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Firmness and politics against the Catalan rebellion

Catalonia’s attempt to break with Spain needs to be tackled with unity and determination

A screen in the Catalan parliament showing the result of the independence motion vote.
A screen in the Catalan parliament showing the result of the independence motion vote.ALBERT GEA (REUTERS)

The declaration of a breakup with constitutional Spain made by the Junts pel Sí and CUP parties, which together obtained less than 48 percent of the vote in Catalonia’s regional election, is an illegal and illegitimate act requiring a firm response from the government and all political forces, and the use of all tools at the state’s disposal – legal, political and institutional – to defend democracy and the law.

But acting defensively, while essential, is not enough. It is also necessary to have a plan, a project to respond to the grave moment this country is going through, of which Catalonia is an extreme and alarming example, but just one more sign that this is clearly the end of an historic cycle.

The constitutionalist parties cannot use the general election campaign as an excuse not to fight together against the Catalan rebellion

We at EL PAÍS have repeatedly called for reforms and political measures that might have prevented things from reaching the point at which they now stand. We did not ask for them, nor are we continuing to do so, to appease the rebels or try to childishly calm the waters. We are demanding political action because it is our best guarantee of a way out of the crisis that provides some chance of future stability.

Paradoxically, Spain’s current pre-election climate is not the best scenario for asking the government and political parties for a deep, ambitious national project. That is precisely why it would have been a good idea to hold the general election scheduled for December 20 earlier, thus separating the campaign from the Catalan crisis as much as possible.

But the government – who knows by what reckoning – decided not to do it that way, and now we find ourselves facing a campaign poisoned and conditioned by the separatist rebellion.

Our desire to see the government offer Catalonia a future is naturally not at odds with our support for the forceful application of the law. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was quick to respond to the secessionist challenge with a firm statement detailing the executive’s next steps to ensure that the Constitution is respected.

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Rajoy’s firmness, a welcome change from the years-long lack of response to the separatist challenge, is good news. So is the newfound unity among some of Spain’s main parties – the Socialists, Ciudadanos and Union, Progress & Democracy, among others – to defend the constitutional laws.

The measures detailed by the Spanish prime minister sound reasonable and lawful. It is also positive that he wants to avoid enforcing article 155 of the Constitution, which cancels a region’s powers of self-government, at all costs.

Yet the constitutionalist parties cannot use the general election campaign as an excuse not to fight together against the Catalan rebellion or make decisions, no matter how difficult, when the situation so requires. We are talking about legal measures but also about political solutions requiring substantial reforms that will alter our country’s framework for coexistence.

November 9, 12:13pm, will be remembered as the moment when representatives of half of all Catalans tried to stage a coup against a state under whose laws Catalonia has achieved the greatest prosperity and degree of self-rule in its history.

Despite the radical mood inside the Catalan parliament on Monday, members of the acting government of Artur Mas did not appear overly enthusiastic. Several department heads failed to break into heartfelt applause, and instead seemed concerned at the new step that’s been taken at the cost of accepting the program of the radical leftist CUP, which is not even planning to reciprocate by supporting Mas’s bid to be reinstated as premier.

We are demanding political action because it is our best guarantee of a way out of the crisis that provides some chance of future stability

Meanwhile, the disunity within Mas’s own party, the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), continues to play out day by day in step with every move the deputies take towards the abyss, with the sense of being sequestered by the separatist pact.

In his latest bid to get reinstated, Artur Mas on Monday declared himself to be “the greatest asset to the independence movement,” without realizing that he has become the greatest liability to a prosperous Catalonia. As well as being aware of the unlawfulness of his actions, he knows that a country can only be independent if somebody is willing to recognize it, and there is international unanimity against him.

On the street outside the regional parliament, barely 200 people were out waving the unofficial estelada pro-independence flags – a tiny turnout compared with Catalan nationalism’s usual ability to summon supporters.

It was as though Catalans, instead of celebrating, were beginning to realize what kind of maze they have been pushed into by leaders who keep rushing forward in violation of Spanish and Catalan laws, concerned by nothing more than saving face.

The time has come to use all the state’s tools to quell this breakaway attempt – legal, political and institutional. This country is facing its worst crisis since the coup attempt of February 23, 1981, and we cannot forget that the 1978 Constitution establishes a role for King Felipe VI, the head of state, to act in defense of the unity of Spain and as an arbiter and moderator in politics.

English version by Susana Urra.