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Constitutional channels

Political dialogue is the framework in which the problems of Catalonia should be resolved, not via a unilateral referendum

The representatives of the Catalan parliament on Tuesday saw a clear rejection by the vast majority of deputies in Congress of their bid to organize a unilaterally defined referendum. But they also heard a few offers for dialogue.

Although it came wrapped in very firm rhetoric about defending the rights of all Spaniards, Catalans included, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy did mention the Catalan parliament’s power to take an initiative on constitutional reform to Spain’s lower house. The Socialist leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, went down a different road with his support for updating the Constitution, based on the premise that he was speaking in the name of “socialists,” not “nationalists,” at which point he mentioned the Catalan Socialist Party as a way of dispelling any doubts as to his party’s stand on the issue.

The most positive outcome of the session was the fact that closing all doors on a unilateral referendum implies keeping them open to talks on the serious problems affecting relations between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. It was a pity that the main political target of yesterday’s message, Catalan premier Artur Mas, was absent from Congress on Tuesday. Mas is a key figure in the clash of legitimacy between the Catalan and Spanish parliaments, a clash that supporters of independence and nationalists tried to play out in Congress.

Nationalists had taken things to a point that responsible politicians should have prevented, and which is based on two parallel versions of reality. The story about an oppressed, plundered Catalonia, which is told by proponents of a unilateral referendum, is rejected as untrue by the leaders of all the main political forces: “It is not tolerable to hear it be said in Catalonia that ‘Spain is robbing us’,” said opposition leader Rubalcaba, while Rosa Díez of Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) emphatically compared the Spanish-hating attitude of Catalan nationalists with the populist hatred for the EU felt in other European countries.

It was a pity that Catalan premier Artur Mas was not there in Congress

The clash between both versions was a given. There could be no common ground between the pro-referendum parties’ claim that a majority of Catalan citizens want to be called to the polling stations, and Prime Minister Rajoy’s resounding refusal to accept such a vote on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to play with a fundamental right of all Spaniards. Or, in Rubalcaba’s version, because a vote to leave cannot be accepted when there is the option of talking and voting together.

In any case, what is clear is that a sector of Catalan politics is breaking away from the prevailing constitutional consensus, which it was a part of in the past. The nationalists are pushing this consensus aside and “Catalonia has started down a one-way road,” in the words of one representative. The spokeswoman for the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) made it very clear that the point of the referendum is independence; while her colleague from the leftist-green ICV said defensively that the Spanish government is a prisoner of anti-Catalan feelings sown in times past, and tried to claim that voting on independence does not mean that the outcome is foretold.

What the large parties did on Tuesday was to take advantage of the argument designed by the Constitutional Court – to wit, that there is only one source of sovereignty, and that it lies with the Spanish people as a whole. But the Constitution is not an impenetrable wall; it is a channel for the expression of popular will. That is why solutions must be explored from this angle. It would be wrong to go at this problem from a viewpoint that divides Catalans into nationalists and non-nationalists, or one that separates Catalans from other Spaniards. Sitting down to talk about the best way to deal with existing disagreements is the most sensible thing to do, in order to avoid an uncertain, dangerous, and ultimately sterile division of Spain.

The large parties took advantage of the argument designed by the Constitutional Court
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