On tuesday, Catalan socialist MPs at the Spanish Parliament voted against the payment of almost one and a half billion euros for Catalonia. As the difference in votes is less than the amount of Catalan socialist MP, back home they have been lambasted by the rest of political parties and media.
In theory, Catalan socialists could try to justify their vote with ideological reasons. They could argue that the central government oversees the whole of Spain and is supposed to guarantee redistribution of wealth and opportunity for all Spanish citizens, regardless of their regional origin.
However, several Catalan socialists said to the media, before the decisive vote, that they would support Catalan interests. They sounded localist first but changed the vote later. To make things worst, roughly at the same time the Spanish socialist government has approved almost 10 b€ for high speed trains and an additional 5 b€ for the rescue of Portugal.
After this, center-right nationalists of Convergence and Union (CiU), now in charge of Catalan government, can easily present themselves as the ones who will keep the struggle for Catalan interests, and so do they. But most importantly, all the other parties blame the Catalan socialists on the same grounds.
The current predicament of the Catalan socialists goes beyond the public relations disaster. They have put themselves in an undefendible position. Now they are those who block the money, in a landscape of recession, soaring unemployment an cuts in the public budget. Next May 22th there are elections to the city councils and socialists are expected to take a beating.
So why do they do it? Formally, the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) is an independent organization and it could maneuver to defend Catalan interests if it choose to do so. In practice, they are the Catalan branch of the PSOE. They have a long and consistent record of voting according the needs of the PSOE at a State level.
Catalan socialists act like this because they are mostly loyal to the Spanish nationalist idea. They have been doing for long the balancing act of sounding catalanist in Barcelona and sticking to the PSOE line in Madrid. After blocking the funds for Catalonia, all that is over: Catalan socialists definitively give up the defense of Catalan interests.
It is important to understand that the blocked funds are not another demand of Catalan nationalists: there is an agreement in place for the distribution of funds at a State level. The agreement is part of the ordinary workings of the State.
So why the Spanish government blocks the money? It could be that the governing PSOE in Madrid chooses partisan fight before any idea of Statehood. Mr Zapatero, the Spanish Premier, reached the agreement on funds distribution with their Catalan socialist counterparts. In 2009 and 2010 the funds were advanced without objection.
What has since then changed is the political color of Catalan government. In Nov 2010 the center-right nationalists of CiU won the Catalan elections by a landslide.
Photo: Spanish Parliament, by betta design