October 4, 2017. The then president of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, gave an institutional response to King Felipe VI’s speech of the previous day, in which the monarch aligned himself with the Moncloa’s repressive approach. Three days earlier, Spanish security forces dealt violently with voters during the October 1 referendum, leading the major European capitals and institutions to condemn such acts of police brutality. It was in this context that Puigdemont opened the door to Catalonia’s participation in an international mediation process in conjunction with Spain, while declaring: "We have received several offers in the last couple of hours, and we will receive more. All of them are well-aware of my willingness to engage in a mediation process". According to sources close to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed at the time by Raül Romeva, the Catalan government were aware of at least twenty such offers. Nevertheless, all of them, were greeted with the same response from Mariano Rajoy’s government: a closed door.
According to these same sources, the offers were actively pursued or received via governmental, parliamentary, diplomatic and personal channels, with most of them attempting to proceed discreetly. Some, however, occurred shortly after Puigdemont’s speech. On October 6, the local radio station RTS revealed that the Swiss federal Department of Foreign Affairs was preparing to arrange talks between the Catalan and Spanish governments and that the Swiss authorities were "in contact with both parties" in order to make it happen. The sources explained that, before the news broke, the Swiss government had privately offered Alfonso Dastis, at the time the Spanish Foreign Minister, the possibility of organizing the dialogue between the Catalan government and the Spanish state. The format was to be similar to that which was used during negotiations regarding ETA: with the two parties meeting in a hotel for talks in the presence of an independent mediator. The same sources insist that the minister declined any kind of interaction and reprimanded his counterpart for having proposed it.
According to well-informed sources, a similar pattern was repeated in the case of the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Sweden, and even Uruguay. The Moncloa rejected, directly or indirectly, offers from each of these countries to play an active role in talks between Catalonia and Spain. Meanwhile, on October 7, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke directly to Mariano Rajoy, urging him to seek "possible means to strengthen internal dialogue in Spain", as confirmed at the time by a spokesperson for the German government. Sources suggest that on October 20 the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met in private with the German business community at the Círculo Ecuestre in Barcelona and was subsequently briefly seen there with a high-ranking official from Romeva’s ministry. Gabriel expressed his interest in finding a negotiated solution with Spain, while also acknowledging Spain’s reluctance to engage in any form of mediation.
According to the information obtained by ARA, other countries made known to the Catalan government their readiness to function as mediators if the Moncloa were willing. Aside from governments, attempts were also made by groups within various European parliaments that were sympathetic to Catalonia’s plight: MPs from Estonia, Switzerland, Finland and the United Kingdom sent letters to the Spanish government, which suffered the same fate as the other attempts.
Faced with the Moncloa’s refusal to hold talks, no European institution decided to take the initiative. The European Commission's (EC) response to a request from the Catalan Foreign Ministry to act as an intermediary is proof of this state of affairs. On October 13, the president of the EC, Jean-Claude Juncker, declared in Luxembourg that he would not participate in any mediation since it would lead to "more chaos" in the European Union (EU), though he added that "only one side", the Catalan, had requested it. According to sources consulted by ARA, the Commission told Romeva’s ministry, with whom it was in contact via its Barcelona office, that it was subject to diplomatic pressure from the Spanish government.
Another ultimately unsuccessful avenue was taken by the European Council and the Council of Europe. According to sources, on October 9 Dastis travelled to Strasbourg to meet with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, to make clear the Rajoy government’s refusal to accept European mediation. The following day, Puigdemont declared Catalonia’s independence in Parliament before immediately suspending it in the hope of securing international involvement, a move Jagland had already ruled out before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that very day. At a higher diplomatic level, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached the United Nations via the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Spain also turned them down.
Annan, Prodi, Powell
The Moncloa’s door was closed to everyone, even those who tried individually or via an organisation: one attempt which caused a stir was the dialogue initiated by The Elders, a group which included the former UN Secretary-Generals Kofi Annan -who died the following August- and Ban Ki Moon. According to sources, both also offered to mediate in an individual capacity. In Italy, Romano Prodi, in conjunction with Piero Fassino and Vittorio Craxi became involved, holding a meeting with Romeva on October 4. The minister also spoke with the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams on two occasions. Other individuals who were willing to mediate in talks were former Austrian President Heinz Fischer and the renowned British mediator Jonathan Powell.
All the offers obtained an identical outcome: the Spanish government’s refusal thanks to it seeing the mere possibility of holding talks with the Catalan government as a defeat. October 27 arrived and every offer of help had been rejected. And the rest is history: a failed unilateral declaration of independence and repression involving political prisoners and people in exile.
The president’s hope in Tusk
When on October 10, 2017, Carles Puigdemont suspended the declaration of independence immediately after having proclaimed it, Donald Tusk, the European Council President began to be mentioned in parliamentary circles. The leader of the Catalan government had appealed for mediation, and Tusk seemed the right man for the job, since a few hours earlier he had called on Puigdemont to call off the unilateral declaration: "I beg you as a man who knows what it means to be on the receiving end of the police’s truncheons. As someone who understands the arguments and emotions on both sides. A few days ago I asked Mariano Rajoy to search for solutions without recourse to the use of force". There was even talk of a possible phone call between Tusk and Puigdemont that the Catalan leader himself denied some months later. However, the leader who is now in exile continues to see Tusk as the ideal person to mediate in the independence process, as he explained in his book Escolta, Europa [Listen, Europe] (La Campana). Tusk’s inner circle rejected any possibility of being a partner between Catalonia and Spain, and encouraged them to find a solution involving dialogue "within the Constitution".