Pere Aragones, the moderate face of Catalan separatism

·3-min read

Pere Aragones, the 38-year-old new leader of Spain's Catalonia, has evolved from being a hardcore separatist to having a more moderate approach to independence for the wealthy northeastern region.

The jurist, the highest ranking leader of the leftist ERC party not in jail over Catalonia's failed 2017 bid, is now one of the staunchest defenders of dialogue with Spain's central government.

"There is no excuse and we don't have time to lose, we must reactivate these negotiations and we must do it immediately," he said recently as he defended his candidacy to head Catalonia's regional government.

He is not entirely new to the post -- Aragones has been Catalonia's acting president since September 2020.

He took over from Quim Torra of the more hardline Together for Catalonia (JxC) party, who was banned from holding public office after being convicted by Spanish courts of disobedience.

Aragones was the right-had man of ERC leader and former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, currently serving a 13-year jail over Catalonia's failed breakaway attempt in October 2017.

A married father of a little girl, Aragones -- who sports a beard and square glasses -- took charge of the ERC after the failure of 2017 and implements decisions taken by Junqueras from behind bars.

He has dismissed calls for another unilateral declaration of independence until there is more support for independence in Catalonia.

At the same time he has opened the party to dialogue with Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's central government in Madrid, angering more hardline separatists.

"I can't guarantee that we will succeed but the alternative is to remain stuck and go around in circles as we have up until now," the new Catalan president said.

His demands are impossible for Madrid to accept -- he wants a legal referendum on independence and an amnesty for its leaders in jail or on the run for their role in the 2017 independence bid.

- 'Offers nothing different' -

"He offers us nothing different from what we have seen in the past 10 years in Catalonia," said the head of the Socialists in Catalonia, Salvador Illa, in a reference to the separatists who have ruled the region for the past decade.

Aragones' profile is atypical for a leftist Catalan separatist.

Born into a family of industrialists and hotel owners, Aragones is the grandson of the last mayor of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco of his hometown of Pineda del Mar, a seaside town some 50 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of Barcelona.

He joined ERC as a teen and headed its combative youth wing, which fiercely defended independence for Catalonia at a time when there was minimal support for the separatist cause.

He became a lawmaker in the Catalan regional parliament in 2006 at the age of just 24, and has been part of the regional government since 2015, having previously occupied the post of vice president.

While he advocates for classic social democratic policies, he is also close to business elites, which has sparked criticism within leftists and the separatist movement.

He came under fire when in 2019 he attended the wedding of a top manager of Catalonia's largest bank Caixabank which moved its headquarters outside of the region in the wake of the failed 2017 independence bid.

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