2024 Catalan election. Is it the end of the ‘Process’, as we know it? With an image of Salvador Illa,

2024 Catalan election: is it the end of the ‘Process’, as we know it?

Published: 22 May 2024

By Núria Franco-Guillén and Ivan Serrano Balaguer

For the first time since the transition to democracy of 1978, last Sunday’s elections in Catalonia resulted in a Parliament without a nationalist majority. The Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) whose leader and government’s president, Pere Aragonès, called for a snap election after failing to secure support for the Generalitat’s annual budget, lost around 30% of support. The ERC fell back to the third place; way beyond the Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC-PSOE) and the center-right Junts + Puigdemont. The former Catalan president’s party increased support by 1% and 3 seats and became the second largest party in the chamber, while the anticapitalist secessionist left, Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) halved its number of seats. The Catalan-based radical right Aliança Catalana (AC) managed to obtain two seats in the Parliament. Ciudadanos, a political party created in order to stop the ‘Process’, as the recent push for Catalonia’s independence is known, lost all its seats, while a new party advocating for unilateral independence and led by the University of Saint Andrews-based politician in exile, Clara Ponsatí also failed to obtain representation. Despite PSC-PSOE’s victory, there is a real chance of a hung parliament since there are no easily achievable coalitions to sustain a stable government.


Table 1. Catalan Election results, 2024-2021 (number of seats. Majority at 68)

Political Party20242021Change
Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya4233+9
Junts + Puigdemont per Catalunya3532+3
Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya2033-13
Partit Popular153+12
Comuns Sumar68-2
Candidatura d'Unitat Popular49-5
Aliança Catalana20+2


Source: Generalitat de Catalunya – Processos electorals (https://eleccions.gencat.cat/ca/inici/ - last visited 13/05/2024)


These results beg the question whether the days of independence mobilisation are over. Indeed, the 2024 election happens in a changing context for territorial politics in Catalonia in the aftermath of the referendum of 2017 that led to the suspension of Catalan autonomy. First, despite turnout being back to the typical levels of the mid 2000s, there seems to be a de-mobilisation of the pro-independence voter which had traditionally abstained less than the non-secessionist voters. Some ecologic inference analyses based on census sections seem to suggest, for example, that a third of ERC’s loss is due to abstention, and that overall, turnout was higher in municipalities with a lower concentration of pro-independence party voters (and about 7% lower in municipalities with higher support for pro-independence parties). Secondly, de-mobilisation of pro-independence votes has not only materialised in abstention or alternative pro-independence options, but ecologic inference suggests a trend towards non-secessionist options. This transfer of votes has affected the CUP, which lost nearly half of her voters since 2021, many of them going to the left-wing Comuns-Sumar and PSC-PSOE. 74000 of ERC’s lost votes may have contributed to up to a third of the PSC-PSOE’s growth. In turn, the Socialists not only won the elections, but also returned to results similar to those they used to obtain prior to the so-called ‘Process’. How did it all get here? 

Two years after Junts left the coalition government, ERC continued with a minority government that had to rely on very fragile support from the opposition parties, namely, Junts, PSC, Comuns and the CUP. Failure to pass the budget law apparently stemmed from a deep disagreement between political parties in two policy issues that Junts and PSC supported, but ERC did not: first, the enlargement of the Barcelona Airport, and second, the continuation of a macro-casino project that Hard Rock café intends to build in the south of Catalonia, and that Junts and PSC – with support from the PP – had voted to allow in 2014. The Comuns-Sumar group, despite supporting the socialist coalition government at the Spanish level, withdrew their support to approve the Generalitat’s budget as it was against the two projects. 

During the campaign, along with the routine debates around the Process, increased attention has been paid to issues that have been salient in Europe’s political agenda for a while, such as immigration, gender, or climate change. Debate on these issues was likely delayed by the Process. The incumbent ERC had focused efforts on governing the Catalan executive, not only as part of its seemingly social-democrat agenda, but also as part of a long term strategy of enlarging its basis of social support – and hence support for independence. Some of the policy projects included the study of a universal basic income, putting an end to period poverty, the rent prices containment law, or the reversal of budget cuts imposed by austerity policies during the global financial crisis, namely in areas such as education and health. These policies had heterogeneous results and stirred debates around the model of society. 

On the territorial question, and after securing the pardon for the politicians prosecuted after the 2017 referendum, negotiations for amnesty were being held at the Spanish level at the same time that Aragonès unsuccessfully tried to start negotiations for a referendum, while the transfer of other competencies to Catalonia was also discussed. All in all, the post-2017 agenda including negotiating the support for PSOE’s governments in Madrid has not been able to retain, let alone enlarge, the electoral support of pro-independence parties. Furthermore, the confrontation between these parties has only deepened, and much of the campaign consisted of mutual accusations over who does less for the independence of Catalonia. 

Topics such as the decay of Catalan language, and immigrant integration appeared prominently in the media and in election debates, both of them highly influenced by extreme – and sometimes intertwined - positions. This was partly due to the rise of the radical right Aliança Catalana (AC), with a ‘Save Catalonia’ slogan focused on the purported disappearance of Catalan identity, language and traditions, due to illegal immigration that is encouraged by the central state.[1] Over-engagement with this new party by other political parties, and its over-representation by the media have unsurprisingly resulted in AC winning two seats in the Catalan Parliament thanks to protest-voters, many of them from inner Catalonia’s deprived regions and who had previously abstained or even voted for pro-independence parties. Unsurprisingly as well, the Junts made a subtle effort to co-opt part of the radical rights’ ideas, thus consolidating the AC’s agenda-setting and framing.

Prospects: the end of the ‘Catalan question’?

Catalan politics today face three main challenges: First, it might be argued that the lack of clear leadership amongst the pro-independence parties, their frequent disagreements on both the independence question and on general policy issues, and the lack of effective results either in terms of self-determination or self-government paints an ambiguous landscape ahead for the pro-independence agenda. Second, Catalan society is becoming even more diverse and complex. Younger generations seem less interested in politics while there is a growing concern about increasing extreme right values, especially among young men. Changing patterns of political socialization in classical cleavages -either right-left or centre-periphery- may open a lot of uncertainty about how future voters will engage in politics. Moreover, the consolidation of deep diversity in Catalonia raises doubts about how the political and electoral landscape may evolve in the coming years. 

Third, at the Spanish level, political polarization between the two main historical blocks in Spanish politics is on the rise, and this may force cooperation between peripheral nationalisms and the PSOE which might be detrimental to the advancement of territorial goals. Lastly, mass migrations, the economic model based on low-quality services and tourism, security issues or the effects of climate change on energy and the management of persistent drought will remain key challenges that the next Catalan governments will have to face. All this will need to be faced with the same limitations of a decentralised regime that prompted the contentious period that seems to be fading away. 

Ironically enough, the day of the election saw massive chaos of the Catalan train system, which not only is responsibility of the Spanish government, but was the trigger of the one of the early massive demonstrations for the right to decide in 2007. Either way, whether Catalan parties can form a government and avoid electoral repetition will be key for pro-independence parties to face this arguably new cycle of low mobilisation on the territorial question.

[1] It is important to note that the AC first emerged in Ripoll, a small village in the Pyrenees where the terrorist attack of Barcelona in 2017 was organized by a radical Islamist imam if the town.