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Building bridges with Catalonia

Leading Socialists endeavor to relaunch dialogue with Artur Mas — an urgent task

Two important personalities from the Socialist Party (PSOE) have recently been making efforts to build bridges of dialogue with the Catalan premier, Artur Mas, with the aim of prevented the feared “head-on collision” over the referendum on Catalan statehood. The visit to Mas made by Susana Díaz, Andalusia’s regional premier and a rising star in the PSOE, was preceded by a televised debate between Mas and Felipe González. Both initiatives constitute laudable attempts to reestablish dialogue with the Catalan premier, in contrast to the stonewalling of Mariano Rajoy, whose only promise is that there will be no referendum as long as he is prime minister.

The face-to-face encounter between Mas, of the nationalist CiU bloc, and ex-Prime Minister González, broadcast on Sunday by the laSexta channel, was a demonstration of the advantages of dialogue as opposed to the monologues and mutual disdain that have lately prevailed in politics. In front of more than four million viewers — almost five million at some moments including many people in Catalonia — González attempted to bring Mas over to the conviction that no Spanish prime minister, be it Rajoy or any other, can authorize a referendum on self-determination, which is also severely frowned on by the European Union. He also made clear his acute displeasure with anti-Catalan attitudes within the PSOE, while Mas distanced himself from the language of a CiU pamphlet which portrays Spain as an idle country subsidized by a productive Catalonia.

Some hours later, after visiting Mas in Barcelona, Susana Díaz reiterated the proposals that her party has already put forward: provide ironclad protection for regional government powers; transform the Senate into a chamber of representation on a territorial, regional basis in the German manner (or eliminate it altogether); and recognize some other model of regional government financing.

Mas has left open a door to dialogue, declining, however, to allow his referendum train to be “sidelined” — that is, he is unwilling to renounce the ballot desired by a majority of the Catalan people who, according to Mas, no longer feel represented by Spain’s Constitution. To this end he offers his alternative: either the referendum is allowed to be held, or the questions contained in it will be taken to the regional elections. He left the feeling that he does not wish to cause an irreversible crisis, but he is clearly standing firm.

Many months have been wasted, in which the possible paths toward agreement might have been more thoroughly explored — in a period in which the absence of pending elections could have been propitious to contacts and negotiation. The more time that goes by, the more difficult these will become; while the temptation to “awaken Spanish nationalism,” in the warning words of Felipe González, will be strong.

The question of Catalonia comes under the heading of affairs of state, those matters that no party should use in order to garner a handful of votes. There are no taboos that stand in the way of offering explanations to the public; nor can the present climate of aggravation and confrontation be allowed to continue. For all these reasons, we can only welcome a dialogue between politicians who know how to hold a reasonable discussion on serious matters.

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