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Crisis and opportunity

The combination of Article 155 and constitutional reform opens up a new space for dialogue

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias passes PM Mariano Rajoy and his deputy Sáenz de Santamaría in Congress.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias passes PM Mariano Rajoy and his deputy Sáenz de Santamaría in Congress. EFE

The Spanish government’s reaction to the crafty move of proclaiming independence, then immediately putting it on hold, throws the ball back in Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont’s court, and opens an unexpected and very positive window of opportunity for Spain.

The formal notification by the government of Spain to the Generalitat is now forcing the Catalan government to make an unambiguous statement regarding its alleged declaration of independence, which was not even put to a vote inside the regional parliament. The request for clarification also offers Catalan authorities one more opportunity to stand on the side of the law, give up on their breakaway maneuvers, and take a decisive step to prove that their much-trumpeted openness to dialogue is something more than mere propaganda.

It is hard to fathom such benevolence toward a government that has done nothing more than violate the laws

Otherwise, it will become clear that the government’s offer has left the separatists without a story, and that the latter’s proposals for dialogue only contemplated a negotiation subjected to blackmail, in which case a partial and gradual suspension of autonomy using Article 155 of the Constitution would be the most advisable way forward – and at this point, the best way to protect Catalonia’s damaged institutions.

The only dialogue and the only mediation possible are those that take place within the bounds of the law and inside parliament, which is the exclusive forum for settling differences in European democracies. The agreement between the head of government and the Socialist Party (PSOE), to which Ciudadanos has added its name, includes provisions for a parliamentary committee to modernize and reform the Constitution, thus offering a dignified way out to Puigdemont – if indeed he wants to talk about greater self-government for Catalonia.

A fundamental issue in these confusing times is citizen safety. Above and beyond politics and the economy, personal safety is a prior requirement to stability and well-being. That is why it is essential for all agencies and institutions whose job it is to guarantee this safety to remain in a condition to do so. If the role of the Mossos d’Esquadra as a comprehensive and judicial police force is called into question due to the Catalan government’s proven tendency to put them at the service of a cause, it will be up to the central government to guarantee this force’s role. It could – and perhaps should – do so without the need to implement Section 155. But in any event, this constitutional provision will give the government ample resources to restore badly needed juridical and social stability to Catalonia.

The offer that’s been agreed to by the government and the PSOE represents an opportunity for the country as a whole

Puigdemont still has time to prevent this state intervention which, though advisable, would no doubt represent a trauma that it is best to avoid. To achieve that, Puigdemont only needs to do one thing: to put an end to this insane adventure that he has pushed citizens into – many of them won over through deceit and falsehoods.

The offer that’s been agreed to by the government and the PSOE also represents an opportunity for the country as a whole. It opens up a new political scenario that we look very favorably upon. For a long time now, we’ve been supporting the kind of reform that will adapt the Constitution to the new social demands and readjust the complex territorial structure of a decentralized country that all too often suffers the effects of separatist tension.

Despite the damage that’s already been done, we now begin to perceive a few positive consequences of this crisis. As evidenced at the plenary session of Congress on Wednesday, the Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos and PSOE are coordinating with one another for the first time, in order to undertake an important state task. Though it may now seem like a far-off job of epic proportions, reforming the Constitution is a fundamental step toward renewing the democratic, modernizing thrust that propelled the Spanish Transition forward.

On the other hand, we cannot but resoundingly condemn Podemos’ attitude. At this time of acute political crisis, when the Constitution and Statute of Catalan Autonomy themselves are being called into question – and with them, the rights and freedoms of all Catalans – to have Pablo Iglesias not only deny the gravity of the Catalan government’s actions, but actually praise Puigdemont, is a matter for serious concern. There is no longer any doubt regarding Iglesias’s servile attitude towards the secessionist project. The alliance between Podemos’s populism and Puigdemont’s xenophobic nationalism poses a serious threat to the Constitution, democratic coexistence and the common future of all Spaniards.

On top of that, the role played by Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau as a bridge between the far-left’s plans for rupture and the pro-independence movement’s own designs creates a terrible squeeze effect that encourages democrats to just throw up their hands.

It is hard to fathom such benevolence toward a Catalan government that has done nothing more than violate the laws and embrace a strategy more appropriate to small-time con-men than to a democratic executive power. Faced with such a decisive moment and such an offer for real, legal and legitimate dialogue to renew our constitutional agreement and reinforce democracy and progress, there are many who will now be forced to confront their own contradictions.

English version by Susana Urra.

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