Borrell snubs Catalan Speaker’s demand of a “clarity pact” for a referendum

The Speaker of the Catalan Parliament urges Madrid to set “the date and terms” of the vote

At a public address in Madrid hosted by Fórum Europa this Thursday, the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, asked to find a political solution to the Catalan conflict and proposed a “clarity pact” that would set the conditions under which Catalans would be able to decide on their future in a referendum.

Torrent began his speech by saying: “Naturally, I’m not asking you to share my vision. I don’t mean to persuade you”, and he went on to explain that the purpose of his talk was to “rebuild dialogue” and start discussing “the date and terms” of the referendum. Torrent spoke in favour of achieving mutual recognition and argued that Spain and Catalonia “are immersed in an institutional conflict”, a “serious” clash that affects basic rights and the democratic principle. The ERC leader noted that it is “obvious” something must be done “from politics, imposing neither red lines nor limits”.

According to Torrent, the most “reasonable course of action” to address the wish of a section of the Catalan people to become a Republic would be for the Spanish state to attempt to woo Catalans rather than repress them: “In Catalonia there is a broad consensus around the idea that it’s up to us, the Catalans, to decide the legal and political status of our nation”. He argued that any solution must “necessarily” include a vote. To that end, he unveiled the plan put together by “Catalan republicanism”.

Torrent emphasised that the proposal is not intended against anyone, “less so against Spain” and that “obviously” an independent Catalonia would have “even tighter, more productive” economic, social and cultural bonds with Spain. In fact, Torrent said, Catalonia would be “Spain’s closest ally” in the international arena.

The Catalan Speaker remarked that Catalonia’s independence bid does not arise from a dispute with the Spanish people. Rather, it is an attempt to build a republic “from the bottom up”. “This is not about armies, anthems and flag-waving. To us the Republic means schools, hospitals, pensions, labour rights and social services”, he noted, and he added that “it is not about building the nation from the State. Quite the opposite”.

Roger Torrent emphasised that first of all both sides should recognise that Spanish politics will fail to rule over Catalonia’s unilaterally, and the independence movement should acknowledge that it will not achieve its objectives unilaterally, either. “This conflict requires a bilateral solution”, he remarked, and he added that the next step should be to accept that the solution “can only be of a democratic nature”. Torrent said that the third step would be to end the judicialisation of politics. The fourth, not to resign ourselves to “a stalemate of losers” and to acknowledge that “repression will not lead to a solution”. For this reason Torrent argued that positions will be discussed within the framework of a “necessary” negotiation process, with a view to reaching a viable agreement. He warned that “everyone should realise that if the State chooses the path of repression rather than democracy, it will only be a matter of time before independence support in Catalonia rises from 48 to 60 per cent”. He claimed he was certain that many of those in attendance feel bad about what happened on October 1 and the situation of the Catalan prisoners makes them uncomfortable.

According to Torrent, “a clarity pact is needed to set the conditions for a referendum”. Such a pact “will not bring changes immediately”, but will shed light on the conflict. “If a majority of Catalans voted to remain part of Spain, I’d be the first to abide by the result.

During Q&A, Roger Torrent stated that “Josep Borrell’s appointment does not make us hopeful”, in reference to the socialist minister’s nomination for the post of head of the EU’s diplomacy [Borrell is an outspoken opponent of Catalan independence]. The Speaker also claimed that Oriol Junqueras is “the most important political figure in Catalonia” and, therefore, not only is he ERC’s greatest electoral asset, but he is also a key figure “from a political standpoint, as far as Catalonia and Spain are concerned”.

“I don’t know when the next elections will be held in Catalonia. That’s for the president to decide, not me”, said Torrent on the subject of a hypothetical snap election. Torrent referred to Junqueras as the party’s obvious candidate and did not comment about the possibility that he might run for president himself. He also pointed out that “it is a democratic anomaly” that Junqueras has not been allowed to take up his seat in the European Parliament.

Borrell rules out the referendum proposed by Torrent

Only minutes later the Spanish government voiced their opposition to the idea of a referendum for Catalonia. The incumbent Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, snubbed the proposal on Thursday. The newly-appointed chief of Europe’s diplomacy stated that “there is zero chance of a referendum” and he added that “this is hardly unusual, as it is the norm in most countries, with the odd exception, such as the UK”. Earlier on Borrell had said on the radio that the Catalan issue would not be a priority for him in his new job. Speaking to media in Madrid, he pointed out that “such a possibility [a referendum] does not exist in the case of Spain, nor in Germany, Italy, France and the US”.

Furthermore, he warned that —in his opinion— “there’s no international law that provides a legal base for a secession referendum in Catalonia”. The Spanish minister urged Catalan president “Quim Torra and everyone who demands self-determination on a daily basis —in fact, it is the right to secede— to acknowledge the lack of international support and drop the matter”. Borrell asked himself “what else” he and PM Pedro Sánchez will need to say for them to forget about it.