A truly formidable political situation in Spain and Catalonia and a test for EU democracy
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer
Llegeix en català aqui
Former Catalan President Puigdemont gave his long-expected speech last September 5th at the European Parliament to expose his balance-holding party’s conditions for opening talks regarding the presidential investiture of Pedro Sánchez. Making it clear from the start that he hasn’t spent six years in exile “to ensure a Spanish legislature”, Puigdemont spelled out that only a “historic agreement” –one never contemplated since Catalonia’s national institutions were outlawed in 1714, he specified– would prepare the ground for subsequent negotiation. Over and above the epics of it, are there any real chances that anything might come of this? Certainly not if Spanish tradition has anything to do with it.
At the last July 23rd elections, fate saw fit to make Puigdemont’s party, Junts per Catalunya, the holder of the precious handful of seats that Pedro Sánchez now needs to renew his rickety presidency of Spain , in coalition with Sumar, vice-President Yolanda Diaz’s party. Puigdemont opened up regretting the incriminating treatment his party has received from Spain’s two major parties (PSOE and PP) since 2017 and expressing deep mistrust for their sudden interest in “befriending” formerly repudiated Junts. Indeed, Puigdemont insisted that absolutely none of the conditions needed to initiate talks are currently given. He placed as the first of four basic conditions that Spain contemplated the need to expel the judicialization of politics that has ruled Spain since 2010 when the Catalan Statute was mutiltated in such a damaging and irregular way.
The second condition, less theoretical, called for the instant withdrawal of all political and juridical measures taken by Spanish governments to convict Catalan politicians and activists for activities associated with the 1st October 2017 Referendum (a scourge that has led to as many as 4500 legal procedures often involving conviction for mere acts of peaceful protest). A third condition involves the supression of another 6-year-old measure –personally crusaded by King Felipe– involving the order given to hundreds of Catalan-based companies to move their head offices out of Catalonia. Incredibly enough, this aggressive measure –which led to the expatriation of all but one of the Catalan members of select economic club Ibex-35– continues in force today. One last pre-condition is that Catalonia was to be once again treated as a nation with full respect for her institutions and language after much rough reprisal treatment and institutional downstaging since 2017.
But on demanding political amnesty and respect for Catalan rights (ncluding, incidentally, next September 19th’s opportunity to give support to the officialization of Catalan in the UE), Puigdemont is fully aware of the huge resistance any steps in the direction of accepting his demands will come up with among Spanish parties. Indeed cold-shouldering Catalan demands is seen as a highly productive national sport in Madrid. Clearly, if negotiation should finally come about between Junts and the Spanish socialists, a huge amount of ground is to be secured first. One socialist minister spoke of “positions worlds apart”. Puigdemont too made numerous mentions in his speech to the many times promises to the Catalans have been waylaid, notoriously in the economic field where budget fulfilment breaches always seem to punish Catalonia. As Puigdemont said: “in affairs affecting Spain, all precauations taken are always insufficient”. Puigdemont pointed out that among the pre-conditions needed to prepare a scenario for negotication, the independence movement must no longer be criminalized and exposed to massive prosecution, lawfare, Pegasus spying and infiltration, as has been the norm since 2017. In a most pointed fashion, Puigdemont also demanded that the Spanish government stop including the movement on the Interpol threat list (second most “dangerous” group, no less!). But perhpas one of the most ominous demands for Sánchez is that the whole negotiation process be exposed to international independent arbitration given the negative experiences of the past. In any case, Puigdemont has given a very solid foundation to his publicly declared resolution not to start any form of negotiation until that basic preparation work is carried out.
Despite the expectations raised, there is little doubt that Puigdemont’s demands will be discarded either because Sánchez prefers to risk facing new elections or because the Deep State comes up with some trick to ensure that the handful of votes needed to make either side win will miraculously appear as they did in the famous 2003 “Tamayazo” case in Madrid (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamayazo). For now the Socialists avoid responding and defend the idea that it’s not the right moment to be facing this issue. Indeed it is Felipe VI who marks the agenda and it is now to be PP’s Feijoo who must attempt to form a government. However, if this fails –which it almost certainly will– Pedro Sánchez will have pitifully little time to bring Puigdemont to terms with enabling his investiture. The government has simply insisted that the Constitution will lay down the limits to the agreements made, a position that President Puigdemont already foresaw in his speech when he insisted that implementing amnesty met all constitutional conditions.
What really minimizes the chances of a Sánchez-Puigdemont agreement, however, is the intense campaign that has been carried out these past six years to portray him as “public enemy number 1” and “fugitive from justice”. His figure is notoriously bothersome for monarch Felipe de Borbon too while all over the Spanish territory effigies of him have been burned, insulting songs sung and all kinds of undeterred public acts of repudiation enacted. Puigdemont arouses animosity when he talks about amnesty and even more so when demanding self-determination for the Catalans. It is thus not surprising that a meeting held between vice-President Yolanda Diaz –of coalition party Sumar– and Carles Puigdemont in the days prior to his speech infuriated the PSOE, setting off all kinds of alarm bells. The old guard of the party led by Felipe Gonzalez himself were quick to demonize Puigdemont’s two major proposals for the investiture of Pedro Sánchez: self-determination and amnesty.
In summary, President Puigdemont’s was very much a statesman’s speech –and not so much one of a party leader– as it set out ambitious conditions for negotiating between nations. In essence it was a speech designed to show up the lack of seriousness and the constant shortcomings inherent to the Spanish monarchy with permanent democratic deficits since its origin in 1714. If we are to judge on past experience, nothing suggests that Spain will change now and this makes us believe that elections will probably be called once again in two month’s time. There are changes that require time and transformations that are almost impossible to envisage in societies such as Spain’s that are too authoritarian in nature and recurrently allergic to in depth democratic change.