Catalonia

Who is Quim Torra, the new Catalan President?

CATALONIA, which has been in political limbo since last year, finally has a new president – Quim Torra – after Spanish courts blocked bids for the office by three previous candidates, Carles Puigdemont, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull.

Torra, a newcomer to politics but a committed supporter of Catalan independence, was sworn in after a second round of voting resulted in a simple majority for his candidacy, after he failed to win an outright majority.

The MP, who is part of Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia (JxCat) coalition, is a lawyer, writer and editor. He previously worked for a Swiss insurance company and used a severance package in 2008 to set up a company that published works of Catalan literature, including texts by Catalan journalists from the era of the Spanish civil war and Franco’s dictatorship.

He entered politics by joining the pro-independence pressure group Òmnium Cultural, whose leader ?Jordi Cuixart, one of the two Jordis who has been in prison without trial since October for their role in the independence referendum.

Puigdemont named Torra as a candidate in a final attempt to install a president before May 22, when a new election would be called automatically.

SO, WHO IS QUIM TORRA?

A FATHER-of-three, President Torra, who is 55, has been a major figure for the past decade and has frequently called for the wealthy, north-eastern state to split from Spain.

He hails from the Catalan town of Blanes on the Costa Brava and has made a name for himself within pro-independence circles, including membership of various organisations, including those that helped organise the massive public demonstrations that preceded last year’s indyref and the subsequent political deadlock.

Torra also ran a cultural centre in the El Born district of Barcelona, which became renowned for its support for independence.

He gave a rousing speech to the Catalan Parliament in March, calling on independence supporters to keep up their campaign against Spain’s central government in Madrid, saying: “The cause of freedom for Catalonia is a just cause, the cause of independence for Catalonia is a just cause, the cause of the Catalan Republic is an honourable cause.

“Do not think for a moment we will give up, not even a millimetre, to defend the justice, legitimacy and honorability of this cause.”

MORE TROUBLE AHEAD THEN?

PERHAPS. Torra has already rattled unionists in Catalonia, while his words are music to the ears of indy supporters, Leader of the liberal, anti-independence party Ciudadanos, Ines Arrimadas, tweeted last after Puigdemont nominated Torra that Catalonia needed a president who recognised that the separatist movement had failed.

The unionist Socialist Party of Catalonia said: “We regret that the independence bloc has chosen a person with one of the most sectarian profiles.” However, during the parliamentary debate that preceded his swearing-in, Torra called for a “republic for everyone”.

“For the Spanish people and the Catalan people, freedom means republic.” He had already come under fire for a series of social media messages and articles in which he criticized Spaniards but added: “I regret that some tweets taken out of context addressed to the Spanish government offended some people. I truly regret it.”

Torra also called for a period of self-reflection on both sides of Catalonia’s political divide: “Pro-independence politicians should have no problem in recognising that we have not done some things right.

“But also, those in favor of Catalonia being an autonomous community [within Spain] should do so – prison, exile, the persecution of citizens for their ideas, the criminalization of civil and political rights is not acceptable.”

WHAT ARE HIS PRIORITIES?

HE will have his work cut out undoing what has been done in the months since Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government used unprecedent powers under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution to take control of Catalonia and dismiss the regional government as well as civil servants and others.

Torra said one priority would be to reinstate 16 suspended laws, such as those aimed at fighting climate change, energy poverty and others ensuring gender equality.

He said: “Some of these laws were approved by unanimity, even with the support of [the Catalan branch of Spain’s ruling] People’s Party, which was not enough to prevent the Spanish government from running over them like a bulldozer and suspending them.”

Tora has said he will also launch a committee to investigate the “consequences of direct rule”, which would be part of an emergency plan to “both analyse what happened these past months and towards restoration [of self-government]”.

“We’re not only speaking about a political crisis, but a humanitarian one, too. We have people in prison and in exile, this isn’t happening in any European country around us,” he said. “I will request a meeting not only with Mariano Rajoy, whenever he wants, but also with Mr [Jean-Claude] Juncker (European Commission president).

“We are willing to negotiate tomorrow, unconditionally. We ask Spain to sit on the same table with us to solve the political problems that we are facing. From government to government.”

Spain has confirmed in a statement last week that direct rule would be lifted as soon as a new executive is formed in Catalonia and would be willing to enter into dialogue if the new president respected the constitution and laws.

Nominated ministers are ‘provocation,’ warns Spain

The Spanish government released a statement just hours after Quim Torra released the list of nominees for his proposed cabinet – with a warning. Madrid qualified the list of nominated ministers including those “fleeing justice” or in prison to be a “provocation.” Due to the nature of the officials listed, the statement also deemed the new Catalan president’s recent written offer of dialogue to Rajoy as “not sincere.”

As Catalan institutions are under the control of Article 155 from Madrid, the Spanish government blocking Torra’s nomination from being officially published is likely to create yet another clash. Rajoy’s government in fact divulged that it plans to analyze whether to “authorize” Quim Torra’s nomination decree for his chosen government ministers, and study its “viability,” given the “personal circumstances” of some of the individuals named.

In its statement, the Spanish executive expressed that through this move “an opportunity to regain normality was lost,” viewing the nominations in line with “keeping up with a strategy of confrontation.”

“A modern government,” says Carles Puigdemont

Deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, meanwhile, reacted positively to the release of the nominated ministers of Torra’s cabinet-to-be. From Berlin, where he is currently awaiting a final decision on his extradition order, through his Twitter account, Puigdemont congratulated the nominated ministers announced by Catalan president Quim Torra. The leader of the Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) ticket further defined the proposed executive as a “modern government for a modern country, at the service of a modern, open, and European society.”

Ministers “honored” to be chosen

The ministers nominated for the post generally expressed honor to be chosen, and many highlighted the provisional nature of taking the post. Such was the case for Ernest Maragall, ERC MP nominated to be minister of Foreign Affairs, who expressed that “provisionally substituting” his predecessor Raül Romeva is “impossible.”

Josep Rull and Jordi Turull, nominated for their original posts of ministers of territory and sustainability and presidency respectively, also expressed “honor” at the decision. They did so through their Twitter account from prison, where they are being held near Madrid. Today, the two jailed officials also requested provisional freedom from the Spanish Supreme Court in order to be able to exercise their posts as ministers “effective immediately.”

Esquerra Republicana celebrates news

Toni Comín, nominated once more for his post as health minister, celebrated the news from Brussels, where he has been since shortly after Catalonia’s declaration of independence last year, thanking both his party (ERC), Quim Torra, and ErC party leader Oriol Junqueras. Deposed vice president Oriol Junqueras, currently incarcerated near Madrid, in turn thanked the newly nominated ministers of Torra’s government on his Twitter account for their “commitment.” “We shouldn’t aspire to a victory of one against another, but instead achieving a better future for everyone.” Junqueras accompanied his own statement with a retweet from the pro-independence ERC party he leads, which stated that “this is one more step to undo the darkness of Article 155 over [Catalan] institutions.” In all, there are seven proposed ministers from the party in the list of thirteen nominees.

CUP asks “where are the women?”

Radical far-left CUP had a question for JxCat and ERC regarding Torra’s nominations. “Where are the women?” they inquired, alluding to the three proposed female ministers compared to the ten male. On Twitter, the anti-capitalist platform wrote “three women, zero fairness,” adding that in their view, the government “reflects once again power dynamics of classical politics and the patriarchy.”

Ratio of men to women “unexplainable,” says CatECP

Catalunya en Comú Podem, a party that positioned itself as in between blocs and rejected both unilateral independence and Spain’s measures against it, echoed the CUP’s criticism of lack of gender balance in the nominations list. Spokesperson Xavier Domènech ironically suggested that perhaps, for JxCat and ERC, International Women’s Day did not exist. Meanwhile, spokesperson Elisenda Alamany expressed that “after the massive feminist mobilizations we’ve seen” the ratio of women to men is “completely unexplainable.”

Ciutadans urges maintaining Article 155

Unionist Ciutadans (Cs) party had harsh criticism for Quim Torra’s government nominations. The leader of the party in Spain, Albert Rivera, requested that Mariano Rajoy continue implementing Article 155, the measure that seized Catalonia’s self-government, insisting that this would “guarantee the union and the rights of all Catalans.” Leader of Cs in Catalonia Inés Arrimadas echoed dissent with the nominations, tweeting that “they don’t want to govern, but instead to defy the majority of Catalans and democratic legality.” She also commented on Madrid’s control over Catalan institutions, writing “Article 155 can’t be lifted like this.”

Socialists qualify nominations as “serious mistake”

Miquel Iceta, leader of the Catalan socialist party (PSC), criticized on Twitter Torra’s nominations including officials in prison or abroad as a “serious mistake,” because they “will not be able to dedicate themselves fully and effectively” to the post. He further expressed that, in his view, “Quim Torra’s first decisions do not inspire much hope at all.”

“A fight, a confrontation, an institutional clash,” says People’s Party in Catalonia

Leader of the Rajoy’s own People’s Party in Catalonia (PPC), Xavier García Albiol, also denounced Torra’s chosen cabinet, expressing that the presence of Rull, Turull, Comín and Puig is “a clear message of wanting to continue with a fight, a confrontation, and institutional clash.” Albiol further wrote that he hopes “the Spanish government and democratic institutions of the country will give the appropriate response to this challenge and provocation.”

Greg Russell, additional reporting by CNA

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