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Viewing cable 06BARCELONA179, PASSING THE TORCH: MONTILLA REPLACES MARAGALL AS PRESIDENT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BARCELONA179 2006-12-01 16:04 2010-12-16 12:12 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Barcelona
VZCZCXRO4164
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHLA #0179 3351649
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 011649Z DEC 06
FM AMCONSUL BARCELONA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0802
INFO RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 0769
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 0965
UNCLAS BARCELONA 000179

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

EUR/WE FOR CLEMENTS/CERVETTI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SP
SUBJECT: PASSING THE TORCH: MONTILLA REPLACES MARAGALL AS PRESIDENT
OF THE GENERALITAT AND A NEW ERA BEGINS

1. (SBU) In an emotional and dramatic November 28 ceremony, Jose
Montilla received the medal signifying his position as President
from out-going President Pascal Maragall and was formally
decreed as the 128th President of the Generalitat, the high seat
of Catalan government. As his parents looked on, Montilla
pronounced himself "the most humble servant of the Catalan
people." Later, as he introduced his new government, it became
clear there would be some continuity, but also a significant
shuffling of responsibilities - further admission that this
government would work hard not to repeat the mistakes of the one
it was replacing. In remarks to the press, the new president
repeated his vow to focus on social issues, and declared that
his government would act with prudence and speak with one voice
- yet another reflection of the weaknesses of the past
government, which was reportedly rife with in-fighting between
the three parties that made up the coalition (Tripartit).
Visibly emotional, Maragall fondly recalled his time in public
service and wished the in-coming government well.
Significantly, he noted that Montilla's heritage did not make
Catalonia "less Catalan", but rather confirmed that "our new
homeland is Europe," and later, "our new path is the
Mediterranean."

A New Era Begins~

2. (SBU) Montilla, thus, becomes the first President of
Catalonia since the post-Franco era not to have been born in
Catalonia - he was born near Cordoba - a fact focused on by the
media. Opinions appear to fall into two broad categories on
this issue: many believe Montilla's "foreign" roots are a sign
of growing social maturity in the region. Others are scarcely
able to hide their discomfort with the fact that an "outsider"
has taken over. (Note: Montilla, who comes from very humble
beginnings, moved to Catalonia as a child in 1971. End note.)
Heritage aside, a major reason Montilla's ascent to the
presidency stands out is the striking difference in demeanor
from that man he is replacing. Montilla quickly named his new
team - a mixture of carryovers from the previous government and
some new faces - and projected a sense of unity, something the
out-going government reportedly failed to do. Few doubt
Montilla's seriousness and work ethic, but clearly many are
withholding judgment on his ability to keep vice president Josep
Carod Rovira (Republican Left) and Interior Counselor Joan Saura
(Green) in line.

3. (SBU) If body language is any indication, Montilla will not
be able to count on a "honeymoon" period as he takes the helm.
Convergence and Union (CiU) President Artur Mas, who sat stonily
eyeing Montilla's investiture, later dismissed the new
government as the same as the old one, and predicted it would
likely be just as (un)successful, in remarks to the press.

And Another Ends

4. (SBU) Pascal Maragall's Catalan roots run deep and his
shadow will loom large over Montilla's presidency just as Jordi
Pujol's shadow continues even today. Maragall is the grandson
of a famous poet of the region, and his brother, Ernest
Maragall, will continue the family tradition of public service
as Counselor for Education and also one of President Montilla's
closest advisors. Maragall's emotional farewell speech recalled
his years as mayor (when he successfully brought the 1992
Olympics to Barcelona) and president (where he oversaw the
growing economic and political strength of the region.) He also
fondly made note of his close relationship with the United
States.

5. (SBU) Comment: While still early days, our sense is Montilla
will have very little time to whip the reconstituted Tripartit
into shape and show positive results. The media are already on
the alert for any signs of discord. Naming the prickly
Carod-Rovira vice president and giving him the external affairs
portfolio (nominally in charge of implementing the statute
(Estatut) governing relations between Catalonia and Madrid) will
either prove to be a stroke of genius or a big mistake. Carod
left Maragall's government over the Estatut negotiations, but
has recently expressed some regret over that decision. Another
test has already begun in the area of public security. In a
surprise move, the head of the Mossos d'Escuadra (Catalonia's
regional police force), Joan Unio, announced his resignation
effective immediately before Green party president Saura was
named Interior Counselor. Unio was an extremely helpful
Consulate General contact. There is speculation that Unio, who
appeared to have a good relationship with the previous Interior
head, did not think he could work as effectively with the new
team. On the record, according to the Mossos website, Unio is
leaving to pursue other opportunities in the private sector. No
word yet on a replacement. End Comment.

ROBINSON