Catalonia Independence: After six years of unilateralism and ignorance, it is about time for the future Catalan administration and Madrid to negotiate a solution to the lack of belonging to the Spanish state an important part of the Catalan society faces
Author: Roberto Herranz
“Spain is different!” became a popular slogan back in the 1960s to promote the touristic value of the Iberian country in the outside world. The three-word sentence – whose invention is attributed to the Francoist politician Manuel Fraga; later on, a symbol for the conservative Popular Party (PP) — gained popularity since then and has been used to explain the diverse idiosyncrasy of the Spanish cultural, social, and political life.
It seems obvious that as early as two years ago, a vast majority of the Spanish population never thought the country would be facing a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) proclaimed by one of its autonomous communities. However, it is also true that after having witnessed the political events in Catalonia during the last year, especially during the last two months, nobody was actually surprised by the declaration. Now, this Spain, always different, offers to the world an unprecedented and alarming situation which is provoking hilarious and fake news all over the international media landscape.
Late Franco, after the transition to democracy, the elaboration of the 1978’s Constitution (in which two notable Catalan political figures participated), and the approval of the Statute of Autonomy in 1979, Catalan political life was defined by the pragmatism and the good relations between the popular leader of the main conservative regional party — back then, just nationalist –, Jordi Pujol, and the central government, either socialist (PSOE) or conservative (PP).
However, everything changed from 2003, after the agreement for a government in a coalition between the Catalan branch of the socialist party (PSC), the traditional leftist independentist party (ERC), and the ecologist-communist party ICV. The Catalan government by then, led by the socialist Pasqual Maragall, seeking more regional autonomy, proposed a new statute for Catalonia. In this new text, which was passed in the Catalan parliament in 2005, the economy was the key. The Spanish State should give to the region higher percentages of the taxes it collected, and a new Catalan tax agency should be created, among other things. However, the text also highlighted the Catalan people as a nation, as well as remarked the historical will Catalans showed for regional self-governance. While for many pro-independence and nationalist parties, the new statute was considered a further step towards the independence, it was seen by the conservative party (PP) as clearly anti-constitutional.
After certain articles were removed, socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero agreed to respect the text and both the Congress and the Senate approved the new statute. Nevertheless, the Popular Party showed since the very beginning its refusal to accept what was considered by them an illegal law. After around a 72% of the Catalans approved the text in a referendum, the PP filed a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court denouncing the alleged unconstitutionality of 114 out of the statute’s 223 articles.
This political movement produced a huge rejection and a growing feeling of humiliation among some parts of the Catalan society, sensation which increased in 2010 when the Constitutional Court finally determined that at least 14 articles were against the Constitution. This was the turning point when the independentist forces started growing in the Catalan political landscape.
In 2011, the conservative Mariano Rajoy was appointed as new prime minister thanks to a huge absolute majority in the Congress. The Catalan president back then, the conservative Artur Mas, encouraged by massive demonstrations against the Constitutional Court’s decision, presented a proposal for fiscal and economic reforms to the central government. Taking advantage of his parliamentary majority and his supporters’ rejection of the Catalan independentist movement, Rajoy dismissed the proposal and any kind of negotiation.
Since then, the independentist movement started growing and growing, and the whole Spanish society witnessed an increasing will of independence among some parts the Catalan society. Will which, in certain cases, verged on historical lies and hate speeches. On the other side, however, nothing changed during Rajoy’s first term, since he basically ignored and refused to accept any kind of political problem and downplayed each step the different Catalan governments led by Mas, took towards independence, including the non-binding and illegal referendum held in 2014
During these last six years, but especially during 2016 and 2017, both pro-independence and pro-union Catalan citizens have been attending a nasty political show in which neither the new regional government led by Carles Puigdemont, nor Mariano Rajoy’s administration has offered any kind of sensible and legal solution to the actual problem a big part of the Catalan society faces: the lack of belonging to the Spanish state as a political and social project.
While the regional Catalan government — already ceased by Madrid — has been taking several illegal steps towards the independence declaration despite some dishonest calls for dialogue, Rajoy’s government has been ignoring a serious and existing political problem since he took power back in 2011. Most of the Spanish society is aware that the police charges against ordinary citizens seen the last 1st of October, the takeover of the region, different unilateral secession attempts, and the refusal to negotiation are not going to bring any solution to the conflict.
Once triggered the article number 155 of the Spanish Constitution, Rajoy decided to cease the whole regional government, to dissolve the Catalan parliament and to take the control of the region until a new government is chosen after the snap regional elections, which are going to be held on the 21st of December.
Bearing in mind that the different polls haven’t shown so far any trend of relevant change in the current composition of the regional chamber, there are two important facts to take into account by the future Catalan government, as well as for the current central administration. First of all, the vast majority of Catalan people (around an 82%, according to a survey carried out by Metroscopia in late September) wants to decide about their future in a legal referendum agreed with Madrid. And secondly, it’s not legitimate to talk in the name of the Catalan society in such a decisive and important issue with less than the 48% of the votes, like the government led by Puigdemont did.
It’s about time to prove the validity of that famous slogan still lasts and to show again to the world — like many other times in the past – that it’s never too late for dialogue. We should do it, however, on the base of realism and legality.