While we wait for a full report about the effects of Spain’s direct rule on the running of public affairs in Catalonia (it is currently being drafted by the Catalan authorities), some of the problems Madrid caused are slowly becoming apparent. A case in point are the delays in the construction and renovation work which is carried out in many primary and secondary schools in Catalonia during the summer school break. Many of these construction projects were delayed due to red tape and the need to wait for Madrid’s approval before a penny could be spent.
Catalonia’s education ministry does not wish to sound the alarm and is cagey about naming the actual schools that might not see the construction work completed before the start of the new school year. Nevertheless, it is beginning to put together a number of contingency plans, just in case. It is precisely in the field of education where Spain’s PP government went far beyond a mere takeover of the day-to-day running of the Catalan administration: they renewed funding agreements with private schools where pupils are segregated by gender, they attempted (and failed) to place students into separate Catalan and Spanish language groups and, worst of all, left to their own devices the teachers who had been falsely accused of indoctrinating students by a handful of parents. Therefore, if there is one area where direct rule proved particularly harmful, that would be education. Still, teachers managed to keep their dignity and adapt to the circumstances so that their students would not lose out.
However, nothing could actually be done about the ongoing construction work. It must have been like that in the other ministries. It was impossible for the Catalan administration to be taken over by Madrid-based civil servants without paying a price, at least in terms of delayed or cancelled projects. Education minister Josep Bargalló has had to take swift action to minimise the effect of such delays in the construction work scheduled this summer in 130 schools across Catalonia.
At any rate, the job of studying the impact of direct rule must be undertaken as fast and as transparently as possible so that the Catalan public can form an idea about it. So far we have learnt that Madrid’s takeover left the Catalan administration idling away while the Spanish authorities made arbitrary, electioneering decisions that are being reversed only now, such as shutting down Catalonia’s Public Diplomacy Council (Diplocat) and the Catalan government’s offices abroad.
Yet it is extremely important to build on the experience of direct rule to highlight the value of Catalonia’s self-government and the areas governed by the Catalan administration, which affect the lives of all 7.5m Catalans. It is only through excellence in governance that we will manage to prove —with facts— that full sovereignty would also have a positive effect on the lives of all Catalans.
This urgency also stems from the fact that the leaders of Spain’s conservative parties —Pablo Casado and Albert Rivera— are desperate to bring back direct rule in order to take over Catalonia’s schools, police force and public media for good. It is our government’s duty to build a political defence line to avoid a repetition of the events of October 27 last year [when direct rule was imposed by Madrid]. If that were to happen again, this time we would not be fretting over delays in construction work, but much more important issues for Catalonia’s social cohesion and her future.