FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Catalonia is the Key to Spain’s Current Political Deadlock

by

shutterstock_174624104

Barcelona.

176: This is the magic number in Spanish politics. Half+1 members of Congress, which is a 350-seat semicircle now plagued with as many as 12 different political groups. Or even 15, if you dare to count in the three regional-based confluences finally included within the Podemos “Confederal” brand that couldn’t struck a deal to obtain a separate group of their own.

Spain used to be a game of two. The Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) would often rely on regional-based forces such as Convergència i Unió (CiU) in Catalonia to secure comfortable majorities either to the right or to the left. Jordi Pujol, president of Catalonia for 23 years and indisputable leader of CiU, was celebrated as a key negotiator and even named “Spanish Man of the Year” in 1993 by conservative newspaper ABC.

Yet these times are long gone. Jordi Pujol is facing trial for alleged corruption and has vanished from the political arena, while his former coalition Convergència i Unió doesn’t even exist as such anymore. Many Catalans have turned their eyes to independence, and the Republican Left (ERC) and Democràcia i Llibertat (DiL, a coalition that engulfed part of the former CiU) are their new fierce representatives. They won’t settle for less than a Scotland-like self-determination referendum.

And –hence the key– they hold 17 seats in Congress.

With a downsized PP that won last December 20’s general election with 122 seats only, the game of power has become a nightmare that may well soon lead to a snap election. Under Spain’s political system, Congress appoints the President by absolute majority – or by relative majority on a second vote that takes place 48 hours later.

Yet, the sum of PP and the new centre-right party Ciudadanos (163 seats) or PSOE plus the number of leftist coalitions under the umbrella of Podemos (159 seats) simply don’t add up. Now, add the 17 pro-independence MPs in the equation: The centre-right coalition would reach 180 votes, whereas the leftist pact would also get to the magic number of 176.

What do any of both blocks need to unlock ERC and DiL’s votes? Probably setting a realistic calendar for a self-determination referendum would be enough. The United Kingdom and Canada did it, why can’t Spain do the same?

To begin with, Spain can’t for the same reason PP and PSOE can’t seem to be able to struck a deal. “Compromise” is a rare word in Spanish politics. Actually, it doesn’t even have a valid Spanish translation, like John Carlin recently pointed out at El País newspaper. The unity of Spain, and even the existence of different cultural nations within Spain, is a taboo in Spanish politics. To admit that Spain is a plurinational state is seen as a threat to the Spanish nation and the possible beginning of its dissolution. The fact is, monarchs and dictators have not missed any effort over centuries to reassure the “Grand Spanish nation”, as Felipe VI only recently called his Spaniards in his Christmas-speech.

When the Second World War ended, European democrats won over Mussolini and Hitler, but not in Spain, where dictator Francisco Franco held on to power for 40 years. When Franco died in 1975, the Franco’s entourage realized that the only way to guarantee their control over Spain was to make a treaty with democrats. The Spanish Transition allowed for a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward the military and high level bureaucrats, while guaranteeing impunity to judges and politicians. (f.ex. Franco’s Minister Manuel Fraga Irribarne became the president of Alianza Popular, the predecessor of today’s ruling Popular Party).

Having been oppressed for so long, the democrats embraced the chance and voted massively in favour of a brand new constitution. A parliamentary monarchy and a vaguely regionalist “Estado de las Autonomías” were installed (not only for Catalonia and Basque Country but for every region) and maybe there was indeed a chance of becoming the state Spain could have been.

However, as opinion polls have consistenly shown, many Spaniards hadn’t refused Franco’s principles and much less the absolutist concept of “only one big nation”. It is 2016, and the Spanish Parliament keeps on blocking any official statement against Franco. Post-Franco bureaucrats made sure Madrid would keep all checks in order by setting up a regionalist system where the regions get to spend only what the central government allows for, as there is no decentralisation in tax collection. Actually, the Autonomies may have turned out as a clever strategy to wane Catalan and Basque nations among all the rest of Autonomous Regions.

Difficulties to find a real federal accommodation that would have respected the Catalans will and therein allow for a conflict-free accommodation within Spain became evident when the politically appointed Constitutional Court dramatically cut back the Catalan Autonomous Statute in 2010.

What is federalism? German scholar Walter Rudolf defined federalism as “a compromise between two extremes”. Yet, compromise is precisely what Spanish politics seem neither able nor willing to reach. Compromise would mean to recognize Catalonia’s parliament as an equal political player to Spain’s.

To be fair, leader of Podemos and professor of politics Pablo Iglesias recognises the “plurinational reality” of Spain and the need for a self-determination referendum in Catalonia as the only way to make Spain progress.

Yet, neither PSOE, PP nor Ciutadanos consider this option. In the last election campaign, they indeed mentioned a potential modification of the Constitution but most probably into the opposite direction: All of them clearly refused any asymmetric federal solution for the Catalan conflict. Actually, PP and C’s campaigned for the thinning of regional administration – hence a stronger centralisation. So, no matter what Podemos thinks, the fact is that true reforms of the Constitution to fit Catalonia into Spain, which require at least 2/3 of the votes in Congress plus popular referendums etcetera, seem impossible.

Now, the key votes of the pro independence Catalan MPs in the Spanish Parliament have now an unusual role. They won’t support left (PSOE) or the right (PP, Ciudadanos). They are in Madrid to negotiate a referendum and, if necessary, a win-win transition towards independence.

If nobody is going to be willing to compromise with them, Spain may be heading for a snap election and more instability.

Who’s to blame?

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail