[lg policy] 3 ways Spain will tackle its Catalan problem

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Nov 10 16:23:13 UTC 2015

3 ways Spain will tackle its Catalan problem

Let them vote, give them more autonomy — or throw the book at them.

Diego Torres <http://www.politico.eu/author/diego-torres/>

11/9/15, 7:31 PM CET

Updated 11/10/15, 1:35 PM CET

MADRID — A new phase in Spanish politics began Monday as the Parliament of
Catalonia approved a roadmap for secession that calls for lawmakers to
start building independent institutions and disobey the country’s
Constitutional Court.

The resolution passed with the support of acting president Artur Mas’
coalition Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) and the leftist CUP (Popular
Unity Candidacy). The motion marks “the beginning of the creation process
of an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic.”

Catalonia, the north-eastern region of Spain, which has its own language
and culture, represents 16 percent of the population and 19 percent of
Spain’s economic output.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy lost no time in announcing that he
will appeal Wednesday to the Constitutional Court. “This is the first step
and would like it to be the last,” he warned, “but it does not depend on
those of us who defend democracy.”

Here are three ways that Spain will try to quell the Catalan rebellion:
1. Law and Order

The sovereignty of a united Spain is one of the core principles of the 1978
Constitution, which sealed the end of four decades of dictatorship under
Francisco Franco. It was ratified in a referendum by a majority of Spanish
and Catalan citizens. Most political parties share the view, including
Rajoy’s Popular Party, Pedro Sánchez’s main opposition Socialists and
Albert Rivera’s fast-growing centrist movement *Ciudadanos* (Citizens).

>From their vantage point, the response to the independence bid should be
simple: Apply the law of the land. The state will not hesitate to use all
the political and legal means to defend Spain’s sovereignty, Rajoy said

The Constitutional Court will almost certainly declare the resolution
illegal. However, since the pro-independence declaration vows that the
regional parliament will disobey the tribunal’s decision and keep on
working for the creation of a Catalan republic, things are less clear

Rajoy says his response will be “cautious and proportionate.” Interior
Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz has ruled out sending a police force to take
the streets of Barcelona, saying: “We are not as silly as they [the
pro-independence camp] think.”

However, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro warns that the central
government won’t finance the “pro-independence caprices” of any regional
government, suggesting that he might cut transfers to the Catalan

Madrid may prefer the option of putting pressure on separatist leaders
rather than taking broader measures against the Catalan population at
large. The Constitutional Court could bar elected officials who disobey its
resolutions, such as Mas (if he gets a new term) or Carme Forcadell,
president of the legislative assembly that took Monday’s vote. Criminal
charges could follow for specific acts of disobedience and there could even
charges of sedition.

As a last resort, the central government, with the approval of the Senate,
could take control of the regional police or even suspend Catalan autonomy

   - [image: From left to right: Former President of the Catalan National
   Assembly Carme Forcadell, President of Catalonia Artur Mas, Junts pel Si
   leader Raul Romeva and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya leader Oriol
   Junqueras celebrate their election victory]

   Also On Politico
   Catalan parliament votes to break with Spain

   Hans von der Burchard

2. Give them what they want (at least some of it)

The main Spanish and Catalan political forces could open negotiations.

This strategy, favored by the Socialists and most of the left, is based on
two assumptions: First, the support for independence is tactical, not
ideological. They want leverage in negotiations with the central government
and could be convinced by the right offer. Polls suggest most Catalans
would prefer to negotiate a better autonomous government rather than
continue pushing for secession.

The second assumption is that one of the key factors behind the growth of
separatism, apart from the economic crisis, has been a lack of flexibility
on the part of Rajoy’s government. Socialist leader Sánchez leveled the
criticism this past weekend. He said Spanish law allowed for reform, and
that “we know the majority of Catalans want neither immobility nor a

The Socialists have long defended a constitutional reform to increase
Catalan autonomy. Such reforms would need to address at least two of the
secessionists’ main complaints: money and culture. *Espanya ens roba*
(Spain steals from us) has been one of the pro-independence camp’s main
messages for the past five years, as well as neglect of the Catalan
language in Spain and the EU.

Three of Spain’s four biggest parties — the Socialists, Ciudadanos and the
leftist Podemos — actively promote constitutional reform and some
conservatives accept it may be necessary. They do not agree, however, that
such a reform should lead to further decentralization of the state.

An increase in Catalan autonomy might also mean more money for the region
and less money for the rest of Spain. Voters in other regions would be very
reluctant to support that. Even the Socialists could have trouble selling
this solution in their southern stronghold of Andalusia.
3. Let them vote (and then we’ll see how to manage it)

This view holds that Spain is a country composed of different nations with
the right to self-determination. A binding referendum should be organized
and national political groups can then campaign to convince the Catalans to
remain in Spain.

Only far-left Podemos and Izquierda Unida, as well as other regional
nationalists, hold this position. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has stated
that he, as a Madrid resident, has no right to tell the Catalans what to do
with their future. He argues that if Spain offers Catalonia a new deal —
with greater autonomy and acknowledgment of its national status — a
majority of Catalans would vote for continued union with Spain.

“I want to seduce the Catalans, I want to tell them that there can be a
prime minister who listens to them; and I am convinced that, with another
attitude, most of them would like to remain in Spain,” Iglesias said last

This strategy involves one major inherent risk: What if Iglesias is wrong
and Catalans do vote for secession? It would require constitutional reform
for Spain to legalize and recognize their independence, and would need the
approval of more than two thirds of a legislative assembly and a nationwide
referendum. Such consensus is highly unlikely.
Diego Torres <http://www.politico.eu/author/diego-torres/>


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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