Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Catalonian Independence, the Enormous Problem that Neither Spain nor the EU Is Willing to Confront and Resolve Democratically, Has Lessons for the US
THE REAL NEWS TODAY IS THAT WHILE THE WASHINGTON SWAMP IS CHASING THE PHANTOMS OF RUSSIAN COLLUSION, EUROPE HAS REAL PROBLEMS. Catalonia is the latest 800-pound gorilla in the European Union ballroom and noboby is offering reasonable ways to deal with it. • • • CATALONIA AGAIN VOTED FOR INDEPENDENCE. "The Local-Spain" wrote on January 8 that although "separatist parties have a majority in the Catalan parliament which should allow them to govern the region," their favored candidate Carles Puigdemont, in self-imposed exile in Belgium, "faces a tough path ahead to return as president." The Local asks : "Will he come back and risk jail for his role in Catalonia's independence drive as former regional president, or will the pro-independence camp pick someone else? • The dilemma arose after three pro-independence groupings won an absolute majority in parliament in elections on December 21 that were called by Madrid to try and end months of turmoil as Catalan leaders attempted to break away from Spain. Puigdemont's 'Together for Catalonia' list got the most seats out of the three parties, which are expected to join forces again, making him the natural candidate for the presidency." Puigdemont's list won 34 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament. Former vice president Oriol Junqueras's ERC party got 32, and the small far-left CUP party won four, giving these pro-independence groupings an absolute majority of 70 seats. But if the leaders in Belgium or his team in Spanish prisons can't officially take their posts, the separatist camp will lose its majority. And, although the independence bloc retained its parliamentary majority in the elections, it again failed to attract an absolute majority in favor of independence, taking 47.7% of the vote. And, the biggest single winner was the center-right unionist Citizens party, which won 37 seats and 25.4% of the vote. • So, Spanish prime minister Rajoy solved nothing by arresting the Catalonian independence leaders and calling for the December elections. • Puigdemont and four of his former ministers who were also re-elected are still in Belgium. They went to Belgium after being deposed by Madrid over a unilateral independence declaration on October 27th when Catalonia's regional parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence from the rest of the country earlier in October, and they are wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Three others, including former vice president Oriol Junqueras, are in jail pending a probe into the same charges. Catalonia's fugitive former president has called for Spanish authorities to open negotiations regarding the restitution of what he calls his "legitimate government." Carles Puigdemont said via social media channels from Brussels after the December election that Spain should "recognize the election results and start negotiating politically with the legitimate government of Catalonia." • In late December, the Spanish Supreme Court rejected a demand by Junqueras to be released from prison, and the court is unlikely to be lenient towards the other separatists in jail, having ruled for Junqueras that there is a risk he would "re-offend as there is no sign that the defendant has any intention of abandoning the route he has followed until now." That pronouncement from the high court means, in practical terms, that those in Belgium are unlikely to come back because they would face immediate arrest. Spain had tried to have Puigdemont extradited from Belgium, but finally withdrew the international arrest warrant after signals from Belgium that Puigdemont's "political' exile would be honored. • • • CATALONIA AND SPAIN HAVE REAL PROBLEMS. A lack of a clear one-party majority, although not normal in European parliamentary-style govenrments, will be a major problem for Puigdemont because he needs to ensure he has allies in the strategic "presidents bureau" of the Catalan parliament, which makes sure assembly rules are respected. This bureau -- its members are voted by parliament -- would have to allow him to present his program to parliament via videolink from Belgium and be elected without being present. And, in order for separatists to keep their majority, at least six out of the eight in Belgium or prison will likely have to renounce their seat and be replaced by others on their list. The other option would be to get the support of the far-left group Catalunya en Comu, which won eight seats and opposes Madrid's policies even if it is against independence. These decisions will have to be taken before January 17th, when the first session of the new Catalan parliament takes place. • Putting these challenges aside, Puigdemont also need to address doubts within his own separatist camp, and particularly among those in Junqueras's ERC party about the unheard of procedures being siscussed. In December, an ERC source told Agence France-Presse -- the international news agency headquartered in Paris that is the third largest news agency in the world, after the AP and Reuters -- that : "We don't know how they (Puigdemont and the elected officials in Belgium) plan to do it, if they will come or not," adding that the videolink option was "strange." ERC is already thought to be considering a "plan B." Enric Juliana, an influential Catalan journalist, in the La Vanguardia daily recently wrote : "The competition between both pro-independence groupings is bigger and bigger." Finally, if Puigdemont manages to overcome the divisions and procedural rules to be re-elected president of Catalonia, how will he govern the region? A source from his party says : "Carles Puigdemont has said that if he is officially nominated, he will come back." But -- won't he immediately be arrested? The source's answer to that is : "If he comes to the door of the Catalan presidency surrounded by 500 mayors who support him, will the Spanish government really arrest him?" And, according to the source : "In any case, if he comes and he is arrested, his term in office ends and there will be new elections in three months." We might note that Spanish news media report that the national police are keeping a close eye on the border with France to see whether Puigdemont attempts to return. • • • A DEAL TO RE-ELECT PUIGDEMONT? The Guardian reported on Wednesday that : "Catalonia’s two largest pro-independence parties have cut a deal that could see Carles Puigdemont re-elected as the region’s president, three months after he fled to Belgium following the Spanish government’s decision to sack him over his role in staging an illegal referendum and unilaterally declaring independence. On Tuesday night Puigdemont’s party, Together for Catalonia, reached an agreement with its former coalition partner, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), to give pro-independence parties a majority on the parliamentary board when the regional assembly sits next week for first time since the secessionist bloc retained its majority in last December’s elections." A spokesman for Puigdemont said that under the pact both parties would “move forward with this new parliamentary term with Puigdemont as the president.” • However, it is unclear exactly how the deal will work in practice as Puigdemont is facing arrest the moment he returns to Spain on possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds relating to the secessionist campaign. An ERC spokeswoman said the party’s legal team was looking into whether Puigdemont could be invested via videoconference or have one of his MPs read the speech that presidential candidates are required to give before voting takes place in the investiture session. The far-left Popular Unity Candidacy, which helped the two larger pro-independence parties secure a majority after previous elections and is adamant that the unilateral push for independence must continue, said it would support the formation of a “republican government.” Junqueras, who has promised to obey the law if he is released on bail, has signalled that he is prepared to take a more moderate approach to independence. Shortly before the election on 21 December, he appeared to hit out at Puigdemont, saying : “I went to prison because I do not hide and I am consistent with my actions.” • Last Thursday, the former Catalan president Artur Mas announced that he was stepping down as leader of his pro-independence PDeCat party -- whose political platform in the election was the Puigdemont-led Together for Catalonia – saying the new stage required new leaders. In what some have seen as a coded warning to Puigdemont, he said : “Throughout my political life I have been guided by one principle : the country first, then the party and, finally, the person.” • The one constant in the Catalonia-Madrid standoff is that the Spanish federal government has been unable to suppress the will of the Catalonion people. Politico Europe wrote on Wednesday : "In last month’s Catalonian parliamentary election, pro-independence parties won the greatest support in their history. There were 113,000 more pro-independence votes than in the previous parliamentary election, in 2015, and 35,000 more votes than in the October 1 referendum on independence. It was, moreover, a record turnout for an election to the parliament of Catalonia. The final count shows support for independence at 2,079,340 votes (almost 180,000 more votes than those won by the constitutionalist bloc). Not only has the threshold of 2 million votes been surpassed, but independence sentiment has been consolidated and continues to grow. These figures serve as a ratification of the results of the October 1 referendum, which was held in highly adverse conditions. On that occasion, the Spanish government’s propaganda disparaged the results, arguing that there had not been sufficient guarantees. Madrid claimed that the census was not official, that the electoral authority was not independent, that the parties opposed to independence refused to take part and that the count hid fraudulent practices." BUT, in spite of the extreme violence deployed by the government to try to prevent Catalans from voting, the results of the October referendum "reflected a true, rigorous and valid opinion," Politico Europe says, adding "The election on December 21 was called by Madrid, with its census, with its electoral authority, its ballot count and its rules of the game. What was the result? More votes for independence than on October 1." Politico is firm on the issue, saying it wants to highlight these figures "because it is on them, and not on propaganda, that one needs to base one’s opinion and make decisions. The results are a total rebuttal of the thesis that the Spanish state has been maintaining and disseminating : that pro-independence sentiment is declining (false) and is in a minority (false). The desire to be free from Madrid is rising, it is in the majority and it is lasting over time, despite the huge difficulties it faces." • The federal Spanish government in Madrid has jailed the independence leaders, forced them into exile to avoid a clearly 'political' imprisonment, and, says Politico Europe : "treated all independence Catalans as part of a dangerous ideology;" and this from a federal Spanish "apparatus that has no qualms about bringing in for questioning teachers who encouraged political debates in secondary schools, about censuring the language used by journalists, about banning banners with the word 'democracy,' and about preventing the proliferation of yellow ribbons symbolizing the demand for the release of the political prisoners....It is worth recalling the large economic and material resources that the three unionist parties had in these elections. To that must be added the shameful bias of the vast majority of Spanish media, which swept aside any semblance of neutrality and devoted its efforts -- without compunction -- to the promotion of the candidates of Ciudadanos, the Socialist Party and the Popular Party. Under such conditions -- having to take part in election rallies from Brussels and to send letters from behind bars -- the pro-independence victory is far more than just an electoral success. It is the confirmation that this is a very powerful movement capable of withstanding dire hardships." • • • THE EU FLUNKS THE 'SMELL' TEST. These popular and pro-democratic Catalans and their leaders should be at least recognized for what they a are -- the voice of a people, always on the edge of the Spanish federal system, with their own language, laws and culture dating from the Roman period. This calls for attention and respect, but neither has been offered by the Spanish government or the European Union. The desire for Catalan independence is a real movement of European citizens expressed in a democratic and peaceful way. • Reality is what it is. Madrid would like it to be something else. Prime Minister Rajoy has been thinking and acting just the same after the December 21 vote as before. Is it really true that he couldn’t care less about the results, because they were not what he wanted? Since December 21, the Spanish government has been reluctant to acknowledge the voting results or to accept the defeat of its repressive strategy. Rajoy, with the support of the federal parliament, is keeping in force the suspension of autonomy, the sacking of the Catalan government and the measures of absolute intervention in Catalonia's self-government. It refuses to explain why it continues to hold 'poliitcal' prisoners, or why it has not opened a single channel of dialogue with the Catalonian majority coalition. • Some of Europe’s leaders continue to remain silent in the face of an EU member-state government that does not accept the results of a free and fair election. It is disappointing but not surprising that the EU continues to side unconditionally with the Spanish government -- the EU governing elites are incapable of solving a problem (consider Greece). And, Catalonia is a real, escalating problem that will not go away with police brutality, imprisonment, exile and prohibitions. • How can the EU allow, without comment, a Spanish prime minister -- Mariano Rajoy -- to denounce as "absurd" the idea that ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont could govern from Belgium where he is in self-imposed exile to avoid arrest. It is Rajoy's actions that put Puigdemont in Brussels. How can the EU allow, without comment, Rajoy to announce that a vote to choose a new Catalan president would take place within 10 days after the new regional parliament reconvenes on January 17, while he refuses to talk with or grant freedom to Puigdemont or his imprisoned government co-leaders? • While the EU is silent and Rajoy continues to spout repressive commentary, even Japan Today noted on December 31 that Catalonia's fugitive former president has called for Spanish authorities to open negotiations regarding the restitution of what he calls his "legitimate government." • American Thinker on December 28 called it "Befuddlement in Catalonia." Mike Konrad's article is counter-independence despite his declaration, but it is interesting, and you can read it at < http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2017/12/befuddlement_in_catalonia.html#ixzz52ZagXXkY >. Konrad writes : "I am neither in favor of nor against Catalonia's independence. The recent turn of elections, where the independentistas won a majority of seats in the parliament, has proven nothing. What does remain is an absolute amazement at the incompetence of Iberian government on all sides at all levels. Aggravating this are remarkable levels of fake news....One gets a sense of provocations from the central Madrid authorities akin to the Intolerable Acts that led to the American Revolution." • But, says Konrad : "The Founders would never have started the Revolution with the low support base [a questionable conclusion] seen in Catalonia. The American Revolution was a bottom-up operation, where the leaders reflected the will of the people." Konrad believes both sides in the" Catalan standoff are incompetent : "The amount of corruption in both Madrid and Barcelona is appalling, and this crisis is being manipulated by both sides to hide it....The incompetence of Barcelona is perfectly matched by Prime Minister Rajoy, who must have been out of his mind to order another election and to expect better results. Prime Minister Rajoy's People's Party (Partido Popular) lost most of its seats in the Thursday [Catalan] election, dropping from 11 to 3....What Spain will do now is anybody's guess. The independentistas have won a "questionable" victory, but not a mandate. Prime Minister Rajoy has suffered a major defeat. Neither side has a true appreciation for democracy; rather, both show a willingness to manipulate results." • I think Konrad misses the point because he expects clearcut results in the fashion of the US constitutional voting system. Europeans have parliamentary systems that almost always produce governing coalitions -- Chancellor Merkel has been a strong leader for 10 years, but she never gets more than about 38% for her own CDU party, so she forms a coalition. BUT, Konrad does reach one very accurate conclusion : "What we see is a European tendency for leaders to manipulate the electorate rather than lead the stirrings of popular will." Konrad cites examples -- the independentistas should have waited for another generation of language education to take hold so that the unionists could have been won over to a Catalan sensibility; the European fake press whose news sources are incredibly biased one way or the other, with this Euro paper or that Euro news site delivering only half the story with no substantial explanation." • However, the Washington Post wrote that : "With a record-breaking turnout of more than 80%, Catalans dealt Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, a major setback as the secessionist leaders stood poised to return to power in Barcelona, among them former regional president Carles Puigdemont, now in exile in Brussels....Voters packed polling stations to pick a new legislature and to answer an old and bitterly divisive question : Did they back leaders who wanted to remain a part of Spain or seek independence? Catalonia's secessionist parties won a slim majority...[and] were set to claim 70 seats in the regional parliament with those numbers, giving them a majority in the 135-seat chamber. The unionists and other parties would likely take 65 seats. The secessionists won that many seats thanks to an electoral-college-style system that gives added weight to votes cast in less populated areas -- the traditional strongholds of Catalan nationalist identity. The system is intended to balance out the populated urban areas with rural communities, thus affording parliamentary representation to regional groups even though they might lack a popular majority." The WP looks askance at that, probably because it is Leftist as are all the parties contending in Spain, and Americans might criticize, but the House of Representatives and the Senate do the same thing -- with the House representing population while the Senate gives an equal voice to every state. Switzerland uses a similar vote weighting system to keep the geographically scattered majority of the population, outside Geneva and Zurich, from being overwhelmed. • Marta Rovira, the leader of the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left, said the secessionist bloc’s showing demonstrated that “the citizens of Catalonia, the majority, voted for the republic.” She asked the prime minister : “Mr. Mariano Rajoy, are you going to sit at a table as we always asked you and begin to negotiate? Are you going to abolish the 155?” Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish constitution was the tool Rajoy deployed, for the first time ever, to dissolve the rebellious regional legislature, take over the Catalan government and call snap elections. Puigdemont warned at the time : “Europe has to take note. Rajoy’s remedies are not working. If he doesn’t change, we are going to change the country faster than even we thought possible.” • The Washington Post hit on another key point : "It was not only the Spanish government that sought to stop the secessionists. Most of Spain and its powerful business groups [Catalonia with its Barcelona is the economic engine of Spain] oppose an independent Catalonia. European leaders, too, have made clear they would not recognize an independent Catalonia and want the matter settled and the situation returned to 'constitutional normalcy,' as Rajoy put it." • • • THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION. Politico Europe wrote on November 13, 2017, that : "The only reasonable way out of Spain’s current crisis over Catalonia is a new constitution. Recognizing both the right to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity would lay the foundation for peaceful coexistence between Catalan separatists and Spanish unionists. The 1978 Spanish constitution resulted from an agreement between very diverse ideological and territorial interests. After the death of General Francisco Franco, the Spanish nationalist right was exhausted and unable to sustain an authoritarian regime that had isolated Spain from Europe and was rejected by the large majority of the population. Dissidents from liberal, social democratic and communist factions recognized that they couldn’t pursue their political agendas without first setting up democratic rules and institutions that allowed for the expression of political and social plurality, as was already the case in neighboring European countries. For Catalans and Basques, this also meant creating a framework for a progressive recovery of self-rule. The constitution approved in 1978 reflects the compromises made by each of these parties. It was an ambiguous and rhetorical text, but it was also sufficiently balanced to provide some degree of institutional stability for almost 40 years. The economic crisis, the emergence of widespread corruption scandals and the conflict with Catalonia have finally shed light on its severe dysfunctions. It’s now become painfully apparent that Spain needs a new constituent process in order to establish more transparent, democratic and efficient institutions." History, says Politico Europe : "shows that a centralized Spain can only be sustained under an authoritarian regime that would place the country outside the democratic norms of the European Union. Madrid’s suspension of Catalan political autonomy and the imprisonment of the regional government is clearly a breach of the 1978 constitutional agreement. The fact that these steps were taken in coordination with the country’s high courts is a definite sign of Spain’s lack of essential separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers." • It is also a sign of the Spanish nationalist movement that wants to abolish all separate regional rights -- the problem with this is that the current authoritarian federal govenrment would only have to become even more authoritarian. • Politico Europe says both sides will be forced to make concessions to reach an agreement, as they did in 1978, with -- the recognition that Catalans, like any other people, enjoy a right to self-determination under international law that it is explicitly incorporated into the Spanish constitution so that the vast majority of Catalans can feel integrated and recognized as consensual subjects by Spain, with a new constitutional agreement that offers guarantees to all those Catalans and Spaniards who legitimately aspire to preserve the territorial integrity of the current state. The recognition of the right to self-determination should be accompanied by a law of clarity -- along the lines of the 2000 Clarity Act of Canada that makes it difficult in practice to secede. It could demand, for example, that an independence referendum must obtain two-thirds of the votes or a majority of the census before the territory in question can effectively become independent. In this way, the right to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity, the two basic pillars of the right of secession, would be guaranteed. That would force Spain’s central institutions and demographic majorities to respect and seek stable agreements with devolved authorities like the Catalan government. Equally, making it difficult to access independence without a broad consensus of the territory’s population would force those authorities to seek stable agreements with central institutions, discouraging them from pursuing unilateral solutions." • This would have been good idea 10 years ago. Now, the wheels of independence are rolling in Catalonia and if the new parliamant led by the secessionists under Puigdemont wants to revisit the Spanish Constitution, that would be a different and secondary issue, led by an independent, if outlawed by Spain and the EU, Catalonia. • • • DEAR READERS, Catalonia is a mess, in every sense of the word. Both sides are to some extent manipulative. Rajoy's government is corrupt. The October and December elections and their aftermaths prove little except that the European Union's concept of 'democracy' has never even risen to the level of the legendarily corrupt Tammany Hall. Tammany, at least, knew how to sense the public mood and when to back off. Yet, despite the EU and Madrid's positions, the Catalonian majority and their leaders remain open to negotiation. That is as much a sign of their strength and democratic ideals as it is a sign of the weakness and undemocratic impulses of the Spanish govenrment and the EU. If the EU were worthy of its claims of "greater union" and democracy for all, it would convince Madrid that what is needed is dialogue, negotiation and agreement on the future relationship Catalans want to have with Spain -- one based on respect, recognition, cooperation and equality. But, the unelected EU apparatus is too weak and frightened to do that. It sees the looming shadows of Corsica, the Basque country, Perpignan and Brittany in France, and the whole of eastern Europe, watching and waiting for their turns to leap into the arms of democracy by escaping from the viciously undemocratic, autocratic grip of the EU. • There is a lesson here for America. The time for responsible political leaders to sit down and negotiate important decisions about healthcare, immigration, the size of govenrment and the role of the states vis-à-vis the behemoth that the federal government has become -- decisions that are supported by the American people -- is urgently now -- not later when the sides, if indeed they are not already, are so polarized that negotiations are carried out over barricades and autocratic decisions risk being imposed on unwilling and unaccepting citizens who fight back.