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Catalonia and Spain

The democratic solution has to come from a structured dialogue leading to negotiation

The boiling point now reached by the Catalan situation, after the second yearly Diada national day celebrated with massive pro-independence rallies calls for a calm, respectful and thoughtful approach. Only in this way can there be serious, responsible dialogue, as opposed to fallacious remedies that can only worsen the problem.

Among the fallacious remedies are those suggesting the use of force, or the suspension of autonomous regional government. Such proposals have no place in the Constitution, since there has been no actual rebellion, so that the use of articles 8 or 155 would be much in the nature of a coup, and amount to a brutal hatchet blow to the constitutional system of regional government.

Apart from the overriding legal imperative of democracy, the writers of these authoritarian prescriptions need to be reminded of their extreme practical undesirability: their mere mention would foster the success of the opposite of what they claim to desire. The most recalcitrant sectors of secessionism could hardly wish for anything more fervently than the appearance of illegal violence on the scene, or the abuse of the law, as grievances that would multiply the number of their adherents, and tend to legitimize their pretensions in the eyes of the EU and the international community, which have so far been indifferent or actively hostile.

Other false solutions include continued immobility, which cannot solve a rooted problem, and cosmetic window-dressing, which would only prolong it. The only real solution, and the most democratic, must take the form of political dialogue between elected representatives. The exchange of letters between the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the Catalan premier, Artur Mas, is a positive sign, though it comes late and amid undisguised mutual distrust.

But, as this is a long-term question of state, the key to success in such a dialogue is to prevent it from being an evanescent conversation, merely doctrinal or designed for gaining time. What is needed is a structured dialogue, designed to lead to concrete results, which would bind the governments and the political parties involved.

To set this in motion, discreet conversations would suffice, aimed at enumerating and carrying out a series of measures to rebuild deteriorated confidence, accompanied by a certain verbal disarmament and perhaps supported by studies, commissions and ad hoc white papers on financing, infrastructures and linguistic and cultural recognition, as various voices have suggested.

But not only in these ambits: moves should also be made to build channels by means of necessary constitutional reforms and through a search for flexible, inclusive interpretations of the existing Constitution, instead of restrictive ones — sufficiently flexible so as not to rule out beforehand any of the possible solutions, instead considering them in the light of democratic desirability. Only if such a negotiation is embarked on — without prejudging what the final results are to be, which will probably involve considerable modifications to the Constitution — will a sufficient consensus be feasible, for the good of the Catalans, and of all the citizens of Spain.

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