Signs of a rupture
The Catalan assembly approves a sovereignty declaration but at the cost of serious divisions
By 85 votes in favor, 41 against and two abstentions, the Catalan parliament on Wednesday approved a declaration that sets off a process to achieve the right to decide the political future of Catalonia departing from the affirmation that the Catalan people constitute a “sovereign political and legal entity.” The declaration was stripped of initial references to the right to decide, as well as the right to independence, and the construction of a state of its own. But the rhetoric, the scenario and the initial intentions of the promoters of the declaration were construed in such a way as to imbue Wednesday’s vote with the solemnity of an historic act of rupture. Although the text proclaimed that the right to decide will be based on the principle of democratic legitimacy, the decision taken by the assembly cannot be interpreted without reference to the position insistently held by its two main backers, CiU and ERC. When these two groups proclaim the right to decide, they mean the right to decide unilaterally, and, if necessary, at the limit of, or even against the law.
The sovereignty declaration has no legal impact nor concrete consequences in terms of institutional relations, but it does carry with it negative political consequences, both for Catalonia as well as Spain. It points to a scenario of confrontation that will divert efforts from what should be the priority of lifting the country out of recession. But the crisis has been used by the CiU as a smokescreen to cover up its deficiencies as the ruling party, laying the blame on Spain for all the ills that have befallen Catalonia. It is also being used by the sovereignty-seeking bloc as a window of opportunity to advance its goal of independence. This is behind the irresponsible haste with which it is acting.
If what the promoters of the declaration were looking to achieve was to build up strength, the outcome has been rather poor. In reality, they have only managed to bring ICV on board. The Socialists’ decision not to back the maneuver has left CiU much more tied to ERC, which holds the baton and in all cases will reap benefits from the situation. For the moment, what they have achieved is to expose cracks which, to the extent that they aim to convert their adventure into something more than a mere declaration of intentions, will tend to widen: division within the CiU’s own coalition despite the pragmatism of maintaining an appearance of unity; division also within the Socialist Party, five of whose deputies opted to abstain in the declaration vote, to the benefit of ERC.
The sovereigntist push has put the PSC in an uncomfortable situation as it has seen itself aligned with the PP and Ciutadans, which hold different positions. But the fact that the country’s two main political groups, PP and PSOE, have cold-shouldered the CiU’s strategy, puts it on the defensive and weakens its position as a negotiator. If it was unable to unite forces in Catalonia, there is even less possibility of it being able to do so when it has to negotiate its aims with the parties that represent the rest of Spain.
There are two outcomes to this process: negotiate or go down the road of confrontation and fait accompli. The latter is unacceptable. As regards the temptation of a unilateralist approach, it should be recalled that the democratic principal evoked to claim the right to decide stems from the respect for the principle of legality. In a democracy, nothing should be ruled out a priori, provided it is based on respect for legality and that the will of the public flows along democratic channels. What was approved on Wednesday in the Catalan assembly goes in the opposite direction.