Spain: Catalonia tries to have it both ways
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. ■