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A new trap

The delayed effects of Catalan secession cannot conceal this new blow against democracy

Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont and his deputy Oriol Junqueras on Tuesday.
Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont and his deputy Oriol Junqueras on Tuesday.LLUIS GENE (AFP)

The coup against the Estatut of Catalonia and the Spanish Constitution that ripened in early September with the passing of breakaway laws in the regional parliament has now led to a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), made on Tuesday by Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, although its effects have been delayed for “a few weeks.”

Despite attempts at sweetening the declaration with restrictive, ambiguous clauses (an alleged mandate emanating from a presumed referendum is “assumed,” yet a republic is not openly “proclaimed”), a UDI is a UDI, and it is easy to identify this new move as Puigdemont’s latest laugh at the rule of law.

Everyone should understand that the confusion sown by Puigdemont is an integral part of his strategy

Contrary to what Puigdemont claims, there was no mandate for independence in the regional election of September 27, 2015 (separatist forces obtained 48% of the votes); nor did a popular mandate emanate from the alleged referendum held on October 1, as besides being illegal, it was also irregular, lacking all voting guarantees, electoral oversight, or a reliable vote tally.

Proof of this is the fact that the “outcome” of the vote was not announced by the Sindicatura (the electoral oversight body, which was dissolved by the Catalan government ahead of the vote) but by the Catalan premier himself. It is difficult to conceive of a greater blow not just to legality, but to the appearance of legality.

But even in its disguised form, the UDI still violates the supreme norms of our legislation. It adorns the fact that these norms have been repealed in Catalonia. It dismisses the rule of law and shows contempt for the mechanisms necessary to undertake legal reform of any kind. It disobeys the Constitutional Court’s freeze on all acts aimed at implementing and/or developing the illegitimate and illegal referendum of October 1. It challenges the fact that a qualified majority in parliament is required to make any changes to the law within the bounds of the law.

The serpentine, mitigating clauses contained in the UDI might fool someone who was unaware that the entire breakaway process has been one long series of traps and ambiguous statements aimed at pitting some Catalans against other Catalans, and Catalans against Spaniards.

But we will not be fooled. This is a UDI. It is so because it does more than just encapsulate a dream or a vague, generic hope for independence – this would be reprehensible, but still legitimate. But with this UDI, Puigdemont “assumes the mandate,” unquestionable and irreversible, of creating “an independent state in the form of a republic.”

Rajoy has no choice but to apply the law with a severity that must be proportional to the severity of the case at hand

This is also a UDI because, despite its praise of dialogue and mediation, the latter are only conceived of as instruments to facilitate secession, never to prevent it. In other words, the outcome of this hypothetical mediation is already preordained, as it always was: it can only lead to independence, which is the only possible scenario following October 1 according to Puigdemont, since the people of Catalonia, for whom he still presumes to speak, have allegedly earned this right in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world.

This demand for mediation is a useless effort, because the international community has already expressed itself. Governments and institutions have spoken out against secession in a resounding and unquestionable manner, because as European Council President Donald Tusk said, it would be harmful “for Catalonia and for Spain and for all of Europe.”

It also descends into flagrant unlawfulness, as the regional parliament’s own lawyers have stressed repeatedly. Above all, it is a decision that is presented as being irreversible, albeit delayed. It is not so by principle, as it would suffice for its authors to retract it; it is so because the condition for withdrawing it represents a challenge that neither Spain nor any other country ruled by law can accept, which is to violate its own Constitution. We could be speaking in different terms if Puigdemont and his people had pledged to annul all the provisions of their suspended breakaway laws.

The entire thing took place against a backdrop filled with dark innuendos. The call for demonstrators to surround parliament with the excuse of showing support for the UDI was an obvious threat against dissident deputies. The discovery [during last month’s searches against referendum organizers] of a document containing guidelines for achieving independence by “destabilizing Spain economically and politically” is cause for serious concern. And the Civil Guard’s accusation that the political chiefs of the Catalan police refrained from stopping the October 1 referendum is no less unsettling.

Even in its disguised form, the UDI still violates the supreme norms of our legislation

The extreme gravity of these events illustrates the Catalan government’s disloyalty to other Catalan institutions and to the State that it is a part of. That is why the government headed by Mariano Rajoy has no choice but to apply the law with a severity that must be proportional to the severity of the case at hand – which is enormous.

Reaction is the only option. The central government must exhort the Catalan leaders now entrenched in an attitude of disobedience or sedition to clarify what legal structure is going to hold up their authority; to end their disobedience and start respecting the laws again; to admit that the breakaway laws are abolished and lacking any effect, and to announce measures to ensure an effective respect for legality.

Many well-meaning people – and other, less well-intentioned ones – will now be tempted to cling to the UDI suspension and to Puigdemont’s offer for dialogue. They will also point to the frustration shown by the far-left CUP party and its sympathizers as evidence of goodwill on the part of Puigdemont and his deputy Oriol Junqueras.

But everyone should understand that the confusion sown by Puigdemont is an integral part of his strategy and in no way a sincere offer to return to the fold of the Constitution and ask for talks with no strings attached. Instead, what he has uttered is another ultimatum that the state cannot accept in any way, shape or form.

English version by Susana Urra.

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