The Observer

Operation Catalonia 2

PP has seen a slight personnel change with the departure of Fernández Diaz and the arrival of Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría to the “Catalan issue”, as independence is known in Madrid

At the start of the Catalan independence process, the Spanish state’s reaction was one of scorn. This was later joined by pressure on the judiciary and the dirty war led by the Interior Ministry in collusion with some of the media. At the same time, they procured control over the Catalan government’s finances, substituting the renegotiation of the funding system for the provision of cash drip-fed via the Autonomous Community Liquidity Fund (FLA). Successive cabinets, through government decrees, have reversed Spain decentralisation while public spending on infrastructure was kept at derisory levels. The result is an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament led by a separatist president, heading towards the independence referendum next year.

After two elections and ten months of instability, the state is entering a phase of new gestures.
The driving forces of the transition to democracy continue to exert a high level of influence on the current king and the two main parties (the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, PSOE, and the Popular Party, PP). The mandate to bring order to Catalonia is clear. Former PSOE prime minister Felipe González warned then PSOE leader Pablo Sánchez that he wouldn’t form a government with Podemos, and that’s how it’s turned out. Sánchez continues driving around on Spanish roads waiting for the arrival of a party congress which the caretaker committee will take their time in calling because they’re busy purging Catalans from the Catalan branch of the PSOE. The doctrinal imposition of the Andalusian PSOE has reached a point hitherto unimaginable if José Zaragoza, Miquel Iceta and Meritxell Batet are all regarded as foreign bodies in the PSOE’s politburo.

With the abstention of the majority of the socialists, a grand de facto coalition is born, one which puts limits on the degree of opposition that Podemos can offer and the degree of uproar the media will cause for each decision. Rajoy is the president, but he has had to watch the blocking of LOMCE[1], and Fernández Díaz —the former Interior Minister who was condemned by his fellow lawmakers— has had to content himself with presiding over a minor parliamentary committee. This start to the new term shows that the opposition can block the government and that PSOE and Ciudadanos will work with the PP on what they consider great policies of state. What are those?
You don’t have to fall for any conspiracy theories to imagine a dinner between the previous and current King, Felipe González, Alfredo Rubalcaba (another former PSOE secretary general) and Rajoy to establish their priorities. Their interests are converging.

PP has seen a slight personnel change with the departure of Fernández Diaz and the arrival of Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría to the “Catalan issue”, as independence is known in Madrid. María Llanos de Luna, the immovable civil servant who until yesterday was the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia has been replaced by a Catalan PP MP, a former member of CiU, so open to dialogue that he verges on defection.

The discreet meetings have begun.


People who have spoken to Felipe VI recently say that he is “more proactive than ever” in trying to find a negotiated solution and avoiding eventual Catalan independence. Privately, he is sounding out the leaders of political groups about the viability of amending the constitution. He is anxious to play a historic role closer to his father’s than that of his great grandfather, say those who have spoken to him. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that the constitution says that the king reigns but doesn’t rule, and that those who Bourbon to the stereotype have always cost Spain dearly for their opportunism and lack of strategic vision. The prestige that his father enjoyed when the transition to democracy was thought useful, before they killed its spirit and they returned to the idea of a unitarian Spain, is not the same as now. The image of the monarchy has been tarnished, not just among republicans but also among its supporters. Indeed, during his speech in Madrid’s parliament, some hundred members solemnly expressed their rejection of the institution. Central control no longer exists.
During the government’s inauguration, King Felipe mentioned the “resolution through dialogue, responsibility and also generosity” leading to the formation of the government, even if the PSOE is decimated. He referred to the gratitude, the bravery and the generosity of those who “with the pain and memory still vivid in their souls, put their whole hearts, their whole energy into achieving, finally, reconciliation between Spaniards and democracy in Spain”. You only say a sentence like that if you don’t understand that the transition has left Catalonia hanging and that the apparent harmony was merely amnesia in the land of the Valley of the Fallen[3]. Catalan society has seen through the machinations.

Some minutes of the meeting between the vice-president Sáenz de Santamaría and the Catalan president are starting to leak out, meetings with the two vice-presidents are announced and the funding system, which has to be renewed by law, is on the table.

The state is putting into practice the tactic of creating the image of dialogue. A few smiles, a few train tickets, lots of contact with businesspeople. The last opinion poll from the Catalan Centre for Opinion Studies (CEO) says that 72.2% of Catalans believe that the Spanish government won’t offer a pact acceptable to the parliamentary majority.

The state is starting to gesticulate. It’s Operation Catalonia 2. It could just as well be called Operation Boa Constrictor or Operation Black Mamba. No credibility.

Translator’s notes:

[1] LOMCE, the “Law for the Improvement of the Quality of Education” included, among other controversial proposals, a reduction in the status of official regional languages in classrooms.

[2] Bourbon kings have a reputation, especially in Catalonia, for meddling in political affairs.

[3] The Valle de los Caídos (“Valley of the Fallen”) near Madrid is a basilica and memorial to the fallen of the Spanish Civil War. As it was built during Franco’s government, and in fact, he is the only person not to have died during the war buried there; it is very controversial within Spain.