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One mistake after another

The Spanish government is venturing into slippery terrain by allowing an ill-defined figure to be present at cross-party talks about Catalonia

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.Samuel Sánchez

The Spanish government has announced via its deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, that the planned cross-party talks to seek a negotiated way out of the territorial crisis in Catalonia will be held in the presence of a third party whose functions are still vague, and who lies somewhere between a mediator, a rapporteur and a notary.

From the Catalan government’s side, it was the regional head of presidential affairs, Elsa Artadi, who was tasked with corroborating the deal. There is nothing trivial or incongruous about the fact that it was two leading members of the central and regional executives who communicated a decision that falls to the parliamentary parties involved in the talks.

For the secessionists, the will of all Catalans resides in the executive that they control, rather than in the legislative chamber, in clear violation of democratic tenets

Instead, it is a reaffirmation that both the state bodies in whose name Calvo and Artadi speak are committed to accepting any decisions adopted by a political entity that turns the institutional role of the Catalan parliament on its head. According to the announcement, the regional assembly would no longer be the forum that the will of the Catalan people emanates from. Instead it would become an instrument that executes the will of only those who voted for certain parties.

The recently announced initiative is no doubt suitable to the needs of the forces defending secession. For them, the will of all Catalans resides in the executive that they control, rather than in the legislative chamber, in clear violation of democratic tenets. From the executive they can make and unmake as they see fit, but not so inside parliament, which they paralyze or shut down when it suits their needs, or like they are doing now, take powers away from parliament in order to neutralize its political plurality, an attitude that contradicts their fanciful claim of speaking in the name of all of Catalonia.

However, the recently announced initiative is not compatible with the strategy of the administration of Pedro Sánchez of exploring institutional solutions to the Catalan problem within the framework of the Spanish Constitution. To agree with the Catalan government on an alternative channel that involves some of the parties represented inside the Catalan parliament, and awarding the latter a dependent position with regard to the former, does not formally violate the system: it replaces its functions altogether.

Deputy PM Calvo and the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party, Miquel Iceta, have both tried to play down the initiative through the use of euphemisms to describe the additional presence of an individual who, to hear them say it, would be nothing more than a silent guest at the negotiating table. But it is precisely the lack of clarity regarding the tasks that would be assigned to this figure, or the personal qualities that he or she should possess, that proves what slippery terrain the central government is venturing into. The presence of a third party at these talks is a demand of the pro-independence forces, but not in order to restore broken trust: it is to secure a preliminary acceptance of the notion of outside mediation.

With only days to go before the start of the secessionists’ trial, the right place to engage in opposition politics is not the streets, but the national parliament

This is the principle that hovers over the ambiguous joint statement backed by the central and Catalan executives on December 20, when the central government held an extraordinary Cabinet meeting in Barcelona rather than in Madrid. Deputy PM Calvo has offered assurances that the government is exclusively committed to the contents of the statement, and not to a document that was deliberately presented in public two days ago by Catalan premier Quim Torra, and which includes demands for international mediation.

The problem with the initiative that the Sánchez administration has green-lighted is that it ends the ambiguity of that joint statement made on December 20, but to the benefit of the pro-independence forces. And all in exchange for nothing, because these same forces have not given up on their plans for unilateral independence – on the contrary, they have ramped up their threats. They have not even shown explicit support for the budget plan, which further weakens the central government’s position and increases uncertainty about the current political term.

The reaction by the PP and Ciudadanos to an initiative that rests on a not-very-scrupulous use of executive and legislative powers only exacerbates the erosion of the political system. With only days to go before the start of a trial that pro-independence forces want to use as a tool to overpower the institutions and challenge the constitutional order, the right place to engage in opposition politics is not the streets, but the national parliament.

To invoke the right of any citizen or political party to call a demonstration only conceals the essential issue at stake here, which is whether this is an opportune moment to do so. Especially when neither one of the parties calling this demonstration has adopted any parliamentary initiative in connection with the matter, neither in Madrid or Barcelona. Apparently, it is enough for them to see brutal, incendiary language on the streets.

The government of Pedro Sánchez is wrong to trivialize the decision made in partnership with the Catalan government, but the PP and Ciudadanos are equally wrong by choosing the streets as the territory to reject it. One mistake is met with another mistake, and nobody seems aware of the fact that the situation could spin out of control.

English version by Susana Urra.


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