Lament for Catalonia (Politico)
Political negotiation, not repression or unilateralism, is only answer to Catalan issue
The fate of Catalonia, and with it the future of Spain, can only be settled by political negotiation, not by blinkered repression or reckless unilateralism.
Sadly, the prospects for reasoned discussion look slim after Sunday’s heavy-handed attempt by Madrid to prevent an illegal referendum staged by nationalist Catalans bent on marching toward independence despite shaky public support.
Hard-liners in both camps are in the drivers’ seats, playing identity politics. Moderates have been sidelined. The mood is as combative in Barcelona as in Madrid.
Barring a last-minute step back from the brink, the likely next step is a unilateral declaration of independence in the coming days by the Catalan parliament — based tenuously on the unscrutinized vote of a majority of the minority who were able to cast ballots.
That will likely prompt the Spanish government or the courts to suspend the autonomous Catalan authorities and impose some degree of direct rule from Madrid. If neither side backs down, there’s a real danger of strikes and street confrontations.
Events in Catalonia matter to the whole of Europe, not just because of the risk of instability in the European Union’s fifth-biggest country, but because of the precedent for other restive regions and the damage to the image of the EU.
While the bloc and its executive body, the European Commission, are publicly treating this as an internal Spanish affair and backing Madrid’s handling, they may not be able to stay aloof much longer if things deteriorate further.
Already, Brussels is under fire for failing to express concern for the 800 people injured by Spanish police on Sunday. In the war of images, Madrid scored a spectacular own-goal by sending security forces in riot gear to seize ballot boxes, forcibly evict peaceful volunteers from polling stations in schools and in some cases, wield clubs to bar access to some voting centers.
As a strategy it was not only brutal; it was ineffective. Some 2.2 million people managed to vote anyway.
Both sides are to blame for this crisis, manufactured in the wake of arguably the most successful three decades of democracy, economic development and cultural blossoming in Spanish history.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party lit the fuse by challenging in the Constitutional Court a devolution settlement, known as the Catalan Statute, negotiated by his Socialist predecessor and approved by a Catalan referendum in 2006.
The court invalidated several articles in 2010, including one recognizing Catalonia as a “nation” within Spain. That played into the hands of the most radical Catalan nationalists and turned minority support for independence into a much bigger, more determined separatist movement.
Rajoy’s refusal since he became prime minister in 2011 to negotiate broader political or fiscal autonomy for the wealthy northeastern region, along the lines of the Basque Country’s system, alienated many middle-class Catalans who had hitherto accepted the devolved arrangement. Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents make up 16 percent of the Spanish population but produce some 19 percent of its GDP and 26 percent of its exports.
Rajoy’s uncompromising stance opened the door for hard-line nationalist Carles Puigdemont to win regional power at the head of a heterodox coalition of center-right bourgeois nationalists, leftist republicans and anti-globalization far-leftists, egged on by powerful cultural identity movements. Puigdemont’s hodgepodge coalition has a slim majority of seats in the Catalan parliament, though not of the popular vote.
Since taking office, Puigdemont has refused to discuss anything but a timetable for a legal referendum on independence. When that was struck down, he whipped up separatist fervor with mass demonstrations, symbolic events and a demonization of the Spanish police and Guardia Civil national guard.
Rajoy, a dour Galician with a tendency to play for time, has responded with a strictly legalistic approach. He appears to be in denial about the depth of Catalan determination. His statement on the evening of the vote that there had been no independence referendum in Catalonia sounded like a surrealist manifesto.
Despite Puigdemont’s plea for European or international mediation, it’s hard to see how the EU could act as an intermediary between a member government and a rebel region that has broken its laws — something Madrid has said it would not accept anyway.
Original article: http://www.politico.eu/article/lament-for-catalonia/