their opinion the DORA was too explicit regarding the possible impact of the works on the protected space, which they considered inconsistent with the supposed consensus that Aena claims to seek with local institutions.
This Wednesday, Vice President Jordi Puigneró (Junts) reacted with the utmost hostility to Minister Sánchez’s announcement and accused the Government of disloyalty. “They have unilaterally broken an agreement that represented an important investment for Catalonia,” he said. “Once again the State does not comply with Catalonia. We wonder how they want us to not be pro-independence if they neither invest nor let us invest,” said Puigneró in an emergency appearance from Brussels. Puigneró has also been “angry” at the “confusion” generated in recent days by statements such as Marta Vilalta, from ERC, who opened the door to demonstrate against the airport.
Although the reactions have been similar in both parties, within the Government different points of view have coexisted on the project and, also, on the DORA in particular. While Junts’ approach was to approve the DORA as it is, and wait for the phase of drafting the master plan to try to fit the project in its interests, ERC did plan to be against the document from the beginning and show their reluctance with what was approved on September 30.