How to resolve the Catalan question?
By Dave Jones Anyone who had the dubious pleasure of listening to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s speech in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon may have been excused if they’d switched off their radios.
It was predictable but sad to hear. Addressing the Catalan crisis, rather than adopting a tone of reconciliation he made a point of stating, and I paraphrase (you’ll be glad to hear), ‘everything that has happened is their fault’.
Without any resort to selfcriticism – or nod to the shortfalls of the government in the handling of Cataluña’s regional statute which has been tied up in the courts for a number of years, and other issues – Sr Rajoy limited himself to launching attack after attack on the actions of the proindependence government.
If blame apportioning was an art form, then Sr Rajoy would be up there with the likes of Picasso. His mantra was that you cannot talk/negotiate with people who do not comply with the Spanish constitution.
After the diatribe came one small crumb of comfort at the end. This was that reform of the Spanish constitution might be possible - but only in the way that the law sets out. For me, and no doubt many others who were listening, this sounded positive – but what did it mean?
An interview by foreign minister Alfonso Dastis on French television yesterday (Thursday) shed a smidgen of light on this. He said that if Catalan president Carles Puigdemont states that he did not declare Cataluña an independent state on Tuesday, then talks can be started ‘to try to find a gap in the constitution for the aspirations of some Catalans’.
So, the national government seems to be offering the possibility of either constitutional reform or tweaking the constitution.
However, this does appear to fall short of what a large percentage of people in Cataluña want, which is a legal and binding referendum on independence.
Sr Dastis recognised that the situation in Cataluña is ‘very serious’. However, despite this the Partido Popular national government has constantly been acting as the best recruiter that the nationalists in Cataluña could possibly want for their cause. Almost everything the PP does and says seems to be tailored to pushing more Catalans into the ranks of the pro-independence parties.
If the Spanish government takes over the running of Catalan institutions under article 155 of the constitution, as was touted this week, this will take the conflict to a new level.
It could mean that some activists in Cataluña will think they no longer have a possibility of achieving their aspirations through political means. And Spain has the example of the bloody conflict in the Basque Country as an example of how this must be avoided at all costs.
It is obvious that it will not be easy for two governments with such huge differences to resolve the crisis in Cataluña. But, efforts in Northern Ireland and Colombia show how it is possible through dialogue to reach agreement if there is will on both sides. The Spanish people can only hope that they sit down to talk before it is too late.
Minister Alfonso Dastis