THE OBSERVER

The dilemma

Catalonia is in a state of emergency

The blast was so powerful that it will take a while to see how the positions are being rebuilt, for the wounds to heal, to recover the prisoners and identify the casualties. In spite of the force of the blow dealt by the Spanish state, with the law being used for political ends and a contempt for democracy, and in spite of the multiple errors committed by pro-independence forces, their election victory on 21 December allows the movement to maintain its dignity, while legitimising it. We must not lose sight of the fact that the truly unquestionable achievements of recent years have been spearheaded by public participation, which is the main cause for optimism.

A CHANGE OF PACE. Parliament has opened, taking the first step towards the future, which paradoxically means the recovery of the institutions which were completely taken over as a result of Article 155. The administration is paralysed, too many of the economic actors are expectant, delaying making decisions, while there is an urgent need to form a government and inaugurate a president in order to begin a new chapter that will need to maintain objectives and create more flexible strategies.

The political landscape has confirmed the existence of a pro-independence majority, while also exposing its boundaries and the real danger of a social breakdown. Both the winners and the losers now need to interpret the election results. However, the acceptance on the part of some of the imprisonments and the president’s departure from Catalonia, the collapse of the PP and the Ciudadanos victory will occupy future chapters.

Parliament has opened, thus negotiating its first obstacle and establishing the protagonists’ initial positions. Ernest Maragall gave ERC’s political speech and Roger Torrent its institutional speech, informing JxCat that Puigdemont is the candidate for investiture, while warning that "the government must be effective from the first minute" and, in practice, raising its price for supporting those who are defending positions which maintain the strategy of tension. Relations are not easy between Puigdemont’s complex, scattered team and ERC, which has been thrown out of kilter by the electoral results and the fact that their leader is behind bars. The fact is that their traditional roles seem to have become "reversed", as one of the negotiators calls it, with more questions than answers on both fronts.

Puigdemont is determined to be invested and to govern from Brussels, thus keeping up his struggle with the Spanish state. The legitimacy of the president's votes is unquestionable, but the fact is that the state won’t apply the brakes on the justice system since that is now mostly beyond their control, and the PP, with Ciudadanos breathing down their neck, won’t make any gesture which they feel may weaken them. Experience shows us that in Spain, historically dialogue is always seen as a weakness, as a defeat.

The current dilemma of the parliamentary majority is to make its reading of the election results viable and compatible: the popular mandate for the restitution of the institutions and the president, and the reality of a broad secessionist majority, yet insufficient to stay the course.

There is a broad consensus within the pro-independence parties to argue that Puigdemont is the legitimate president before going on to say that the main objective is to rescue the institutions and that it is down to the electorate’s parliamentary representatives to decide whether an investiture which is not purely symbolic is actually feasible. Puigdemont's circle recognise the difficulties involved in his investiture, but they are fully committed to going through with it "without even considering a plan B, since as soon as one starts to think about it, it starts to come true". The situation is complex and, for certain key actors at this stage, the president in Belgium appears as someone "trapped in a narrative", inside what they define as "the bubble."

EMERGENCY. Catalonia is in a state of emergency. The Spanish state, which is much more than Rajoy’s PP, has shown it is willing to do whatever it takes to destroy self-rule for Catalonia, which it now controls through Article 155, and which it won’t automatically give up.

With Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, Oriol Junqueras and Joaquim Forn unjustly in jail, flagrantly abusing the use of remand, with judicial interlocutory statements that go too far in their interpretations of parliamentary procedure, and the PP more than ever under pressure from Ciudadanos, it is not possible to act in the hope that Spain will change its strategy. The fact that Puigdemont may deserve a parliamentary vote of restitution doesn’t mean that it’s feasible for him to govern from Brussels, or from prison. Symbolic recognition must be separated from the demands of reality. It is unjust, it is democratically repugnant, the PP's behaviour exemplifies exactly what one must distance oneself from in terms of Spanish politics, but now is the time not to repeat mistakes, not to be self-complacent and to save Catalonia’s institutions. The alternative to realism is to continue with the Catalan government being run from Madrid, precisely as it is today.