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THE OBSERVER

Strokes of yellow

Solving would require a political strategy to rethink Spain’s model and its ties with Catalonia

1. To devastate or to solve. Catalonia’s political landscape is still rife with bewilderment and it will be weeks before any political proposals for the new chapter that began with the parliamentary declaration of October 27 can be articulated clearly. With the main pro-independence leaders either in jail or in Brussels, it is hard to do a warts-and-all analysis about the future, and Catalan secessionist parties are sending mixed messages of either resistance or self-criticism brimming with euphemisms. In contrast, Spain is experiencing an outburst of nationalistic pride following Madrid’s takeover of the Catalan administration, the calling of snap elections and the imprisonment of most of the Catalan cabinet, plus grassroots leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

Despite appearances, the Spain that is represented by the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE is running in the Catalan elections with a message of stability based on a fiction: an artificial construct which claims that Spain can survive without changing. The state’s victory is uncritical and based on abuse of power. It is grounded on the premise that Catalonia’s need and willingness to rule itself will go away, even though it has proven to be very resilient throughout history.

Spain can attempt to restore a modicum of “normality”, but it is facing a historic hurdle that will force it to choose between devastating or solving, to quote the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party speaking in the Spanish parliament a few months ago. Devastating means pressing on with the humiliation of independence supporters and of an even greater majority: those who support Catalonia’s right to decide her future. Solving would require a political strategy to democratically rethink Spain’s model and its ties with Catalonia, regardless of the Catalans’ decision.

For now, the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE are wallowing in their victory over Catalonia’s Generalitat, a triumph achieved thanks to the control provided by the State’s mechanisms, but they have no new political proposals. The PP is sticking to its guns in their promotion of a homogenous, uniforming Spain. Ciudadanos is after the same conservative segment of the electorate, endorsing the same tattered model, and their only nuance is a criticism of the Basque Country’s unique finance system that aims to weaken the PP and be a friendly nod to Spain’s underfunded Mediterranean regions. The PSC’s offerings merely seek to revive Catalonia’s Statute and has proposed a treasury consortium which Spain’s socialist party put on the back burner. Seven years after the Spanish Constitutional Court struck down the Statute, the PSC suggests going back to square one.

Soon we will find out whether the PP opts to solve or stays in devastation mode. It will be easy to ascertain. Now that Barcelona has been ruled out as the new headquarters of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the city will need to revive its economy and will strive to lure new investors and regain some dynamism. It also needs a joint effort to retain talent and opportunities, such as the Mobile World Capital. On this point, it will be interesting to see what Madrid’s first initiatives are, as well as those of the large telecom operators, such as Telefonica. The extent to which they choose to muck in to ensure the success of the Mobile World Congress will be much more revealing than any well-meaning public statement or any words spoken at a political rally. In the last few weeks Catalonia has paid a toll in terms of its reputation, but everyone realises that any stories printed in international media also affect Spain as a whole.

2. A surreal campaign. Tomorrow will see the start of the oddest campaign ever. Anything yellow has become so suspect that a group of elderly ladies aren’t even allowed to walk freely in Mataró and public fountains are not allowed to be lit up in that colour (1). Even worse, any word uttered by a journalist on Catalonia’s public broadcaster is scrutinised and their editorials are censured. The magnitude of the arbitrariness is such that we still don’t know if the main candidates will be allowed to campaign and the Supreme Court’s decision to release them or not has been put off until shortly before the campaign kicks off. Obviously, the judge is perfectly entitled to that, but any delay merely adds to the uncertainty of the detainees and their families, fuelling revenge by some in the news and political spheres.

3. The Catalan government in Belgium projects an unreal image of the political situation. President Puigdemont cannot avoid being encapsulated and the emotion that stems from the injustice he has experienced can fuel a message that is inconsistent with the political temperature in Catalonia. Opinion polls show it will be neck and neck between the two blocs and forming a government will require dedication and flexibility, as snap elections may not be called until after a year following December 21. We will need responsible leaders who are able to see the big picture rather than only their followers, leaders who are limber enough to reach a viable agreement and can find the common denominator that shows us a way to break the current deadlock and gain the public’s renewed trust.

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Translator’s note:

(1) In Catalonia yellow ribbons on people’s lapels (or larger ones displayed anywhere, for that matter) denote support for the release of the political prisoners, and Spain’s Electoral Board has recently ruled that it is unacceptable to hang them on public buildings because it is detrimental to the neutrality of the administration ahead of the December 21 polls.

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