President Torra speaking during the plenary session of Parliament
President Torra speaking during the plenary session. Photograph: Jordi Bedmar

In a plenary session of Parliament this morning on the handling of the Covid-19 health crisis, President Quim Torra said the Catalan government had done “everything in its power and more to save lives and protect the public”, and that the priority at all times had been to act with “responsibility, rigour and foresight”. The president stressed that his government had focused on “saving lives, protecting the most vulnerable, and supporting the economic fabric – quickly and effectively”.

The head of the executive said all of the government’s decisions had been guided by expert advice, and that throughout the crisis the executive had explained the seriousness of the situation to the public while also setting out measures aimed at meeting the challenges posed by the crisis.

The president decried that Catalonia’s competencies had been “seized” by the central government, which he said had often been slow to act. Despite this, he said: “We took the steps needed to tackle the health emergency and never hesitated to act decisively.” At the same time, Torra said he was open to criticism and to reviewing the steps taken in order to ensure the best possible response in the future. 

“The emergency isn’t over”

President Torra stressed that “the emergency isn’t over”, adding that the next few months would be critical to “steer Catalonia out of the crisis” and that the government is working intensively on the necessary contingency plans.

One aspect of the intensive work under way in the reopening phase is the establishment of the Economic Reactivation and Social Protection Committee (CORECO), which has been working since May to develop an economic recovery plan and adapt budget  priorities.

The president also reported that 80 sectoral plans with specific measures are being developed, and that the Catalonia 2022 group is working on key points with the aim of building a new future in the wake of Covid-19.

Finally, the president announced that the government will appoint a committee of independent experts that will work with the Catalan Ministry of Health to design measures for implementing a structural reform of the health system in line with a proposal recently put forward by the Catalan Medical Association.

Unity and support to secure increased funding

President Torra repeatedly stressed the need for Catalonia to be allocated more financial resources to tackle the multiple crises triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, calling on all parliamentary groups to join forces and provide “unequivocal support” for demands that the Spanish government increase state funding for the Covid-19 response and distribute funds promptly. “This fight shouldn’t be one pursued only by the government and the groups that support it; the whole Parliament should be on board,” he said.

The head of the executive said that according to the latest estimates, €30bn will be needed to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic and rebuild the Catalan economy. Torra said the Spanish government’s €16bn relief fund for regions is “totally inadequate” and that the bill for Covid-19 “mustn’t increase the debt of the Government of Catalonia”. The president stressed that the central government has a responsibility to come to Catalonia’s aid. “They haven’t made a single payment yet, and this has left the Catalan government in a very delicate situation.”

Torra urged all parliamentary groups to support calls for the deficit ceiling to be raised to 1% and for local councils to be able to make use of any surpluses they generate and residual amounts.

With the aim of obtaining additional funding, the president announced that he will write to Prime Minister Sánchez this week to request that the PM act on Catalonia’s behalf to seek a loan of €5bn (2% of Catalonia’s GDP) from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

Lack of resources and tools poses challenges

President Torra once again lamented that the Government of Catalonia has had to deal with the pandemic and its aftermath “without sufficient financial resources or tools” and in a situation in which its “competencies have constantly been usurped”. The head of the executive said that despite having its powers overridden in this way, his government has always been ready and willing to collaborate and coordinate.

Words of thanks

During his speech in Parliament, the president thanked “everyone”, from individual citizens to institutions “for their constant dialogue and collaboration” throughout the crisis. He also expressed his gratitude for the commitment of companies and the contributions and proposals made by various groups. Finally, he had words of praise for health and social care professionals and for care, emergency and other essential workers.

At the start of the plenary session, the president called for a minute of silence to remember all of those who have lost their lives to Covid-19.

New reality

The Catalan Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, began her speech by stressing the need to build “a new reality” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which she said had highlighted human vulnerability. The minister said all members of society have a role to play in making it possible to live with this new reality.

In her assessment of the management of the epidemic in Catalonia, the minister began by citing various strengths, including a universal health system that has “provided care for everyone, ensuring an equitable and humane response”, and that has proven able to adapt and respond to challenging circumstances.

Vergés went on to list a series of priorities and actions taken to manage the epidemic more effectively, such as reorganising the health system and increasing home and virtual care. She also highlighted the key role of primary care in early detection of Covid-19 and in identifying cases in care homes, the ability of hospitals to increase spaces for care provision, the joining of public and private capacity, the continuation of urgent medical activities and procedures, and the use of ICT tools, including the STOP COVID CAT app.