On January 26 2018, a former Spanish socialist deputy PM —the late Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba— warned on the radio that “the State will foot the bill” of thwarting Catalonia’s independence bid. “What’s being discussed at the moment is the price to pay”. Rubalcaba, ever the shrewd Rasputin, was advising then-PM Mariano Rajoy to show “skill” in order to minimise the damage that suffocating the independence movement would inflict on Spain’s reputation. Time has shown that a deep-State confederacy was organised to do whatever it took to decapitate the secessionist leadership, even if it meant jeopardising the essential separation of powers and debasing the quality of Spanish democracy. We have also witnessed how support at the polls has barely wavered for the independence camp and now the two electoral blocs will need to learn to coexist and respect one another.
Amid foot stomping and shouting by outstanding members of the Spanish right —who sought to drown out the voices of the political prisoners as they were taking their oath in the chamber—, last Tuesday the Bureau of the Spanish parliament decided to suspend them as MPs following an instruction issued by Spain’s Supreme Court. This was despite the debate about the legality of a measure which has garnered neither widespread support nor an agreement on how it is supposed to be executed, not even among those who share the same ultimate goal.
Could Meritxell Batet, the new PSOE Speaker and president of the Bureau, have acted differently? She could have, indeed, both legally and politically. But that would have required a modicum of political courage which the Spanish socialist party refused to show.
The decision to suspend the newly-elected pro-independence lawmakers is a scorn for their presumption of innocence and violates their right to political participation and the exercise of their office as representatives who were elected by hundreds of thousands of voters in Catalonia. Furthermore, it might alter the balance of power in the chamber because proxy voting is not provided for in the Spanish parliament. Therefore, the majority threshold might be brought down, which could afford PM Pedro Sánchez a better standing than he obtained at the polls.
The Bureau’s decision was not put to a vote in parliament, disregarding the representatives’ presumed innocence and the obligation to formally request the chamber’s permission. What’s more, it wasn’t taken in accordance with the parliament’s rules and regulations, but as per Article 384 bis of Spain’s Law of Criminal Prosecution, an article that has been part of the enemy’s criminal law in history and had only ever been used apropos of terror crimes. By heeding the Supreme Court’s indication, the Bureau has sparked an institutional conflict, further eroding separation of powers in Spain. The PSOE, the PP and Ciudadanos have responded by biting the bullet, even though experts have stated that the decision is more than questionable. For instance, in a recent article in this newspaper, Antoni Bayona —a former lawyer with the Catalan parliament who is hardly politically suspect— referred to the suspension as “questionable”, essentially due to a misuse of parliamentary immunity.
Thus, once again, the spirit of poor Montesquieu’s laws becomes the shared spirit of a deep State whose political goal is to build a single, homogenous Spain at the expense of institutional balance and understanding politics as an instrument for concord and respect for diversity, rather than imposition. This is not a legal, but a political problem.
After the first leg of elections, today [Sunday 26] we must face the second round. The results of the Spanish polls of April 28 began to paint a picture, albeit blurry. As with any other muddle, in politics the devil is in the detail.
Catalonia’s pro-independence camp has persevered in its guerrilla tactics, forever trying to push the boundaries of the law and placing the institutions before new situations that force them to take a stand. As of Monday, this will also include the European Parliament.
Next week we will have a better picture of what the future will be like, once we have answered the big questions: Who has won the battle for the city of Barcelona? Have the pro-independence parties got the mayoral prize ? Which leader has got the most votes in Europe? How much protection have Catalans given the pro-independence leaders? How big a share of local power have the main Catalan parties attained?
There will still be one major challenge left: the ruling of the trial that poisons everything. Strictly speaking, the indictments and the trial itself aim to remove the secessionist leaders from the public arena rather than shed light on the events of October 2017. The Catalan leaders have held on to the support of their voters, proving that the strategy that sought to remove them was useless. Still, new leaders will emerge in this new political era, particularly on the centre-right, and the undercurrent will soon rise to the surface.
The next big hurdle will be when the verdict is handed down. What will the response be the next day? It will be a critical moment that might provide a window of opportunity for a fresh bid, like in October 2017, or —after weighing up the strength of both sides realistically— it will lead to a snap election that will determine the future strategy.