The Catalan exit plan (Politico)
In the past, moderates have dominated Barcelona’s testy relations with Madrid. This time, it could escalate.
In the mind of Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia is already floating free from the rest of Spain.
The president of the Generalitat regional government came to power in January promising independence in 18 months, but says Catalonia is already “emancipated” from the tortuous political process that has deprived Spain of a government since inconclusive elections in December. On June 26, Spain will hold the first repeat elections in its modern democratic history.
“We don’t depend on them any more. The Spanish elections aren’t a decisive factor in the Catalan independence process,” the 53-year-old Catalan president told POLITICO in an interview.
Whether this process is irreversible, or just a ruse to negotiate more autonomy from Madrid, is an existential question for Spain and of vital strategic importance to the European Union: a cradle of Mediterranean culture, Catalonia’s 7.5 million people make up a sixth of the Spanish population and nearly a fifth of Spain’s economic output.
Madrid is determined to keep the kingdom united, fearful also that a Catalan split would encourage the Basques, Galicians, Valencians and other independent-minded regions to go it alone.
Encouraged by Mariano Rajoy’s outgoing government, the Constitutional Court invalidated a 2014 referendum in which 80 percent of ballots cast favored independence, though turnout was very low as the main pro-unity parties boycotted the vote. In last September’s high-turnout Catalan election, 48 percent of votes, but an absolute majority of seats, went to secessionist parties, including Puigdemont’s center-right Convergencia.
From the day he took power after three months of coalition wrangling, Puigdemont said he has made it clear to Spain’s four biggest parties — now acting prime minister Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party, Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists, Pablo Iglesias’ far-left Podemos and Albert Rivera’s centrist Ciudadanos — that Catalonia has already embarked on its own separatist path.
“We aren’t waiting any more. We are taking decisions,” said the former journalist and ex-mayor of Girona.
Adéu to Europe?
The 18-month countdown that Puigdemont declared in January will culminate in elections for a constitutional assembly “for a future Catalan republic” where Spain’s King Felipe will no longer reign, but where the Spanish language and culture, and many residents who originate from elsewhere in the peninsula, will thrive alongside the Catalan speakers, he said.
Not, however, if the majority Spanish political forces opposed to independence can help it, including the Popular Party, the Socialists and Ciudadanos, the business-friendly party founded in Barcelona by Catalan-born Rivera a decade ago.