THE OBSERVER

Autumn storms

ESTHER VERA
ESTHER VERA Directora de l'ARA

THE ECONOMY FOLLOWS ITS OWN PATH.

In Catalonia, a nation where —as Raimon sang— "the rain doesn't know how to rain: either it rains too little or it rains too much", it is not clear whether a great storm awaits us this autumn or just a light drizzle until the trial. Economic data show that growth is solid and that the slight slowdown shown by the European economy is not yet affecting the dynamism in Catalonia. The lower growth of domestic consumption and the negative trend in exports (down 0.3% quarter-on-quarter) may be signs to keep an eye on, but they are offset by good GDP growth. Economic indicators, once again, move independently of politics and seem to forecast good weather in the short term. In the long run, however, it is not so clear that optimism can be maintained if major structural reforms that depend on broad agreements between political parties and social agents —such as pensions— continue to be postponed. In Spain and Catalonia there are more and more old age pensioners with a longer life expectancy, along with more young people immersed in a precarious labor market who provide low contributions to pension solidarity and have zero savings capacity.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING IN MADRID.

Meanwhile, the political landscape is being hit by an endless storm, with thunder and lightning. In Spain, in a historic evolutionary milestone, the battle for power has gone from secular accusations of corruption and enrichment and phoney university degrees to a more sophisticated accusation of plagiarism in PhD theses. In other words, it has shifted from bribery with a cured ham or a designer handbag to the gift of a master's degree.

These low-class politics, based on insinuations and accusations that are nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the big issues that require agreements —and, therefore, work and risk-taking— has exposed the way in which Ciudadanos acts. Albert Rivera, who at one time might have seemed the voice of liberal regeneration in Spanish politics, has now shown that he does not endorse a liberal agenda and that his style has nothing to do with the fair play that regeneration requires. His offensive of falsehoods against Sánchez's PhD thesis, despite having embellished his own CV with non-existent doctoral studies, has brought him crashing down. The virulence of the Ciudadanos campaign ahead of the Andalusian elections, the use of the yellow ribbons in Catalonia, and Sanchéz's PhD do not seem to be a success at this time.

DISCONNECT IN CATALONIA.

While there is thunder in Madrid, in Catalonia there is a mix of clear skies and looming clouds. The demonstration on National Day showed that independence support is a deeply-rooted, stable, and determined movement that will neither disappear nor surrender. But also that the fundamental objective of mobilization today is the call for the freedom of political prisoners, and that the strategies of the political parties and grassroots organizations do not match. The weakness of joint action along with internal rifts were made clear in the Congressional vote on the motion in favor of dialogue with the PSOE. The timing of the motion could not be more politically inopportune, after the September 11 rally, and ERC did not swallow the bitter pill of dialogue "within the legal framework" in the face of a socialist spokesman who wanted to corner its prey and who made it easy for them to slam the door on the proposal. The motion exposed the tension between the will to negotiate and the strategy of keeping the rope tightened; the division between supporters of giving the PSOE some breathing room to see if it is able to bravely face the Catalan issue and those who, convinced, as Pla said, that "there is nothing more like a right-wing Spaniard than a left-wing Spaniard", expect an uncertain path of dialogue to fail. Distrust in the fruits of the approach is more than justified, but the question is: what is the alternative proposal to move forward after independence was declared on October 27, and how can day-to-day challenges be overcome?

The pro-independence camp is split between those in favor of seizing an imprecise opportunity that is contradicted by daily decisions and will not clarify how it is feasible without a Catalan justice system, sources of financing, and an EU agreement, and those who do not see shortcuts around a negotiation —as bitter as it may be— towards an agreed referendum. Meanwhile, the internal negotiation continues to be focused on what needs to be done with the Catalan MPs that Justice Llarena has suspended and is keeping in pre-trial custody, charged with crimes that are baseless unless they are politically motivated. Despite the agreements announced weeks ago, the question remains whether all the prisoners, and also President Puigdemont, will renounce their seats in Parliament. In the lead-up to the trial, a true test of fire in a year that threatens the worst storms, contradictions and differences between rhetoric and politics are guaranteed. It will depend on PM Pedro Sánchez to make credible the belief that there are options to avoid a new storm.

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