Half a year into his legislature, Artur Mas is preparing to take the first steps toward calling a referendum on Catalonia's position in Spain. Hopefully this initiative will prove not to be a mere bureaucratic ritual to accompany what he had previously promised in the form of a letter to the prime minister, but the expression of a desire to act on a consensual basis within the letter of the law. To this end he would do well to distance himself from his own recent practice, in which he has adopted a tone of exclusion toward half the groups in the Catalan regional parliament and, on occasion, skirted the borders of legality.
The recent parliamentary declaration of Catalan sovereignty represents barely more than half of the Catalans; the National Council of the Transition rests on no wider base in its task of plotting a route toward independence; the "structures of state," such as the merger of revenue agencies, irrelevant in terms of results, have been predetermined by the secessionist leadership; its "international projection" has been a resounding flop, though resoundingly trumpeted with propaganda. In all this the government of Mas has been effective, though lacking in funds and mired in corruption scandals. Politically, the Catalan question is paralyzed, in the hands of a government that shows no signs of activity. All that functions in Catalonia is the average citizen, and a crisis-resistant economy that somehow manages to go on exporting.
On the other side, the Spanish government has followed a line that has frequently given total disregard to reality, and is based more on the courts than on political discussion. We see judicial appeals in the face of any action; reference to the Constitution as a blank wall against any grievance, rather than as a channel for those that deserve attention; and the building of a legislative structure (unity of market, local reform, administrative reform, foreign action) that should not, in the name of efficiency and functionality, allow itself to be carried away by a recentralizing instinct at the expense of the Catalan government's powers.
The drama of the standoff is not the paralysis in itself, which is bad enough as it prevents any positive developments while negative ones are a distinct possibility. This is clear from the surveys that indicate how the CiU party's nationalism is shading into real secessionism, under the influence of the radical pro-independence groups. The comforting theory that Catalonia might witness a rerun of what happened in Italy — when the Lega proclaimed the independence of Padania, and nothing happened — forgets that the Lega has no nationalist rivals. In Catalonia's case, every frustration swells the ranks of secessionism.
Such situations, in which feelings play a great role, should not be prolonged. The Spanish government, if its own paralysis did not prevent it from doing so, should face the issue and give it a place on its agenda, setting aside the (valid enough) excuse that its priority is the crisis. Like it or not, other priorities do exist. If it does so it will soon discover that, principles aside, perhaps there are no good practical solutions but only certain ways out that are not as bad as others. All of them involve dialogue and negotiation.