Opinion

Spain Slams the Door on Catalonia's Call for Dialogue, With Dire Consequences

Ana Palacio's recent op-ed called for an 'introspective' Spanish response to the independence referendum. But no one in Madrid is listening: Spain seems determined to trigger an unprecedented escalation with Catalonia

Demonstrators carrying "esteladas" or independence flags ahead of the Catalan National Day in Barcelona, Spain. Sept. 10, 2017
Emilio Morenatti/AP

This article was originally published on October 15, 2017 and republished after Catalonia's regional parliament declared independence from Spain.

In a recent Haaretz opinion piece (One Generation Since Dictatorship, We in Spain Can't Risk Becoming a House Divided), Spain’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Ana Palacio asked for a "deep and introspective Spanish response" to the Catalan issue and warned that "the solution will not come either with a unilateral declaration of independence or a suspension of regional autonomy that would naturally follow".

But it seems the Spanish government isn't interested in an introspective response. The Catalan declaration of independence has been postponed, but the attitude of the Spanish government - in the past, and even today - has been to ignore the existence of a political problem between Spain and Catalonia and to avoid dialogue on an agreed solution to it.

A woman with her mouth shut with a sticker reading "Let's talk" attends a Madrid demonstration called by the Catalan "Let's talk" (Parlem, Hablemos) dialogue group. October 07, 2017
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP

Last Wednesday, Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy rejected any type of dialogue to de-escalate tensions with Catalonia. In doing so, he disdained the hand extended by Carles Puigdemont, the President of Catalonia, who, following calls from various international counterparts, decided to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence made last Tuesday evening so as to facilitate a dialogue with no conditions. 

The head of Spain’s government has also rejected the possibility of international mediation proposed by the Catalan president, when he decided to activate procedures for suspending home rule in Catalonia.

Placing Catalonia’s president between a rock and a hard place, the Spanish government sent a formal notice (a fax) calling for the annulment of the suspended declaration of independence before this Thursday, 19 October. If the Catalan president fails to do so, the Spanish government, with the support of Spain’s main opposition party, will suspend Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy and they could end up arresting members of the Catalan government.

It is more than evident that this would suppose an unprecedented escalation of the tensions and would provoke hundreds of thousands of Catalan citizens to take to the streets to defend Catalonia’s home rule and institutions.

With this step, Prime Minister Rajoy has scorned the Catalan president’s gesture, and confounded more than a few of Catalonia’s citizens, who understood that the 1 October referendum gave a clear mandate to declare independence, especially after they stoically withstood blows from batons and other physical attacks from the Spanish police as they peacefully queued to democratically express their views by voting. 

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on October 11, 2017.
JAVIER SORIANO/AFP

Instead of accepting the glove that's been thrown down and to take measures towards de-escalation, the Spanish government has doubled down on the pressure and shoved the Catalan government into a dead end street. 

There are many gestures that Prime Minister Rajoy could have made to de-escalate the crisis and that he has neglected to take.

He could have removed the 10,000 military police sent to stop the referendum, who are still housed on three large cruise ships tied up in Barcelona’s and Tarragona’s ports. They are the ones responsible for what Human Rights Watch just concluded was an excessive use of force against peaceful citizens, which injured 893 people.

Or he could have stopped all the court cases the Spanish government has triggered against Catalan elected officials. The President of the Catalan Parliament is facing three criminal charges for allowing a debate on self-determination on the floor of the parliament; the former President of Catalonia was suspended from politics for two years and was made personally responsible for paying the full costs of an informal consultation held during his presidency in 2014 (at the cost of 5.2 million euros); the mayors of 800 Catalan towns have also been indicted for having collaborated with the 1 October referendum; some 200 Catalan government and civil society websites have been shut down; and dozens of young people are charged with having replicated the shuttered websites, and so on.

Prime Minister Rajoy has not opted for any of these options, which surely would have reduced tensions. Instead he has sent a new threat to the Catalan authorities: either your surrender or we will arrest you. The Spanish government clearly has no interest in relieving the tension at all. What they want is 100% of their objectives. 

Facing such a pessimistic scenario, average citizens, working people, businessmen, and in fact all Catalans, ask our international counterparts who called for dialogue, and who have now seen the gestures made by the Catalan government to reduce tensions and seek this dialogue, to call for the same from the Spanish government.

Albert Royo-Mariné is the Secretary General of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat). Diplocat gathers together forty Catalan institutions, among them employers’ associations, labor unions, Chambers of Commerce, universities, saving banks, FC Barcelona, the Government of Catalonia and the Barcelona City Council. Twitter: @A_RoyoMarine and @Diplocat