This is How the Spanish Socialists Could Solve the Crisis

Madrid is going  ahead with the procedures to suspend Catalonia’s self-rule, but both sides seem to want to slow down the game. Political science scholar Joan Subirats explained us the context, and why a leverage for a breakthrough is in the hands of the Socialist Party

The only thing on which all parties — Catalonia, Spain and the EU —  agree is that they are sailing in unchartered waters because with no precedent to show a way. The news is that there are no news: to the Moncloa ultimatum, president Puigdemont replied that he will refrain from voting the declaration of independence if Madrid refrains from imposing direct rule. Mariano Rajoy’s government, on the other hand, is taking steps to trigger Art. 155, but extended the deadline of its effects: is ministers, the Commission on Autonomy and Congress will convene before.

Today he had also the opportunity to deploy his full power. At the Princesa de Asturias awards, the three EU Presidents, Donald Tusk, Antonio Tajani and Jean-Claude Juncker, are meeting under one roof with Mr. Rajoy and King Felipe VI, who will give one of the two awaited speeches drafted at the royal palace Zarzuela, unlike all the others that are drafted together with Moncloa.

We asked Joan Subirats, Professor of Political science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and ​​an expert in governance, to shed a light on the current stalemate.

Mr. Subirats, help us first understand the disparity between the protagonists in the Catalonia-Spain dispute. On the one hand, there is the Spanish government, on the other, a minority, which accounts for about 50% of the population of Spain’s most advanced region. The government’s management of the crises seems to target just its leaders.

This is a conflict that arose after the referendum on the Autonomy of Catalonia in 2006. To try and beat the Socialist Party and the government of José Luis Zapatero, the Popular Party embraced the issues of national sovereignty and of Spain’s unity, both traditional themes of the right and of Spanish nationalism — as in the phrase Franco is thought to have said during the Civil War: "I’d rather have a red Spain than a broken Spain." With political and electoral opportunism, the PP ask the Constitutional Court to rule unconstitutional some of its articles. And here is where things got messy, because the Court accepted the claims, and by doing so removed from the Statute the very existence of a Catalan demos [it cancelled any reference relating to "Catalonia as a nation" and "a reality of national features in Catalonia", EN].

The denial of the existence of a multi-national reality in Spain, which was not new but happened repeatedly in history, brought along a problem of acknowledgment of a people. Another more contemporary problem, which is to confuse equality with homogeneity, made things even worse. Precisely when diversity has become an ever more very important factor in today's heterogeneous societies, those two problems contributed to reduce identities to the sole national feature. If all this had been handled differently we would not be here today.

Another impression one gets from the crisis is that the Spanish political class is not understanding the deep transformation the world and citizenships are undergoing...

I would quote here the editor of The Guardian, Katherine Winer, who said that Brexit will not happen because of how interconnected the interests of all entities involved are. If this is the case for the United Kingdom, the more so this is true for Catalonia. In my view, the idea of ​​independence is a somewhat romantic idea. This does not mean, however, that I am not  in favor of a recognition of the political reality of the Catalan people and of its right to be sovereign in its decisions. This sovereignty should, nonetheless, be based on interdependence and not on independence. Catalonia and Denmark are both interdependent with other regions and countries with the difference, though, that Denmark has a wider scope of choices when it comes to choose its interdependencies.

I think that the Spanish government is tackling the crises invery basic, fundamental terms, disregarding the symbolic elements coming also into play.

The rest of Spain seems somewhat indifferent, except for the conservative, right-wing and even extreme-right groups. In their demonstrations they not only stood for the unity of Spain but also for Spain as a power, for the monarchy...

Yes, these were features of those demonstrations, but there were also many people who have nothing to do with the right. In Catalonia, a large number of citizens disagreeing with the process of independence is very worried and, I would say, even frightened. They participated in those demonstrations because they felt that no one was listening to them. They believed that those demonstrations where an opportunity to show that in Catalonia there is not just one line of thinking  and that the Catalan society is plural.

In any case, I just came back from Seville, and I can tell you that in the rest of Spain there is a lot of confusion and little information. Catalans are thought to be crazy.

The average age of the Socialist party’s electoral base is inching higher and closer to that of the PP. In Barcelona, vice versa, the average age of those taking to the streets for independence or a say is much lower. If this is true, the current short-lived and formal solutions will likely not prevent the issue from coming up again with the turnover of the new generations.

There is a generational gap, but also the phenomenon of many young people who, in the absence of categories with which they can identify — in the past, class was one of these, now find a sense of identification in being a national of a nation. This happens especially in the rest of Spain.

In Catalonia, according to the polls, the group under-30 is the one that far more widely accepts the possibility of a referendum on the issue [of independence], but also the one that would like to keep a dual nationality in the case of independence.

If exit solutions will come from triggering Article 155 or from a unilateral declaration of independence, it is clear that a very important sector of the population will not be represented. There needs therefore to be an some kind of adjustment between these complex identities rather than a victory of one  over the other. Otherwise, as in a story by Augusto Monterosso, the next day “the dinosaur will still be there”.

Will this crisis change the political balance in Spain?

Yes. This is not a Catalan crisis, but a crisis of the Spanish political system. The '78 pact [established after of the post-Franco transition, EN], needs to be revamped from many points of view, not just from a territorial one. One can see nowadays that agreementscome easier between the PP and the PSOE, because these are the two parties that made up the bipartite system resulting from the '78 pact.

Do you see it a realistic solution for the short-medium term, the more so if, as you said, part of the Catalan society is living in distress?

Here is my image: we entered a room with neither doors nor windows and the door we came through is now closed. You cannot go back  because no one would accept it. You can only move ahead trying to find an exit, but at this time there doesn’t seem to be one. If there is no agreed-upon way out, the next step is open conflict. This would be so also because the Catalan independent movement has it clear that the only way to get to an agreed-upon solution is conflict, and it will therefore tend to intensify it. This could in turn have unforeseeable consequences. Now it seems that events are slowing down, but I do not see a way out as of now.

In my opinion, a solution would be a constitutional reform and a double referendum. The new constitution would establish an asymmetrical federalist system recognizing diversity. The referendum in Spain would approve the reform, whilst the one in Catalonia would allow citizens in the region to no longer have to choose between independence and the status quo, but between independence and the asymmetric federalist system proposed. But there is, however, no majority for this solution.

It would require political will...

Only the PSOE could lead us in that direction, but it would need to change its stance. The Socialists are feeling  the pressure of the regions that most receive economic benefits under the current system. There is quite some fear In Andalusia, Extremadura, Murcia and the Canaries. And the PSOE, the only party that could work for a federal solution like the one mentioned above, is very fearful of losing its electoral base in the Southern regions.

The Catalonia-Spain conflict is a sort of Russian doll: you open the first one just to find a number of other conflicts.


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