The impotence of Spanish politics means the problem of Catalan secession will sooner or later end up in the hands of the EU

It came as no surprise. The first vote in Spain’s Congress on the Catalan secession plan resulted in the rejection of the same by 85 percent of the deputies. A motion from Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD), a centrist party busy digging for the Spanish nationalist vote, brought about this predictable result. Something is wrong in a political system when a plan endorsed by two-thirds of the Catalan regional parliament is, in the national Congress, stonewalled in this manner, almost without debate.

This attitude corroborates the view of some to the effect that this problem will sooner or later end up in the hands of the European Union, which will have to impose a solution. The impotence of Spanish politics is causing the buck to be repeatedly passed to the EU, though one side and the other continue to proclaim that the people have the last word. Last week in Brussels Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos criticized the extreme austerity that has bled the peripheral countries white. This was a savory remark, since his own Popular Party (PP) government has applied the EU-imposed austerity policies without complaint, with De Guindos himself being in the front rank; there is no alternative, as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy put it. Savory, too, because it is an admission that the PP’s policies have brought the country to its knees, as if De Guindos would actually like to be kicked out of his post. However, it expresses the PP government’s attitude very well: the blame must always fall on others, on other governments, other instances. The limitations of a political system incapable of offering adequate representation of the public is a problem that should be resolved by others.

In the Catalan conflict, both sides’ incapacity to put themselves in the other’s shoes, of making the least effort to understand reality as seen by the other, because it is more comfortable to fall back on the shopworn rhetoric of enemy and friend, reveals how our political system has no adequate protocols for setting in motion a scenario of negotiation.

The Spanish parties say: “We can’t move an inch because the voters will throw us out.” The Catalan secessionist parties say: “We can’t back down because the citizens are way ahead of us.” It seems that blank rejection is the only kind of dialogue available on the menu. No one is capable of exploring what might constitute a compromise: a relationship of a federal nature with Catalonia as a free partner state, which would imply its full recognition as a political subject.

Indivisible problems — and this is one of them — in democracy can only be resolved by means of the vote. Sooner or later, Catalonia will end up voting. The rejection of the referendum will not prevent the Catalans from expressing their position at the next regional elections. And, in function of the results this may produce, if Spain remains impotent in terms of solving the problem on its own, the European Union will intervene and point the way.

Rather than simply leave Catalonia out in the cold (a message hammered in by the rhetoric of fear), the EU will attempt to find a solution, because it has no interest in coping with another permanent cause of conflict. And Spain will once again look foolish, because intransigence — which the vote in Congress prefigures — will have stood in the way of a reasonable solution.