In recent days there has been a proliferation of calls for dialogue, mediation and even negotiation between the central government of Spain and the regional government of Catalonia. These calls have been made at the national and international level, by civil society, by authorities, even by the Catholic Church. Many of these entreaties are well meaning and uttered in good faith; others are not, and are clearly based on propaganda strategies that seek to create a generalized opinion that the central government is authoritarian, inflexible, closed off to dialogue, and ultimately responsible for the ongoing tension.
To the former, we say that EL PAÍS is naturally in favor of dialogue, and of course also in favor of negotiation as a method of resolving disputes; we are even in favor of third-party mediation if this proves to be useful.
But we also say to them that in order for those words not to be empty, or even counterproductive in terms of the desired goals, it is necessary to carefully define what we mean by dialogue, what exactly is going to be negotiated, and who constitutes a legitimate mediator.
We also ask them to help unmask the opportunists who are using these calls for dialogue for their own political purposes, and whose intention it is to confuse and manipulate public opinion, thus further endangering our democratic coexistence at a time when it is already under considerable pressure.
Included in the group of those who support this so-called dialogue are demagogues of all political stripes who always want to play the good guy, and who use the term “dialogue” as a refuge for their constant attempts to steer a middle course, or to conceal their own banality. The dialogue that they propose, far from helping us talk to one another, only serves to generate frustration among citizens and to discredit such a valuable method of dispute resolution.
True dialogue, mediation or negotiation is not a mere act of will, and it needs to take place in circumstances that actually allow for a result to be achieved. It cannot be acted out for the sake of appearances; it has to be conducted with a sincere willingness to reach an agreement. It also needs to be realistic, respect the rules of the game, and set out positions that correspond with workable goals.
The dialogue that we support in the case of Catalonia can only take place once constitutional order has been restored and democratic institutions are functioning normally once again. That is an absolute, non-negotiable priority that no democratic state can renounce. The contrary would be to submit to blackmail based on street pressure, flagrant disregard for the law, and the appropriation of everyone’s institutions to put them at the service of subverting the rule of law.
As things stand today, the Spanish Constitution does not contemplate the right to secession. It obliges all powers to preserve the unity of the state and to guarantee that sovereignty will remain in the hands of all Spaniards.
Accepting a dialogue, mediation or negotiation that might lead to a legal, agreed-to referendum with a binding option for Catalan secession from Spain entails opening up a negotiation for constitutional reform between the governments of Spain and Catalonia, and this is something that the central government cannot do unilaterally, much less under pressure or through international mediation.
The only body that can reform the Constitution is Congress – where Catalans are also represented, by the way. To this should be added all the citizens of Spain, who would have to be consulted in a national referendum.
To blame the government for not accepting a so-called dialogue is to falsify reality. Rajoy cannot and must not negotiate our Constitution. Nobody should construe our reiterated demands for an ambitious, generous political project as a call for dialogue over things that cannot be discussed.
It is a serious mistake to fuel hopes that dialogue will help the secessionist cause. As the debate inside the European Parliament demonstrated on Wednesday, the most useful mediation possible – and this is something that other political forces with political and institutional representation should imitate – is to remind the Catalan government that a unilateral declaration of independence has no future, either in Spain or outside of it, and that it would be a complete blunder leading to considerable political, economic and social damage. That is Europe’s role, and nothing else; it is certainly not its role to act as a mediator, as Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau absurdly demand in a bid to deny Spain’s sovereignty.
Telling the Catalan government to go back to respecting the Constitution and the law and then make its demands for greater or better self-government is the biggest favor that all democrats, inside and outside Spain, can do to our democracy and our social harmony. With that goal in mind, we say yes to dialogue, yes to negotiation, yes to mediation – within the bounds of the Constitution, even if it is to change it.
English version by Susana Urra.