Catalan politics is an ant nest, where old and new leaders are still seeking their place in a new landscape which is still under construction. If anyone thought that politics could return to what used to be known as "normality", they should abandon all hope. Catalan society has undergone an ideological transformation as a result of injustices, mistakes and disappointments. And the implosion which occurred within the party system is far from over. While the leaders are still jockeying for position in the next round, Spain’s judicial system still has an enormous potential to turn a set ball into a match ball, unseating the internal leadership, while the parliamentary majority in favour of independence is as big as ever. Meanwhile, the courts seem to have more patriotic fervour than respect for political rights and little fear of being shown up for what they truly are in the European Court of Human Rights.
It is true that there have been many match balls in recent years and that political audacity has allowed the Catalan independence movement to survive the events of 2017 and to hold onto its parliamentary majority, although in a weakened state, in spite of any differences. Catalonia is once again facing a momentous decision which may mean voting on the 2020 budget may fail, leading the country to a snap election.
If the plenary session of Parliament convened for this Monday afternoon is not adjourned once again, it will have to answer to the Supreme Court's decision not to overturn the Central Electoral Board’s ruling to strip the President of the Catalan government, Quim Torra, of his seat for the time being.
Parliament will have to decide how to react to the Supreme Court’s ruling in which it rejected President Torra’s defence team —thus taking the same line as the Public Prosecutor— which requested a provisional suspension of the Board’s decision to suspend Torra’s status as an MP. The substance of the court’s position and its final verdict has not been issued, but the chamber’s Secretary-General and the Speaker will have to make their position clear.
The pace is speeding up, with multiple negotiations taking place with numerous objectives and decision trees which share few common goals aside from an attempt to convince the public that it’s the other political party whose knees are shaking when faced with the might of the state.
Although Parliament's lawyers accepted the interpretation of the law that Quim Torra could hold onto his post of President of the Catalan government, even if he ceases to be an MP, Torra’s view is that “no battles is too small" and he is aware that he can go ahead and call an election after having put the Speaker and the parliamentary officials in a difficult position over whether to comply with the various court orders.
In practice, if Torra continues to cast a vote, his term will be doomed. The ballots won’t be recognized by the opposition or the courts, meaning the budget won’t be approved and no bills will be passed. The outcome would be institutional paralysis. We ought to remind ourselves that it all started with Torra’s refusal to take down a banner from the Palau de la Generalitat’s balcony before the deadline set by the Central Electoral Board. The decision is unfair, disproportionate, of questionable legality and nauseating, a grave error.
Nevertheless, it is also true that to act as if every battle were equally important and useful is to refuse to engage in politics, which is all about being flexible and employing a combination of pragmatism and idealism in the short term in order to achieve one’s strategic goals in the long run.
The election is approaching and the outcome is open-ended. ERC has succeeded in being the Spanish government’s interlocutor, while internally agreeing on its strategy. JxCat originated as an impromptu slate at a time of crisis to face the 21 December 2017 election under the leadership of Carles Puigdemont. Subsequently PDECat’s regional machinery in town council elections has allowed it to survive. Torra has retreated to a bunker, Puigdemont has won a seat in the European Parliament, and the post-Convergència political space continues to fail to reach an internal agreement which can pave the way for a new leadership and a clear program. Sources privy to the goings-on at PDECat are not ruling out a split within the more pragmatic sector of the post-Convergència political space. They are aware that political action has focused more on symbolism and reacting to attacks from the state than on actually governing, contrary to what was said following the recovery of control over the institutions when article 155 was revoked [and powers returned to the Catalan administration].
The pro-independence parties’ attitude of resistance while lacking a shared vision of the future explains the unease expressed by the public in the latest government (CEO), conducted after the 10 November election, in the midst of negotiations over the investiture and disagreements between the two coalition partners. Currently, six out of ten Catalans believe that the government does not know how to solve the nation’s problems, eight percent higher than a year ago (53%), a figure which stood at 44% in 2016 and a mere 42.3% in 2011.
The leading problems are dissatisfaction with politics and politicians (36.8%), followed by relations between Catalonia and Spain (30.9%) and unemployment and lack of job security (23.3%). Against this backdrop, Parliament needs to agree on a budget that will allow it to run the country, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have an election and let the electorate decide the way ahead.