The Government and ERC channel their crisis and renegotiate the audiovisual law | Spain

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The Government and ERC have dedicated about three hours to trying to redirect, in a meeting at the highest level with representatives of La Moncloa, the PSOE and the Republicans, the crisis opened by the content of the audiovisual law. An unforeseen storm that, according to what Gabriel Rufián threatened the day before, could put the legislature in check. At the meeting, which had a preamble between technical experts in the morning, “differences in interpretation” and “doubts about the scope of the agreed texts” were confirmed, according to sources familiar with the matter. Starting this Thursday, more technical and political meetings will be held, which will be joined by the Secretary of State for Telecommunications, Roberto Sánchez, who reports directly to the economic vice president Nadia Calviño.

The most complex discussion focused on trying to clarify whether audiovisual platforms that are not based in Spain would or would not be affected by the 6% quota of production in the co-official languages. That stumbling block is the one that remains to be solved. ERC sources explained that the meeting served to verify this disagreement and convey their intention to “shield Catalan” in the amendments to the law “so that there are no misunderstandings.” The PSOE, according to ERC, has shown its commitment to meet their demands in the parliamentary processing of the law through the negotiation of amendments.

At the meeting, the possibility of agreeing on new amendments to the project closed by the PSOE and United We Can to set that 6% quota was discussed. The negotiation is rushing against the clock, but still without a solution. The reason offered by the Executive for giving different treatment to those television platforms based outside of Spain is that the community directive imposes the principle of country of origin, by virtue of which audiovisual communication service providers are only subject to the legal system and to the jurisdiction of the Member State in which they are established. And that would not be the case with Netflix, HBO Max, Disney + or Prime Video. ERC is opposed to making that distinction.

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The Government had been working since Tuesday night to find an intermediate solution for the audiovisual law that would satisfy ERC and allow this crisis to be closed as soon as possible with its priority partner, which has introduced instability in this phase of the legislature, when La Moncloa intended to accelerate reforms and pending commitments after a year and a half of the pandemic. The 13 votes of the Catalan formation are not only key for the Budgets in Parliament, but also to approve all the decrees and laws that the Executive is sending to Congress, so a break with that preferred partner is an undesirable scenario.

With the appointments and contacts held throughout the day, the situation appeared to be redirected, but by no means resolved. In the Government they do not have all of them with them and they fear that ERC will go from words to deeds and decide to send them a message delaying the approval of the Budgets. The extreme situation, which would be to knock down public accounts, is not contemplated, but Esquerra does force the approval of some amendment to the bill, which is already on its way to the Senate. This Friday the deadline to present the vetoes – equivalent to the amendments to the entirety – in the upper house, which will be debated on the 10th, ends. An extreme that the Government does not see possible with ERC. But it did present a transversal amendment like the one that fell in Congress in which ERC requested a covid fund of 13,000 million for the autonomies.

The Government already saved last year with ease the vetoes that PP, Vox, Ciudadanos, Junts and Coalición Canaria presented in the upper house against the Budgets. The previous agreement with ERC and PNV, which did not register partial amendments like EH Bildu, ensured an absolute majority in the voting of the accounts, in which the Executive had a range of 152-161 votes per 100-109 opponents.

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The Executive also succeeded in not accepting one of the 4,045 partial amendments that the senators presented. Had only one been accepted, the approval of the Budgets would not have occurred in the Senate. The final procedure would be in Congress. And this is what the Government wants to avoid. The partial amendments would be voted on on December 21, according to senators from different parties, who point out that it would be there when ERC could punish the Executive and delay the Budgets. Its approval “in due time and form”, as Pedro Sánchez has promised to the Minister of Finance, would be in jeopardy in that scenario. The Government’s commitment to Brussels is to approve the audiovisual law before the end of the year.

The crisis with ERC broke out with the President of the Government on an official trip to Egypt. Sánchez has been in constant contact from there with his ministers. The Executive wanted to try to resolve it this same Wednesday and, for that reason, a telematic meeting was hastily prepared between the PSOE and ERC to try to close an agreement. The Socialist delegation was made up of the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños; the Minister of Finance, María Jesús Montero; the deputy secretary general of the PSOE, Adriana Lastra; and the speaker in the Lower House, Héctor Gómez. On behalf of Esquerra, Gabriel Rufián, the spokesperson in Congress; Marta Vilalta, Deputy Secretary General and Republican spokesperson; Josep Maria Jové, president of the ERC National Council; and Oriol Duran, communication secretary of the Generalitat. The economic vice president, Nadia Calviño, was left out of the meeting.

ERC blames Calviño for being responsible for the crisis by not accepting its demands, but even so it escaped no one that there was no representative of his ministry at the meeting. From Economy they downplayed it and pointed to the coordination of the affected areas of the Government. “Those who do not have to speak to shut up” was the message that ERC sources claimed to have transferred to La Moncloa, referring to Calviño. The vice president insisted early that the Executive cannot force foreign platforms. “We cannot do something that contradicts the European directive,” he remarked.

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Within the round of morning contacts, there was another meeting at noon, also telematic and of a technical nature, between the Government and ERC. And there was an exchange of roles with the positions of each party with one objective: to channel the most political meeting of the afternoon as much as possible.

Faced with ERC’s demands not to make distinctions with the platforms, the Executive is considering encouraging production through aid and financial support. An option that collides head-on with the demands of Esquerra, who on Tuesday not only left in the air his support for the public accounts of 2022. He also warned that his support for the Government’s legislative action could be reconsidered. Alerted, the Executive readily agreed to the urgent meeting requested by Rufián.

The preliminary draft of the General Audiovisual Communication Law regulates in its article 3.4 that international audiovisual platforms will be considered established in Spain when they have a parent company or a subsidiary in the country, or are part of a group of which another company of that conglomerate is established in Spain. This is the great point of contention for Esquerra. ERC sources maintain that the wording of the bill has sections with ambiguous wording and bluntly rejects that platforms without tax headquarters in Spain are freed from the regulation that will affect those that are.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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