Cat­alo­nia tries to have it both ways

The Week (US) - - 14 News -

What just hap­pened in Cat­alo­nia? asked Lola Gar­cía in the Barcelona daily La Van­guardia (Spain). All eyes were on Cata­lan leader Car­les Puigde­mont after the re­gion’s in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum ear­lier this month, in which more than 90 per­cent of votes were cast in fa­vor of se­ced­ing from Spain but a boy­cott by pro-Span­ish vot­ers left turnout at a lowly 43 per­cent. Would Puigde­mont de­clare in­de­pen­dence and pre­cip­i­tate a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis, or call for me­di­a­tion and dis­ap­point his na­tion­al­ist fol­low­ers? In the end, he tried to do both, “in a twisted, con­vo­luted state­ment that pleased no­body.” Puigde­mont de­clared this week that the re­sults of the ref­er­en­dum man­dated that au­ton­o­mous Cat­alo­nia be­come an in­de­pen­dent state. But in the next breath he asked the Cata­lan Par­lia­ment “to sus­pend the ef­fects of the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence so that, over the next few weeks, we might un­der­take a dia­logue” with Madrid. Some wag on Wikipedia promptly listed Cat­alo­nia as the short­est-lived sov­er­eign state, with a du­ra­tion of eight sec­onds.

“The Cata­lan leader blinked,” said The Times (U.K.) in an ed­i­to­rial. In the days fol­low­ing a ref­er­en­dum that was “more cha­rade than real democ­racy,” many of Cat­alo­nia’s largest firms and banks an­nounced they were re­lo­cat­ing else­where in Spain. The Euro­pean Union had warned that an in­de­pen­dent Cat­alo­nia wouldn’t be granted au­to­matic EU mem­ber­ship, and those busi­nesses wanted to make sure they would re­main in­side the sin­gle Euro­pean mar­ket. As if that weren’t painful enough, Puigde­mont also knew that a clear dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence would force the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to re­voke Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­o­mous sta­tus, and he was des­per­ately search­ing for a for­mu­la­tion to avoid that. Now he is ask­ing for me­di­a­tion, and Madrid should grant it. Yet Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy’s ini­tial re­sponse was a threat to im­pose direct rule on Cat­alo­nia. If he does, it will be a dis­as­trous con­tin­u­a­tion of his “overly rigid strat­egy, which is at least partly to blame for the worst con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in re­cent Span­ish his­tory.”

Sorry, said Madrid-based El Pais (Spain) in an ed­i­to­rial, but “a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence is a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.” Puigde­mont may have used weasel words, but his in­tent was plain, and Spain can’t stand for a breakup of the na­tion, whether the process is os­ten­si­bly “sus­pended” or not. Cata­lans are hardly united in their de­sire to leave: Hun­dreds of thou­sands protested in Barcelona against se­ces­sion this week, wav­ing Span­ish flags and singing “Viva Es­paña.” The 2015 Cata­lan elec­tions may have pro­duced a pro-in­de­pen­dence re­gional gov­ern­ment, but the sep­a­ratist par­ties have the sup­port of only 48 per­cent of vot­ers. “Ra­joy has no choice but to ap­ply the law with the sever­ity pro­por­tional to the case—which is enor­mous.”

This is get­ting dan­ger­ous, said David Hesse in the Tages-Anzeiger (Switzer­land). When cit­i­zens de­mand more au­ton­omy, “the state can’t sim­ply cite the con­sti­tu­tion and send in the po­lice with their trun­cheons.” Switzer­land has of­fered to me­di­ate, and Ra­joy should at least try—be­fore Spain hur­tles to­ward catas­tro­phe.

Puigde­mont: De­lay­ing his dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence

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