Regional leader looks forward to role as Spain's power-broker: In Sunday's general elections the Catalans could tip the balance, writes Phil Davison in Barcelona

ALONG Barcelona's tree-lined Passeig de Gracia, where the world watched Olympic marathon runners battle towards the Montjuic stadium last summer, the election campaign posters of the local Catalan nationalists pretty much say it all: 'Ara, decidirem' (Now, we will decide).

To Catalans, the meaning is clear. Whatever happens in Spain's general elections on Sunday, the Catalans will, for the first time in Spain's young democracy, be far more than just a regional factor. In what looks like being a hung parliament, they may well hold the balance of power in Madrid.

The nationalist Convergencia i Unio coalition (CiU), headed by one of Spain's shrewdest politicians, Jordi Pujol, has long been the driving force in Catalonia. On the national level, however, with a Socialist Party (PSOE) majority government since 1982, the Catalans have been confined to the role of a fringe party. Now, with the country's Socialist rulers and conservative opposition both far short of an absolute parliamentary majority, the Catalans look set for a key role as power-brokers on the national stage.

Mr Pujol, CiU leader and prime minister of Catalonia's autonomous regional government, said yesterday he expected his party to be 'the determining factor' in the likely event of a hung parliament on 6 June. It is difficult to disagree. He said his party, expected to win around 20 seats in the 350-seat Madrid Congreso de Diputados (Lower House), was prepared to back a government of either the Socialists or the conservative PP, but on strict conditions.

Essentially, these were a total about-turn in the present government's economic policy, 'gradually' lowered interest rates, increased state financing in areas such as health, allowing Catalonia to control at least 15 per cent of locally raised taxes, and a swifter follow-through on outright Catalonian autonomy.

He at first suggested further devaluation of the peseta, but quickly rephrased this to 'it certainly shouldn't be raised'. From some politicians, the devaluation call might have appeared as the sort of slip of the tongue that damages the currency on the exchange markets. The wily Mr Pujol, however, has been around far too long to let his tongue slip in front of foreign journalists. If, as expected, he is calling the shots as of the night of 6 June, the next prime minister is unlikely to be able to maintain an artificially high peseta rate and still rely on the Catalans' support.

Add to this the fact that Mr Pujol's deputy and CiU candidate for prime minister, Miquel Roca, has called for direct European military intervention in Bosnia and you see that the Catalans' role in the next Spanish legislature, or even government, could be significant. Many analysts see Mr Roca as a potential economy minister in a coalition government.

Like the leading Basque nationalist party, Mr Pujol played down the independence issue. He is the undisputed master of keeping alive Catalonia's independence dream while reassuring Madrid that 'any decision we take after June 6 will ensure Spain's stability'. No Catalan doubts, however, that, like the Basque Nationalist Party leader, Xabier Arzalluz, he sees a changing Europe, rather than any negotiation with Madrid, as Catalonia's best route towards complete autonomy.

Although Mr Pujol said he had no preference for either the Socialists or the PP, he is said to be leaning heavily towards the latter. The PP may have been less amenable to Catalonia's autonomous aspirations but the Catalan leader clearly feels his likely new national muscle will allow him to sort out the inexperienced PP leader, Jose Maria Aznar. Economic crisis, more than autonomy, is the name of the present game and on that Mr Aznar and Mr Pujol are far more likely to see eye to eye.

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister, Narcis Serra, a Socialist and himself a Catalan, this week accused the CiU of 'treason' for allegedly negotiating a deal with the PP in advance of Sunday's vote. It is not impossible that Mr Gonzalez could win a seat or two more than Mr Aznar but, even if he were to swallow his pride and do a deal with the Communist-led Izquierda Unida (United Left), he might still fall short of a working majority.

Mr Aznar, though with fewer seats than the Socialists, could be asked by the King to form a government if Basque and Catalan support swings the balance in his favour.

Mr Pujol insisted he was not yet thinking of the possible post-election permutations. His party's priority, he said, was to win in Catalonia. Under Spain's post-Franco democracy, the CiU has emerged as clear winner in regional elections but has come second to the Socialists in national balloting. In the present Congress, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) - the local branch of Mr Gonzalez's PSOE - has 20 of the 46 Catalan seats to the CiU's 18. Polls suggest that situation could be reversed and the local nationalists could win more national seats than the Socialists for the first time. The joker in the pack, however, is the PP. It has not so far been a factor - currently holding only four seats - but that was before its recent upsurge under Mr Aznar. Now seen as more than just here to make up the numbers, the PP could at least double its representation, the polls suggest.

The nationalists are therefore fighting two parties, either of which they may have to hold hands with for the next four years.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam