Chronicles of the Southwest Peninsula: Catalonia in a state of siege

I return to the subject of Catalonia. On the 27th of October, everything was hurried. On the same day, the Catalan parliament made […]

I return to the subject of Catalonia. On the 27th of October, everything was rushed. On the same day, the Catalan parliament issued the unilateral declaration of independence (DUI) and the Spanish senate activated article 155 of the Spanish constitution. The government of Madrid declared, meanwhile, legislative elections in Catalonia for next December 21st.

Demonstrations for and against independence follow. Catalonia has entered a state of siege. Let's look at some aspects of the problem now created (I'm writing this text on October 30th).

1. The proximate cause, the distortion of the statute of Catalonia in 2006

Catalonia's first statute of the Spanish democratic era dates from 18 September 1979, in line with the 1978 Spanish constitution.

A few years later, on 18 June 2006, the citizens of Catalonia approved, in a referendum, a new autonomous statute.

The original project was, however, much contested and substantially altered to avoid the lead of the Spanish parliament and senate, having several political agents, among which the Popular Party, complained of its unconstitutionality to the Spanish Constitutional Court.

In 2010, the Constitutional Court decided to invalidate some of the fundamental aspects of the Statute, but, above all, it denied Catalonia the status of a nation and the right to decide as a nation.

2. October 1, the independence referendum and the repression of the Spanish state
This 2010 decision of the Spanish Constitutional Court was severely repudiated by Catalan civil society and it is especially from this moment that the most radical movements – the Catalan national association (ANC) and the cultural association OMNIUM – grow together with the separatist sentiment and the radical independence, in successive manifestations of popular consultation and initiative that ended with the referendum on October 1st.

During this period, the refusal of the Madrid government to accept a binding referendum on self-determination and, in 2012, the refusal of the fiscal pact by the Madrid government, caused a real turmoil in Catalan civil society: demonstrations, citizen platforms, consultative referendums, popular initiatives, movement of the indignant and plebiscitary elections aim to demonstrate in the streets to the Madrid government “the fait accompli” of Catalan self-determination.

At the same time, the classic Spanish bipartisanship is broken, with the emergence of the Ciudadanos and Podemos parties, and all this in a context of deep government crisis in Madrid.

In this sequence, the 2015 elections assume, therefore, a plebiscitary character. The victory of the Juntos pelo Sim coalition, supported by the Candidature of Popular Unity (CUP), all in favor of Catalonia's independence, together with the majority in the Catalan parliament, encourages regional authorities to move towards holding the October 1 referendum.

In summary, the referendum on Oct. 1 was therefore held without the consent of the Spanish government and the Spanish constitutional court, with the authorities in Madrid trying to prevent it by force, and hundreds of people were wounded in these clashes. The referendum result: 42% vote, 90% yes and 7,87% no.

3. Legitimacy, legality and constitutionality
Barcelona and Madrid seek to assert the legitimacy that suits them best and assists. Historical, cultural and political legitimacy, confirmed in the streets, on the Catalan side, constitutional, legal and statutory legitimacy, confirmed by national institutions, on the Spanish side.

Evidently, if we radicalize these arguments they become practically irreconcilable. These are, in essence, the reasons that assist both sides of the dispute.

Beyond that, there is, obviously, the competence or political and institutional incompetence of the two main actors present, who were not able to carry out a magnanimous gesture of freedom and democratic culture, in a singular time of great historical significance for Spain and Catalonia .

In fact, since the two capitals are legitimate, it would be essential to open a path of dialogue between the parties and find an accredited intermediary for this purpose.

In the same line of reasoning, we must not forget that, between Spanish nationalism and Catalan independence, there are many variants of Catalan nationalism, more and less moderate, that do not claim separatism or secession from the Spanish state.

It is important that we do not allow this issue to be polarized, as we run the risk of even the autonomies being hit by some less desirable rebound effect.

4. October 10, or the contradictions of the Catalan nationalist movement
On October 10, the declaration of independence of the president of the Generalitat Carles Puidgemont and his immediate suspension is proof of the numerous contradictions that affect the nationalist movement in Catalonia, more specifically the various currents of Catalan nationalism, the more moderate independence, that does not want the secession of the Spanish state, to the most radical independence that wants the Republic of Catalonia as an independent state and separate from the Spanish monarchy.

In addition to these internal contradictions, expressed, in fact, within the government coalition itself, there is also the difficulty of international recognition and the first signs of unrest on the part of some companies that decide to move their head office outside Catalonia.

When everything seemed to indicate the opening of a path for dialogue, the president of the Generalitat's trip to the Madrid Senate failed and his proposal for legislative elections in Catalonia fell apart.

5. O day 27, Unilateral Declaration of Independence (DUI) and activation of article 155
And so we arrived, after much political choreography, in the institutions and in the streets, on October 27, the day when the unilateral declaration of independence (DUI) was proclaimed in the Catalan parliament and the activation of article 155 was proclaimed in the Spanish senate.

The two acts were so in tune that they were proclaimed at practically the same time in both capitals.

Meanwhile, the government of Madrid, under the cover of the constitution and laws, and within the scope of Article 155, declares the dismissal of the governing bodies and the dissolution of the Catalan parliament, while scheduling regional legislative elections for the the 21st of December next.

We have entered uncharted territory and any precipitation can trigger violent clashes. So let's look to the near future.

6. The law of transience and the constituent process in Catalonia
The transitory law approved by the Catalan parliament, which has since been dissolved, establishes a period of six months for the constituent process in the region.

The deliberative process foresees the formation of a Constituent Social Forum and an Advisory Body for the regional government.

By April 2018, a Constituent Assembly will be elected with the task of drafting a constitution that will be approved by 3/5 of its members.

The approved constitution will then be submitted to a popular referendum.

It is up to this Constituent Assembly to elect the President of the Generalitat.

After approval of the constitution in a referendum, the constituent assembly is finally dissolved and legislative elections are scheduled.

The curiosity, at the moment, is to know how the “dismissed authorities” will proceed to trigger the constituent process in Catalonia and how the Spanish authorities will react if this happens.

7. Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Brussels
It is at least surprising that the regional government bodies, prior to the unilateral declaration of independence, did not consider and disclose, with complete clarity and explicitly for the general clarification of the population, the political, economic, social and practical consequences of a secession. of the Kingdom of Spain and, consequently, of a separation from the European Union.

The lack of international recognition, the clear position of the main European institutions alongside the Madrid government and the departure of numerous companies (its registered office) from Catalonia should have sounded like a dangerous alarm signal for the near future of the region in case of secession and independence.

Barcelona has many reasons for regional autonomy and it can even be a case-study very useful for Madrid and Brussels, in the context of a Europe of the regions and in the context of a new regionalist doctrine for Europe.

The speed of events and pressure from Madrid left no room for a more equidistant European position. And it was worth it.

8. The constitutional revision, the revision of the statutes, the 21-D elections
As we said, nationalism has many nuances, many reading grids and many other speeds.

Within the European framework, Brussels could have explained to Madrid and Catalonia that it would like to take advantage of Catalonia's regional and autonomous experience to reconsider its regional and territorial cohesion policy.

At the same time, in Madrid, Catalonia's domestic pretensions could have been accommodated through bilateral negotiations, with the promise of a revision of the statutes and in light of an eventual revision of the Spanish constitution that might or might not evolve into a political organization. of the federal type.

With this general framework, we believe that it would have been easier to pass the proposal for regional elections, as there would be a politically plausible justification for doing so.

Final Notes
On the day I write (October 30th) I have no compass for what will happen next. However, I risk describing three possible scenarios, given the contingencies of the ongoing process:

1st scenario: theoretically most promising
Elections in 21-D, all parties abide by this deliberation without any problem.
Review of Catalonia's statute and opening of a constitutional review process.
A sign of the European Union towards more and better Europe of the Regions.
The corporate headquarters of companies return.

2nd scenario: a situation in "state of siege"
Independentist parties do not accept and block the 21-O electoral act.
Independentist parties form clandestine organs of government and administration.
There are violent clashes in the streets.
More companies leave Catalonia

3rd scenario: the 3rd copy of the "historic commitment"
Elections in D-21, with the participation of independentist parties
Negotiation of a Fiscal Pact for Catalonia.
A review of Catalonia's statute.
A general review of the various autonomous statutes and a possible revision of the constitution.

In practice, however, I suspect that we will be witnessing a kind of game of cat and mouse, between now and 21 December, with successive attacks on the most indecisive electorate, in order to make them move to the independence camp.

This political tactic involves provoking the institutions and forces of the Spanish state in Catalonia, in such a way that violence and repression can once again be in the news around the world.

If doubts remain until the eve of elections, the possibility of an electoral blockade could be very real.

In the latest news, Puidgemont's party and the Republican left declare that they are going to play, that is, to elections. It augurs well.

However, to everyone's surprise, Puidgemont and five members of his government left for Belgium!!


Author António Covas is a full professor at the University of Algarve and a PhD in European Affairs from the Free University of Brussels