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Game of Thrones: Sánchez, Torra and the King

Photo by Floris Jan-roelof on Unsplash

Orginally published in Spanish: “A la luz del farol”. Ignacio Varela. El Confidencial

22th June 2018

Lifting supervision of the regional government’s spending without demanding any guarantees. Announcing that the politicians who have been imprisoned will be sent to Catalan prisons, run by their own accomplices. Anticipating a willingness to withdraw the appeals against laws suspended by the Constitutional Court. Indefinitely deferring any multilateral agreement on the financing of devolved regions in order to open up a privileged space for bilateral negotiation with Catalonia, at the price of keeping the other 14 regions waiting. Guaranteeing Torra will get his photo-op on the steps of the Moncloa Palace. Offering to pass organic laws to revert the Court’s ruling on the Statute of Catalonia.  

All of this isn’t the final product of a negotiation between Sánchez’s and Torra’s governments (though it may be the result of negotiations prior to the vote of no confidence). Rather, it’s what the new government of Spain has given up even before (officially) sitting down at the negotiating table. So far, nothing has been announced in return by the other side.

If there were any union leaders in this cabinet, they could have explained to the president the theory of the sausage, which states that anything offered before a negotiation starts can be considered lost. The other side will tuck that half of the sausage into its pocket and then get ready to slice up the remaining half.

Who did Sánchez consult with before publicly offering all these concessions? We know he discussed the matter at length with Pablo Iglesias, and it’s said that Miquel Iceta talks to Torra on a daily basis. But we have no news that the president of the government has discussed any of this with the People’s Party (PP) or Ciudadanos.

If Rajoy, during his terms, had considered any of these measures, or similar, he would have previously requested the opinion and support of Sánchez and Rivera. The new president, in a deliberately visible way, has skipped that step.

The first thing this government has done regarding Catalonia is effectively dissolve the so-called constitutional block that tackled the secessionist uprising last fall. It has dissolved it in Madrid and also in Catalonia: Borrell is minister, but the spirit of [the demonstrations where he spoke at] Via Laietana avenue is history.

More than a political discourtesy, we seem to be on the verge of a radical change in the strategy and alliances of the government of Spain in the Catalan conflict. Agreement among constitutional forces has been replaced by coordination with Podemos and a direct line between the Moncloa and Sant Jaume. This doesn’t quite sit well with the repeated demands that the opposition be loyal: they will respond, rather rightly, that loyalty must go both ways.

It’s logical for the president of the government to receive the president of the regional government. It would even be wise for the King himself to do so at some point. But before that, it would be necessary to clarify whether the visitor is the president of the devolved region of Catalonia or of the Catalan republic, because confounding the issue will benefit one side only. Besides, it would be desirable to share the goals and results of such an interview with those political forces who are committed to the Constitution.

What absolute majority is foreseen for passing the organic laws announced by the Minister for Territorial Policy to recover the original text of the Statute of Catalonia? They can certainly not count on the votes of PP and Ciudadanos. It’s only possible to pass such laws with the same majority that brought Sánchez to power: PSOE plus Podemos plus the nationalists.

In other words, either Sánchez is again bluffing or he has set out to manage the Catalan conflict disregarding the parties with the most votes in Spain (PP) and in Catalonia (Ciudadanos), sidelining centre-right forces that represent 11 million voters, 169 Members of Parliament and the absolute majority of the Senate. An experiment similar to what Zapatero attempted twelve years ago, in a much less serious context, with results we all know.

In this period of detente –unilateral, so far–, secessionist forces need an enemy to harass in order to keep the heat up and their ranks closed. Since the government is cooling down the situation in their benefit, they’ve diverted their rage towards the King, from whom they have demanded in a letter that he apologize to them for the speech he gave on 3rd October.

They have reasons to feel hurt by that speech. It was what activated the state’s effective reaction when Rajoy’s government was knocked out and the situation was out of control. That speech and its consequences robbed them of the victory that had briefly seemed within reach. Felipe VI has nothing to apologize for, since he wasn’t the one breaking the law. If anything, the apology should go the other way.

Pedro Sánchez, at the time leader of the opposition, supported the King’s speech wholeheartedly and unambiguously. Now, as president of the government, he’s even more obliged to back the Head of State in the face of the attacks he’s facing. Even if doing so harms his new policy of alliances.

We all remember the ambush of the demonstration on 26th August, after the terrorist attack on Barcelona. Solidarity with the victims transformed into a secessionist rally and an act of hostility towards the King and what he was there representing. It is the obligation of the government to not allow anything of the sort to happen again.

Today the King is going to Tarragona to formally open the Mediterranean Games. There’s a feeling something big might happen. If there were any rebuff, harassment or provocation, the president could never, in his own words, look the other way. If Torra cannot receive the King of Spain adequately and respectfully, then Sánchez should not receive Torra at the Moncloa, no matter how interested they both are in the photo. It’s about the institutional dignity of the state.  

The courts are letting the secessionists know that challenging the state doesn’t come free, legally speaking. It’s time they also learned that it doesn’t come free politically, either. Maybe that way the detente could start to be reciprocal and productive, beyond the signs and gestures for show.

There’s only one throne in this game; the rest are just temporary public posts. It would be salutary for everyone to understand this so that their egos could cool down too.

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