In English Voices From Spain

Spanish new Government and Catalonia: a truce needed and some dangerous temptations.

Foto: Michał Parzuchowski | Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: “El nuevo gobierno y Cataluña: tregua necesaria y tentaciones peligrosas”. Ignacio Varela. El Confidencial

11th June 2018

Pedro Sánchez should not make any relevant decision regarding Catalonia without the previous knowledge of – at least – PP and Ciudadanos. The State is going to face new challenges.

Lucía Méndez reminds us [at El Mundo] that when a Prime Minister is burnt at the time when he leaves the office – as all in our Democracy were – his successor devotes the first months of his tenure to dramatize their differences by doing the opposite to what he did. Aznar tried really hard to show himself doing the opposite to what González did, Rajoy the opposite to Zapatero and now, Pedro Sánchez seeks to demonstrate each and every second that he represents and actually is the opposite to Rajoy. An attractive formula, but a short-lived one as well. Rather sooner than later, the memories will fade and you will only be compared to yourself.

I think that in the last two years, PP didn’t assess how the figure of his president became, even for its voters, a weapon of mass disaffection. Therefore, highlighting his contrast with Rajoy is so essential for Sánchez now. Not only because a question of image, but also because keeping this “anti-Marianist” momentum that catapulted him to the power is the only thing that guarantees him, for the moment, the support that he needs to govern with extreme minority.

The new Government knows well that Catalonia keeps being the biggest problem in Spain. That, more than in any other issue, it will decide the success or failure of his office. That’s why Sánchez sent a message: I supported Rajoy, but I’m not Rajoy. That’s what his relevant Minister went to say to Barcelona during the last weekend.

The conflict in Catalonia will last for a long time, but not always on a critical phase. After nine traumatic months that shook the country and took the State to the limit, there’s an evident social boredom and the need for détente in both sides. Even assuming that there is no solution for the root problem, almost all would prefer to pass from the open conflict to a period of controlled tension; no matter it’s just to rest and recover for the next battle. There’s nothing as tiring as fighting without hope of victory.

Sánchez’s Government is in better condition than its predecessor to administrate that truce. Because the pressure from its voters is smaller than the one on PP’s side, that was also under an hostile TOB from Ciudadanos; because on October 1st, Rajoy exhausted all his credit and run out of room for any peaceful movement, and because PSC [Catalan Socialist Party, affiliated with PSOE] is more helpful than the almost extinguished Catalan PP. Whoever may be formally elected for the office, Miquel Iceta is currently acting as the political representative of the Government in Catalonia.

It is probably true that in order for détente to start, both more polarizing – and paralyzing – characters, Rajoy and Puigdemont, should get off the center of the scene. Rajoy is already gone and Puigdemont’s exit is being cooked. The first defeat for the former president within the secessionist group came during the no-confidence vote. And – even worse for him – the first sign of autonomy from Torra. The 17 pro – independence MPs wouldn’t have given their votes to Sánchez with the opposition of the president of the Generalitat. To say the least, Torra disregarded his mentor’s wishes and let it happen.

Once the 155 has been overcome, the Government announces that it will raise the prior check on Generalitat’s expenses. That it’s ready to negotiate the claims that where once defended by Artur Mas (all but the self-determination vote). That it could reconsider some of the lawsuits filed by the former Government against laws issued by the Catalan parliament, most of them based on jurisdiction grounds. Anticipates a meeting of Prime Minister with the president of the Generalitat (as he does with all the other regional presidents). And reminds that his impassable limit is the Constitution.

All this looks reasonable. And it would be much more if he’d had the precaution of informing previously PP and Ciudadanos, who shared with PSOE the defence of democratic legality – and that will have to keep on doing it. Taken by the euphoria of the moment, this Government could fall in two very dangerous temptations:

The first one would be to fuel expectations that are impossible to satisfy. From the first minute they have dressed up with the colorful clothes of a Government that holds a majority and starts its tenure with four years ahead to develop its program. But the truth is that, beyond rhetorical gestures, many of the purposes already stated aren’t feasible on its conditions and with the time available. They should be considered as a prequel of the PSOE’s next election program (the Government itself has that condition of a promising sign of better times to come).

Sánchez knows well that under current circumstances there’s no chance to implement a constitutional reform and that using the “Frankenstein majority” for a de facto reform the Catalan statute using the back door of Organic Laws would be a complete madness. And he doesn’t know it, we should be much more worried.

The second temptation is even more dangerous: it would be to ruin the constitutional block. Willing to handle the Catalonia issue in a bilateral negotiation with the secessionist parties, leaving aside the first minority in Spanish parliament and the first constitutional force in Catalonia. Zapatero incurred in the same error in 2005, when the situation was much softer than now, and we are seeing some of its consequences today.

The conflict will go on; the State will have to face new challenges. It’s not enough to appeal to others’ sense of responsibility, it must be showed one’s own. All the constitutional parties must remain equally involved, and Sánchez should not make any single relevant decision regarding Catalonia without previous knowledge of – at least – PP and Ciudadanos. Even more, now he has the chance to ask Podemos to jump on the bandwagon – and that was much harder for Mariano Rajoy. At this point, Iglesias should have learnt his lesson after flirting with pro – independence movement.

The opposition has its own share of responsibility here. On State crisis, each party should silence its own radicals. Turning the Catalan issue into an unbalancing warhorse, bringing back the inflammatory language from the days of collections of signatures and starting a competition between PP and Ciudadanos to know who cheers more and better the rancid Spanish nationalism can’t be a good idea for Spain. Please, let’s understand that the only traitor in this story is now in Berlin.

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