Talk it over

There is still an op­por­tu­nity for Madrid and Barcelona to pull back from a con­fronta­tion

The Hindu - - EDITORIAL -

Cata­lan Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont’s call for a di­a­logue with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is the first sign in many months of an at­tempt to break the stale­mate in Spain’s con­tin­u­ing cri­sis. Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, who has re­mained stead­fast in his de­fence of Span­ish sovereignty and in­tegrity, should seize the open­ing, slight though it is. In his ad­dress to the re­gional par­lia­ment in Barcelona on Tues­day, Mr. Puigde­mont in­sisted that he would act on the pop­u­lar man­date for a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence in the Oc­to­ber 1 ref­er­en­dum. But he also ex­pressed a will­ing­ness, not nec­es­sar­ily shared by al­lies in the rul­ing coali­tion, to de­fer such a procla­ma­tion so as to ne­go­ti­ate with the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and to ex­plore in­ter­na­tional me­di­a­tion. There are con­flict­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions on the essence of that ad­dress. But Mr. Ra­joy seems to be in no mood what­so­ever to re­lent. He has said that he wants to as­cer­tain whether Mr. Puigde­mont’s speech amounts to a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence be­fore Madrid trig­gers Ar­ti­cle 155 to ex­er­cise di­rect con­trol over Cat­alo­nia. While it is an op­tion he has been weigh­ing for some months, this ob­du­racy is hard to un­der­stand in to­day’s al­tered cir­cum­stances. The cen­tre-right gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to en­gage the Cata­lan lead­er­ship in any di­a­logue may have had a con­text prior to the ref­er­en­dum. There was sound le­gal ba­sis to its in­sis­tence that the ques­tion of se­ces­sion was out­side the frame­work of the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion, as vin­di­cated by the coun­try’s high­est court. But the fact is that Madrid failed to con­vince Cata­lan lead­ers to aban­don the vote; in fact, the vote held on Oc­to­ber 1 brought the Span­ish gov­ern­ment wide­spread con­dem­na­tion for the vi­o­lent in­ci­dents of the day.

This grim back­drop should trig­ger fresh think­ing on Mr. Ra­joy’s over­all ap­proach. A plain re­fusal to talk to the sep­a­ratists is po­lit­i­cally un­ten­able when the other side seems in­clined to push back on the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence. The at­tempt in­stead should be to im­press upon his in­ter­locu­tors in Cat­alo­nia that a size­able pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion was op­posed to se­ces­sion. In fact, Madrid should weigh the larger ram­i­fi­ca­tions of rolling back Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional au­ton­omy at a time when pas­sions are run­ning high. What is needed most of all cur­rently is calmer rhetoric. Mr. Ra­joy needs to steer the pub­lic de­bate more con­struc­tively to how re­gional as­pi­ra­tions could be met with­out pre­cip­i­tat­ing a big­ger cri­sis. Whether the Euro­pean Union could in­flu­ence the course of events is at best a mat­ter for spec­u­la­tion. But a more in­ter­ven­tion­ist pos­ture can­not be ruled out, should there be an un­for­tu­nate re­lapse to the vi­o­lence of re­cent days. Mr. Ra­joy should draw upon his decades-long po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, and the back­ing he en­joys of the op­po­si­tion so­cial­ists, to fash­ion an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to Mr. Puigde­mont’s over­tures.

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