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The road to federalism

Rajoy and Mas must take positions that allow for the evolution of the regional system

Federalism implies a division of guaranteed functions between central and regional forces. The movement of the Spanish model of autonomous regions toward a federal structure, in which the powers of the central government and the regions are defined, has been pending for some time. This is the only way to find solutions to the problem posed by the inconveniences and dysfunctional aspects of the system of autonomous governments, which, after having fulfilled an important historic role, has to be replaced by a structure more in line with that of other federal models in Europe. Indeed, federalism appears the only reasonable approach to finding a solution to the problem posed by Catalonia.

On the contrary, nothing will be resolved if the prime minister and premier of Catalonia remain entrenched in the positions laid out at their meeting on Thursday in La Moncloa. Both Rajoy and other leaders in his Popular Party are guilty of having inflamed the issue by fighting against the Catalan statute and fanning revisionism of the autonomous system. Artur Mas in turn has stepped up his declarations in favor of independence in the event of him failing to secure a fiscal pact that substantially improves Catalonia’s funding situation. This is a futile and contradictory stance, because if he indeed wants the pact, surely it would be to maintain Catalonia’s ties with the rest of Spain. If that is not the case, to present the fiscal pact as a stop on the road to independence is to invite conflict.

Both parties need to adopt a stance that allows for understanding. It is possible to imagine a different funding system within a more federal framework, but not from the point of view of a break-up of the nation. Artur Mas lacks a mandate to propose independence, unless he deems the sentiments expressed in a recent demonstration — which saw a healthy turnout — to be a form of “populist mandate.” The mandate he has from the Catalan parliament is to negotiate a fiscal pact.

In any case, political squabbles complicate the priority objective of emerging from the financial crisis, getting lending flowing and putting the economic machinery in motion again. Finding a way out of the debt crisis and getting out of recession is everyone’s problem. Proof of the great concern caused by the current situation is to be found in the words of the king on the Royal Household’s new website, according to which we are at a decisive moment in terms of “safeguarding or ruining the welfare state that has cost us so much to achieve,” and that the worst thing would be “to divide forces, encourage dissent, chase rainbows and deepen wounds.” Perhaps it was not the best idea for the head of state to direct a message of such scope to the nation on a delicate political subject without presenting it as a personal opinion. After this message, it is up to the leaders of the main political parties to get to grips with the situation and act accordingly, beginning with the prime minister and his party, which has an absolute majority.

It is important that Rajoy and Mas show gestures of collaboration. Another participant is required in this conjunction of political wills and that is the leader of the main opposition party, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who spoke with Rajoy just before his meeting with Mas and told the state broadcaster TVE that he was against the idea of a fiscal pact along the lines of that of the Basque Country. Public displays of discord serve only to highlight risks before the eyes of the European authorities and the markets and to demoralize the population.

Nothing will be resolved if the prime minister and premier of Catalonia remain entrenched in the positions laid out at their meeting on Thursday
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