Spain Constitutional Reform Trial Balloon: Bona Fide or Headfake to Split Catalonia?

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The Financial Times reports tonight that some members of the Popular Party and its opposition, the PSOE, the Socialists, are trying to find a more durable solution to the standoff in Catalonia via constitutional reform. But is this just a ploy to discredit the separatists if they continue with their plan to declare independence?

The current state of play is that the leader of Catalonia’s movement, Carles Puigdemont and other members of parliament signed a declaration of independence, which was then suspended in the hope that Spain’s government would be willing to entertain negotiations. But this gambit was never likely to succeed. Spain has repeatedly acted to check the separatists, first via obtaining a Constitutional court ruling declaring an independence referendum to be illegal, then using that as the basis for a crackdown. The King’s fierce denunciation of the separatists was another sign that Madrid would cut them no slack. Prime Minister Rajoy has kept the pressure on by demanding that the separatists either follow through with their threat or retreat by insisting that the need to take a position on whether they are independent or not by next Monday, again making clear he has no interest in negotiating.

While the press has focused on the physical steps to prevent the election, such as seizing ballots and having the Guardia Civil rough up citizens trying to vote and make arrests, even more significant was that Spain intervened in Catalonia’s accounts. Spain used the banks that handle Catalonia’s accounts to prevent payments to be made to support the election. That was one reason why more ballots were not printed. Having Spain insert itself in what Catalonia can and cannot pay for is a significant infringement upon its autonomy. It was arguably kosher because the action was taken pursuant to enforcing the Constitutional court ruling. But with this precedent having been set, and the mechanism for control already in place, it would appear that Catalonia’s wings have already been clipped.

So why, if the Spanish government has held to a hard line on the separatist movement in Catalonia, and Rajoy has made clear that he will invoke Article 155 and assert control over Catalonia if it decides to act on its declaration of independence, are some members of the Spanish government making conciliatory noises?

I welcome input from readers in Spain, since the situation is fluid and some elements of the political calculus may have changed in the last few days. However, I see a rumor about an incipient plan to reform the Constitution to address the question of regional independence, as an inspired political move to further weaken the separatists.

If the separatists proceed with their declaration of independence despite the fact that pre-election polls showed that only a minority backed a referendum if Spain opposed it, it insulates the central government from looking heavy-handed if it resorts to Article 155. Rajoy’s allies can claim that there was a plan in motion to address the separatists’ concerns, but something of such magnitude cannot be done overnight. As with the referendum, they showed they had no respect for the rule of law or the rights of other Spanish citizens, including the large number in Catalonia who either opposed the independence movement, had reservations as to how the separatists were going about it or had more limited demands for autonomy.

Key sections from the Financial Times story:

Just as Catalonia’s secession crisis threatened to tip Spain over the edge this week, a handful of government and opposition politicians in Madrid met in secret to find a formula for breaking the deadlock.

Mariano Rajoy, prime minister and leader of the conservative Popular party, and Pedro Sánchez, leader of the opposition Socialists, instructed their representatives to draw up a plan for overcoming the crisis by means of a reform of Spain’s 1978 constitution.

It is an ambitious initiative.

Perhaps I am unduly cynical, but the “It is an ambitious initiative” when it isn’t even that yet is a tell that if anything were to move forward, the excuses for it failing or merely tidying up some ambiguous bits of the Constitution are already being planted. Similarly, knowing who was tasked to this initiative would also help give an indication as to its seriousness.

Note that even before this rumor was planted (and this story has the marks of a plant as opposed to a leak), Puidgemont’s hold on power was already tenuous. The hard left CUP party is part of Puidgemont’s coalition and holds ten seats he needs. The CUP is already at odds with Puidgement for not following through on his promise to declare independence after the referendum vote was made official. As a different article in the Financial Times points out:

“If Puigdemont publicly shies away from independence, the CUP might decide to pull the plug from the alliance that is keeping the pro-independence movement in power,” says Antonio Barroso, analyst at Teneo Intelligence. “On the other hand, if he remains ambiguous or says Catalonia is independent, Rajoy will use this to justify the next steps to be taken under Article 155 of the constitution . . . either way there could be new regional elections.”

with that background, the promise, even if it is an empty one, of Constitutional reform, both increased the pressure on Puidgemont’s shaky coalition and also weakens the separatists if new elections were held by offering what may be the false promise of a “moderate” compromise.

As we’ve pointed out, Catalonia is certain not to get the devolved power it most desperately wants, which is that of control of tax collection. The Basque region has that authority, which means on a practical level that its budget comes first and remittances to Spain come second. I hope readers will tell me of other powers that Catalonia would like to have. My assumption is they all pale compared to this one.

But the Basque area is small enough in economic terms that Madrid could afford the loss of some tax revenue in the name of keeping the peace. That’s not at all the case with Catalonia.

So even if Rajoy has decided it’s in his interest to placate the separatists, his idea of what is reasonable to give them is likely to fall considerably short of what they want.

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  1. Fazal Majid

    At the very least, to avoid contagion spreading to the Basques by making the Catalan nationalists seem unreasonable.

  2. RabidGandhi

    The reason PP are now moving for the constitutional reform is that it is part of a compromise with PSOE: PP will allow a commission to study the constitutional reform that PSOE wants, and PSOE will not block PP in the senate in a potential exercise of Art. 155 CE against Catalonia.

    Rajoy’s notification to Puigdemont on Wednesday basically told him to clarify Barcelona’s position by this coming Monday: if you are declaring independence we will execute A. 155 and Madrid will take over control of the Catalán Government. The measures under A.155 would have to go through the Senate, not the Council of Ministers, so Rajoy covered his family blog by first assuring PSOE’s support. PSOE has supported the repression of the referendum and has basically backed the government’s hard line, but with slightly conciliatory cosmetics.

    Constitutional reform has been on PSOE’s agenda since at least 2013. If you ask PSOE, it’s because they want to amend Art.135 CE to “lock-in” protections for the welfare state. If you ask PP, it’s because PSOE want to configure the autonomic system more to the advantage of PSOE held regions.

    1. Ruben

      I think you are confusing the method with the reason. The method is through a deal with PSOE, but the reason of the trial balloon about constitutional reform is to please EU apparatchiks. As remarked yesterday by former Catalan leader, also pro-independence, Artur Mas, any valid independence should have external recognition. Current Catalan leader Puigdemont has already pleased EU apparatchiks by not declaring independence with immediate effect.

      1. RabidGandhi

        I’m not sure I follow your logic. Are you saying that Puigdemont has worked to appease EU apparatchiks, so PP countered with an EU appeasement of their own?

        1. Ruben

          Exactly. I say that is the reason for the trial balloon. It is not sincere, it is a maneuver to appease the EU.

          In related news, today Juncker was not entirely friendly to the Spanish gov’t. He revealed that for a long time he has told Mr. Rajoy that he had to do something to avoid things spiraling out of control. He also said that the EU will not mediate unless both parts request such mediation and that he did not want Catalonya to become independent because that would encourage other separatist movements.

          Spaniards and Catalans elites are facing each other but they also spend an inordinate amount of time turning to look at the EU.

          1. RabidGandhi

            Frankly, that’s rather speculative. Certainly there could be ulterior motives behind the call for constitutional reform. As I noted above, partisan pundits in Spain even disagree on why PSOE want to reform the constitution. But ulterior motives are had to substantiate because they’re, well… ulterior.

            That said, note the gradualism of what was agreed. In the coming days a committee will begin work on evaluating how the autonomic system is functioning. They will then spend six months hearing from experts. Then, a debate will be held on reforming the constitution. Then and only then will the process begin of drafting and voting on changes. Therefore, it is in no way clear that the Constitution will actually be replaced or amended.

            In short, I don’t see why EU apparatchiks would be hugely swayed one way or another by this.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            The problem is Juncker says a lot of things. He sometimes is representing EU positions, sometimes stating EU piques that don’t add up to much, and sometimes (too often) is just shooting his mouth off.

            1. Basil Pesto

              In light of what I’ve explained below and elsewhere, I’ve actually become increasingly astonished that the EU and other institutions haven’t come out more forcefully against the Catalan government. In fact, having just brought up South Ossetia below, I looked up their case and the difference in reaction is stark. Whereas most institutions (rightly) condemned the police violence on 1-O, there has been relatively little comment about legitimacy. Contrast with these reactions. The Council of Europe vehemently condemned the South Ossetia referendum but only condemned the violence and not the referendum itself in Spain, despite it being in contravention of its own suggested guidelines for good referendum conduct!

              Although interestingly, the EU’s reaction in South Ossetia via its Special Rep was somewhat muted as well.

              I’d put forward two possible reasons for the EU’s understated reaction:
              (1) opening themselves to accusations of hypocrisy, damaging their credibility
              (2) Because of austerity, they are making a decision not to interfere too much. It’s a bit like when two people are arguing with each other, then a third party butts in, and the original two parties turn against the third. If the EU takes a strong position, Spain and Catalunya might both then say “[family blog] you, mind your own business, you’re why we’re in this mess in the first place”. It probably suits the EU for the moment if the Catalans continue to believe that the poor economic situation they’re enduring is predominantly the central government’s fault, and not theirs.

    2. Sue

      PP holds a majority large enough in the Senate to get 155 through without anyone else’s help. Nevertheless, it adds legitimization & political strenght to gather support from PSOE and Ciudadanos, support which by the way is very easy to obtain from those two parties. As a matter of fact, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera has been asking for 155 application for weeks now.

    3. Sue

      For a monarchy, for a monarch, everything is ceremonial and full of symbolism. A very importan component of a prince upbringing until becomes king is based on that. Let me remind you that when Felipe VI addressed the nation the painting behind his chair was one of his ancestors, who banned the Catalan language and ruled over the Catalans with an iron fist. Remember also that the founder of the current ruling party PP, was Manuel Fraga Iribarne. Mr Fraga Iribarne was Franco’s minister and he is well known for having publicly stated that ” I recommend to bomb the city of Barcelona every fifty years or so”

      1. Yan

        Pray tell which one of the current bourbon’s ancestors banned catalan?
        Also, the quote you attribute to Fraga is actually from Espartero (attributed, not confirmed). From 1842.

        The absolute carelessness in historical or even cultural precision regarding Spain and the different nationalist movements has been an issue since at Hemingway, who only saw the front lines of the bars and bullrings.
        And it begs repeating: 2 out of the 7 “fathers of the constitution” in Spain were Catalan. One of them, Miquel Roca represented the nationalists and negotiated not to have direct taxation in catalunya because they thought they would be better off. Which they were. Until the Euro and the crisis.

        1. Sue

          The quote is not from Espartero. Espartero bombed Barcelona but did not say that. Please, see my other post below.
          The monarch I referred to was Charles III, son of the first Bourbon King of Spain

  3. The Rev Kev

    A few idle thoughts on this mess from an idle fellow. I suppose everybody here has heard of how when frogs are placed in a cooking pot and the water’s temperature is brought up gradually, that the frogs never catch on until it is too late and are boiled to death. But what if the frogs do catch on? What if they wake up to what is happening and decide to jump for it while they can? Maybe this is what is at work in different countries the past several years. A few examples.
    The British are in this class. They signed up for an economic union back in the 1970s but in the 90s saw the imposition of a political union as well. What got their back fur up was the fact that there was nothing democratic about this new order but was the formation of a small number of elites into a highly paid, unaccountable, tone-deaf autocracy. Referendums were ignored or held repeatedly until the people got the ‘right’ result. Ad hoc punishments were levied on countries (eg. Greece), emigrations quotas were being established on countries that had absolutely no say in the process. When the British had their chance in the Brexit vote they took it. Yeah, there is gunna be a lot of pain and chaos but I think that the people who voted leave had a good idea of what life promised to be like by the middle of the century in the EEC. Hint – democracy would not be a part of it.
    The Kurdistan situation I do not think falls into this class. It is more of a mob boss, aided by Israel (who receives the oil Kurdistan ships) and the US (for geopolitical reasons) making a land and oil grab to put himself at the top of the local food chain. Perhaps he even dreams of being the first President of a Kurdistan made up of the Kurds from Iraq, Syria, Iran & Turkey. Hint – not gunna happen but a lot of people are going to suffer in the meantime. I do not think that the Kurds are really being supported in any case. I note in the battle fotos in Raqqa that the Kurd fighters seem not to have been supplied with body armour. If they were really being supported, would that not have been a priority in modern warfare?
    As to the Catalonians I am not sure as it depends on who their leaders are. I have come to agree with Yves’s analysis that they should have had all their ducks lined up before all this started and ready to go but a lot of this seems to be a reaction on a ad hoc basis (yeah, go big or go home!). Looking on a map, I can see Spain’s worries. Catalonia lies on the border between Spain and France. What if the Catalonians imposed transit fees or threatened to hold up commercial traffic down the track. What if, gasp, they invited the Russians or Chinese to set up a naval base in Barcelona. Too many questions remained unresolved for this to be over any time soon. What I will say is that the Spanish central government had been taking back powers from Catelonia using the supreme court as their tool for this. I think that the Catalonians, like the pre-Brexit British, they saw which ways things were going and decided to make a stand which started this whole mess.

    1. Basil Pesto

      As to the Catalonians I am not sure as it depends on who their leaders are. I have come to agree with Yves’s analysis that they should have had all their ducks lined up before all this started and ready to go

      It’s more than a matter of having all their ducks lined up though, it’s completely cynical behaviour. it’s actually comical how the Catalan gov’t has behaved, if it weren’t so insidious to see how they have successfully manipulated public opinion, and illustrated how poorly people understand how democracies work.

      Here is the Catalan referendum act, handily translated into English. The argumentation in the opening of the Act is fundamentally dishonest. The reasons for this are suggested in yesterday’s article on NC and I give a more precise legal argument here.

      Beyond that, the act is really a pisstake. It is, for instance, 20 pages long in English. By way of comparison, here is the Scottish Independence Act 2013 which weighs in at 159 pages. The Catalan Act makes a lot of the right noises but it’s not even commensurate with what happened on 1-O. The referendum breached the rules outlined in the Generalitat’s own dodgy legislation to initiate it! For instance, it mentioned the Electoral Commission of Catalonia 75 times. This Commission was created by the Generalitat BY the 2017 Referendum Act. So it only came into being on Sept 7, from what I can tell. The act says it is to be an independent, impartial body etc (fat chance). the Referendum Act gives it many duties in relation to the referendum. In that Spanish CC ruling I linked to above, this is what it says regarding the Commission, which it translates as Electoral Union or Electoral Syndicate:

      It is also agreed to personally notify this resolution to the members (incumbents and alternates) of the electoral union of Catalonia. To all of them he warns them of their duty to “prevent or paralyze any initiative that involves ignoring or avoiding the agreed suspension”. In particular, they must abstain “from proceeding with the appointment of members of electoral demarcation syndicates, the creation of any register and / or file necessary for the holding of the self-determination referendum and any act and / or action in application of article 18 of Law 19/2017, as well as initiate, process, inform or dictate any agreement in order to execute the provisions contained in the law of the referendum, or to promote or prostate any rules directed to that purpose. They are warned of “the radical nullity” of the actions they carry out and “of possible responsibilities, including criminal, in which they could incur in case of disobedience of said requirement.”

      Now, if the Electoral Commission were independent and impartial, what reason would they have for disobeying the Spanish Constitutional Court? Moving on though, the CC began fining the members of the Commission on a daily basis. The Commission dissolved:

      On 22nd September the Electoral Commission of Catalonia dissolved itself after completing the task it had been charged with. In an attempt to stop their work, the Spanish Constitutional Court had previously issued a daily fine of €12,000 for each member of the ECC.

      After completing the task it’d been charged with? The Referendum Act itself says that one if its responsibilities is to carry out the ballot count, among others that can hardly be said to have been discharged within just 15 days.

      I actually made a mistake earlier. There is another Act for the referendum. That of the Law on Juridical Transition. This one’s a bit longer, 40 pages (BUT, the Scottish one doesn’t deal with institutional transition, so the 20 v 160 page comparison stands). It says:

      With regard to the judicial system, while a Catalan judiciary is to be created for the first time since the recovery of autonomy, continuity is also sought in relation to procedural systems, time frames and norms. In view of this commitment, the judicial system currently in force in Catalonia is adopted with some specific adjustments. The continuity of the system is also maintained in terms of the posts already held by magistrates, judges, public prosecutors and lawyers, who maintain their posts along with the same economic and professional rights.

      In virtue of the general clause concerning the continuity of current regulations, as a general rule, existing procedural norms will continue to be applied. Despite the predominance of continuity, some adjustments are worth noting with particular attention. The current High Court of Justice of Catalonia will become the new Supreme Court of Catalonia. The current magistrates and chambers will be maintained, with some adjustments.

      I don’t know how that’s going to work, given that the Catalonia judiciary has given this whole farce a big “nope.”Something for the citizenry to look forward to, I guess.

      Incidentally, CNBC reports that the Generalitat Referendum Act vote was withheld to the very end of the session, and the vote was not mentioned in the Generalitat’s agenda for the day. Those who objected to the Act did so on the basis that it had not apparently been through the typical legal vetting process. No kidding.

      The whole thing is really just an unbelievable scam. It’s actually outrageous (and I’m usually an extremely chill dude). I legit don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point.

    2. Oregoncharles

      The Kurds have wanted independence for a long time – really since the post-WWI carve-up left them subject to 4 different countries. I believe that was Britain’s doing.

      At present, they’re fighting for, at least, autonomy in 3 of those countries, and they’re getting better at it, so we and Iran can assume that the peace there is only temporary. There’s only one long-term solution.

  4. Ricardo

    Dear Yves,

    I would like to know how you know about Guardia Civil arrestinng citizens while trying to vote, because I here of none.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Apologies. That part of the post muddied the timing of events by making it sound as if the Guardia Civil acted only once during the referendum process. From the Guardian:

      The four – who include Josep Lluís Trapero, the chief of the Catalan police force, and Jordi Sànchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly, the region’s largest pro-independence group – are being investigated in connection with the large demonstrations in Barcelona that followed police raids on Catalan government buildings a fortnight ago and the arrests of 14 Catalan officials.

      The raids and arrests, carried out by Spanish Guardia Civil police on a judge’s orders, drew a furious response from protesters. Two Guardia Civil vehicles were vandalised and the Catalan police were accused of failing to intervene.

    2. Sue

      Arrest of Catalan government position holders were made after the referendum and after the transition to the Catalan Republican laws were passed in Catalan Parlament. The two leaders of the two popular civilian independent organizations have already appeared before the court and will have to do so again next week. Similar with Trapero. The about 900 wounded on the Oct 1st referendum have been certified by the medical doctors-meaning the claim by the Spanish government that these so many injured was bs does not hold. Human Rights Watch denounced the excessive force used by the national police and tried to contact members of the Spanish government to not avail. Remember whom we are dealing with here: a Spanish government speaker, Mr. Casado, stated at press conference that if Puigdemont does not back-up will end like President Companys. President Companys was a very short lived Generalitat President who was apprehended by the Nazis in France, handed over to Franco and executed by Franco’s firing squad.

      1. Yan

        My God. The total lack of any kind of respect for accuracy is upsetting. Companys declared the Catalan republic first in 1934. Just to make sure: the civil war in Spain started in 1936.
        Companys was arrested by a democratically elected government within hours and sent to jail.
        When the civil war started, Companys, a supposed ally of the Republican, elected, left-wing government, again declared independence and hindered any kind of coordinated response to the nationalist illegal uprising. He fled Spain when the war was lost and, yes, handed over to Franco. He was summarily tried by a military tribunal and shot this second time.
        Manuel Azana describes in detail in his diaries the kind of unfettered abuse that Companys and his minions carried out after war broke out.
        I have been reading your comments regarding Spain and Catalunya for a while now and they lack any objectivity and, disturbingly, the most basic foundation in facts.

        1. Sue

          Yes, Companys was apprehended by Gestapo in France, handed over to Franco and executed by Franco’s firing squad. Companys is the only incumbent democratically elected president in European history to have been executed (see i.e. Eaude, Michael .December 6, 2007. Catalonia: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press or V .Alexander February 2009)
          Also, the statements about bombing Barcelona have been documented by very honest historians. This has been a recurrent theme by Spanish Nationalists. Azana himself brought it up several times, as for example when talking about Juan Van Halen:“Una persona de mi conocimiento asegura que es una ley de la historia de España, la necesidad de bombardear Barcelona cada cincuenta años”. This is a verbatim quote. Manuel Fraga Iribarne, Franco’s minister and founder of the current Spanish ruling party, additionally made other “remarkable” statements:“Cataluña fue ocupada por Felipe IV, fue ocupada por Felipe V, que la venció, fue bombardeada por el general Espartero, que era un general revolucionario, y la ocupamos en 1939 y estamos dispuestos a coger de nuevo el fusil. Por consiguiente, ya saben ustedes a qué atenerse, y aquí tengo el mosquetón para volverlo a utilizar” (verbatim quote Manuel Fraga Iribarne 1968). Translation into English of both quotes : 1. ” An acquaintance of mine asserts that it is a law in Spain’s history the need to bomb Barcelona every fifty years” 2.” Catalonia was occupied byFelipe IV. It was occupied by Felipe V, so defeating it. It was bombed by General Espartero, who was a revolutionary general, and we occupied Catalonia in 1939. We are again willing to grab the rifles. Therefore, you know what to expect and I have the musket at hand to use it once more”

  5. Pseudonymous Tontullian

    So now the fox is supposed to redesign the chicken coop? Come on!

    The EU shamelessly has let down two million plus of an endangered species: euro enthusiastic citizens. The Spanish government was always ready to negotiate with ETA terrorists but is not ready to negotiate with a population peacefully posing democratic demands. And the EU, a club of nation states, is totally ok with it, and with Spain’s repressive reponse. Shame.

  6. Herman A

    “Suspended” Declaration of Independence? I had a hollow laugh, thinking of what Hidalgo, Bolivar, O’Higgins or Aguinaldo would say upon hearing that phrase. You’re right, Puidgemont y Compania are not serious.

  7. Basil Pesto

    first via obtaining a Constitutional court ruling declaring an independence referendum to be illegal

    I came across something today that puts the Constitutional Court ruling in a slightly different light. it’s a bit of a subtlety, maybe even pedantic, but I think it might have been lost a bit in the English language press. Basically, from what I can tell, the Constitutional Court has not actually declared the referendum illegal per se (although I have no doubt that it would). It seems that it was assumed it had done this via Section 2 of the constitution (the much quoted “indissolubility” clause). In fact, going by this document here and others, the CC merely suspended the Generalitat act of parliament that provided for the holding of the referendum by request of the Spanish government who appealed to the CC on the grounds that the Independence Act is illegal for various reasons. They did this under the authority of Section 161 Subsection 2 of the Constitution, which states:

    El Gobierno podrá impugnar ante el Tribunal Constitucional las disposiciones y resoluciones adoptadas por los órganos de las Comunidades Autónomas. La impugnación producirá la suspensión de la disposición o resolución recurrida, pero el Tribunal, en su caso, deberá ratificarla o levantarla en un plazo no superior a cinco meses

    or, via googy translate:

    The Government may challenge before the Constitutional Court, the provisions and resolutions adopted by the organs of the Autonomous Communities. The challenge will result in the suspension of the provision or the appealed decision, but the Court, if necessary, must ratify it or lift it within a period of time not exceeding five months

    It presumably suspended the act instead of ruling against it because there was no time for a proper trial, due to the comically short period of time between the act passing in the Generalitat on Sept 7 and the day of the vote, on Oct 1.

  8. Matthew G. Saroff

    PP are the ideological descendants of Franco, which would lead one not to trust them,

    Furthermore, Rajoy has made stirring up sh%$ with the Basque and Catalan regions a central part of his political brand, as evidenced by the attempt to blame the ETA for al Qaeda bombings during the 2004 elections.

    Acceding to Rajoy’ss demands for clarification though is a trap: If the government of Catalonia says that there is not a declaration of independence, he will not negotiate in good faith, if the government of Catalonia says that there has been a declaration of independence, then Rajoy establishes martial law in Catolonia.

    As such, I would be profoundly distrustful of Rajoy, but that does not mean that one cannot negotiate.

    Ambiguity is Barcelona’s best strategy.

  9. Sue

    Much has happened in the last days and could take me very long time to go through it. I will just say one thing I think has fundamentally transpired. It is my opinion and I could be wrong. On Tuesday, before the awkward declaration of independence and on phone conversations behind doors, Puigdemont was told by the true EU rulers that he (the Catalan independentists) was/were going to be left alone on his/their own. Heed to this: Juncker today has stated that will let Spain solve the problem, that he is not interested in the 90 nation UE this would led to. The 90 nation figure thrown by him is a hyperbolic amount, yet basically what is going on here amounts to something a bit akin to the Greek situation years ago. It is not about what could be rational, or the best for most people, or what could oxygenate people’s asphyxia, etc. It is about power, not allowing the slightest challenge to make it through, not practical questioning of the current model. Therefore, not debt forgiveness for the Greece, particularly adding to it that, at that time, true leftist parties were on the rise in Spain, Portugal, Italy. The “lesson” learned by voters in Spain and reaffirmed by the Spanish mainstream discourse became as clear as water from The Colorado Rocky Mountains: “vote for these leftist parties and your luck will follow Greece’s” Thus, (and I do not concur with the numbers given by the mainstream media in regards to independents not achieving a majority if an agreed referendum were to take place), the last of EU’s concerns (of those in the EU who ultimately rule) is to satisfy Catalans’ sovereign aspiration & to be decided democratically in Catalonia or the violence and blood-thirsty manners the Spanish government could employ to quash the independents.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > I do not concur with the numbers given by the mainstream media in regards to independents not achieving a majority if an agreed referendum were to take place

      From NPR on the 2014 referendum:

      Initial results show nearly 81 percent of voters marked “yes, yes” on the two-question ballot, which asked: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If so, do you want that state to be independent?”

      But turnout was low, at least compared with Scotland’s independence referendum back in September, in which more than 85 percent of residents participated. In Catalonia, less than half of eligible voters cast ballots, in a region of 7.5 million.

      Is there reason to think the 2017 turnout is different? (I know the police interfered in 2017, but the numbers look similar.) It seems to me that a secession is a big enough step that at least a majority of eligible voters need to vote for it, obstacles or no.

      1. Sue

        “Is there reason to think the 2017 turnout is different?”
        Yes, because the 2014s to begin with, before it took place , was deemed by the Catalan Government not binding. The key numbers from polling are : 1. about 80%+ of Catalans want to vote, under an agreed referendum with the Spanish Government, on deciding about sovereignty. 2. the % regarding yes to independence is read from a 100% total participation turnout perspective: very unrealistic . The bottom line is the only way to know for sure is voting.

      2. kgc

        By that standard, Brexit lost: 51.9% Leave of 72% turnout is 37% of eligible voters (Remain voters were about 35% of eligibles). Is the difference that the UK government accepted the result? Should they hold repeated elections until they get a majority of eligible voters?

        1. Basil Pesto

          It’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. The Brexit referendum essentially amounted to withdrawing from a treaty, and one of the relevant EU treaties itself (Rome?) had provisions for states that wished to leave. Such referendums tend to have smaller turnouts. Independence referendums deal with rather more complex issues that go to the heart of international law in the post-war era, such as territorial integrity, self determination (of the region and of the nation to which it belongs), minority rights (for example: Catalans are a minority in Spain right now. If Catalunya secedes, that dynamic is reversed) and so on. For this reason, when they are procedurally legitimate, they tend to get greater turnouts (as in the case of Scotland and Quebec), and they can have higher standards for acceptance (the Canada case is an international reference point in this matter, though not definitive). They also don’t necessarily confer an immediate right to secede in the case of a successful referendum, but a right to negotiate with the state on the terms of such a secession (ideally, in my opinion, these terms would be presented to the public for a second referendum). Boy I really like parentheses don’t I.

  10. ricard

    Hi from Barcelona.
    I am so amazed with you, Yves, because you have a clever and a very detailed understanding about what is going on here in Catalonia right now. Some other opinions are really clever and valid too. I am sincerely surprised for what you know about our situation. Thank you for being interested in our political situation.
    Please, let me clear up some key ideas.
    This conflict started in 2006 ( when PSC (the PSOE federal branch in Catalonia) promoted an update of the Catalan statue of autonomy. In the previous link, you have got all the info in English, but just for summarize, PP attacked fiercely this process and they promoted a collect signature process all over Spain against this process. Literally, against the Catalans. We called it, Catalan-phobia. After some “brushes” on the text in the parliament, finally the constitutional court cut out the text again in 2010. We felt that as a humiliation and that was the starting point of the whole thing. Many of us changed our political perception and started thinking that Spain was only pain.
    In a pejorative sense, the Spaniards started using the word “soufflé” to mock our protests.
    And finally, here we are, no one trusts right now neither PP nor PSOE. I strongly believe that the constitutional reform is a gigantic fake. You wouldn’t find many people thinking the opposite in Catalonia right now.
    As you know, PP is the most corrupt political party in Europe and the economic crisis here is huge, so we are the perfect smoke screen in order to disguise Spaniards from the real problems. Moreover the economic matters (taxes and so on), our identity and language (Catalan) are precious for us and the Spanish government is trying to erase it. Part of the problem is because the PP hidden agenda implies to recover and centralize again these sort of political competences.

    It is a pleasure to be in touch with you.


    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for your very kind comment! I feel very nervous when writing about the politics of another country, since so many things depend on history, the personalities, and their political process, and here I don’t read Spanish either. But sometimes (and this is one of those times) you can infer a great deal if you focus strictly on the big issues that are driving the dynamics.

      And here, I also had a great deal of help via comments from readers in Spain or who know Spanish politics. They gave me what amounts to a briefing on some of the key elements that are in play that someone outside Spain or reading only the English language press would miss.

      Having said that, I am still sure there are things I am missing but I hope they are not Big Things. And the readers will correct me if I am wrong, so I get better approximations over time.

      1. Ruben

        The example of your coverage of the Greek crisis demonstrated to us reader familiar with the financial and political spheres in Europe that in fact you and your sources and informed commentators are indeed on the right track with regards to interpretation and inference of the major factors of the European dynamics.

  11. Peronella

    Hello Yves,

    Thank you for paying attention to this issue. Your efforts are really admirable.

    I would like to suggest you consult some Catalan newspapers. You simply cannot cover this topic properly by reading only Spanish papers. Luckily, Catalunya is blessed with many papers, but if you have time for only one I highly recommend Vilaweb. The English version is here Read the Opinion page, anything by Vicent Partal.

    Another good paper to consult is “Ara” this is the address for the English version. http :// (I see that Thomas Harrington has a piece in it about the “purity” of the recent referèndum. This is important if only to see the kind of – family blog – Catalans have to deal with. Harrington is Iberian studies professor in Trinity College, CT and very knowledgeable). There is a paywall with Ara, but they let you read a few pieces. Toni Bassas is whom I recommend there.

    And yes, the Constitutional Reform is phony. Doesn’t rise to the level of a trial balloon. Just to delay and distract, nothing more.

    I hope this helps. Thanks again

    1. Basil Pesto

      But Harrington’s argument is essentially a tu quoque. It’s weak and disingenuous. ‘whataboutery’ re: Kosovo etc just isn’t relevant, although I recognise there is a measure of political hypocrisy at play here.

      beyond that, some other flaws:

      To appoint the potential saboteur of the procedure, in this case Spain, as the judge of proper procedure in the region seeking independence, is to hand the established state an effective veto power sine die in the conflict.

      Spain was never appointed to judge the proper procedure. The Spanish Constitutional Court merely suspended the independence act passed by the Generalitat with the self-imposed condition to review the legality of the legislation within 5 months, per Section 161(2) of the constitution. Spain never acted as the judge of the procedure, because in their mind there was no procedure to judge. The Independence Act itself was to establish the Electoral Commission of Catalonia, problematic in itself, which was supposed to judge the proper procedure, but it dissolved 9 days before the vote, as I detail above. In any case, you didn’t need the full force of the Spanish civil service to observe pretty easily that the whole referendum was a bit South Ossetia.

      And I certainly don’t remember any of today’s legion of new born “proceduralists” raising any objections about it then.

      I guess I’m a proceduralist, but I personally was three years old when Croatia declared independence, in an extremely febrile post-communist geopolitical situation for which the term sui generis was practically invented. Spare me. This is a lamely transparent rhetorical trick.

      I have no doubt that Prof Harrington is well informed on matters of Iberian history and identity, but he’s manifestly ignorant of how public law and democracy itself actually work. Unless he’s advocating for a non-democratic Catalan revolution? I mean, that’d certainly be exciting, I guess.

      And if we’re going to play the ‘appeal to authority’ card (using an ‘Iberian Studies’ professor), then what about this? (yes, I know it’s El Pais, but do you imagine that all 242 signatories are lapsed/latent fascists? Constitutional law seems like a somewhat…. unusual hobby for fascists to indulge in)

      I have discovered much dishonest reporting in the Catalan online press, unfortunately. It’s very hard to know which sources to trust.

  12. Jack Parsons

    A bit of backstory- Catalunya is historically the most prosperous part of Spain. Catalan revolt is in some senses a “Secession of the Rich”.

    Also, everyone in Spain should look at Greece with an eye towards self-preservation. If I was the Spanish Govt., I would offer to leave the EU in exchange for the Catalans to stay with Spain.

    1. Sue

      There is a lot of misinformation on how the Spanish economy really works. Much investment allocation is inefficient and goes to please the territorial and the pre-1978 privileged class (yes, including Franco’s family’s estate). Author Albert Pont is a good source to follow on these matters. As a footnote, Community of Madrid’s GDP surpassed the Catalan GDP for the first time ever a few years ago. This coincided with the EU granting the Spanish Government/State huge leeway in how to compute Spain’s GDP. The underground economy was then added to the GDP numbers. Madrid, particularly Barajas Airport surroundings, is Spain’s most lucrative prostitution hub. The highest echelons of corporate management, lobbyists and politicians pay big money to satisfy their sex drives there. All sorts of illegal drugs and merchandise smuggling peak nationally in Madrid. Also, “accounting methodology ” used to measure this underground national income is very liberal to say the least. Conclusion: national GDP got a more than generous boost which helped to alleviate a bit the high debt to GDP ratio and Madrid’s GDP became the largest beneficiary. Studies show a GPD boost anywhere from 3.1% to 4.8%

  13. Rosa

    The Catalan referendum was illegal for several reasons. it violated the Spanish and Catalan constitutions. It was an illegal referendum because there were not official censor, voters did not know where to vote because we were not notified, the international observers were invited by one side,the Generalitat, there was a universal census and people voted more than once. Some people did not vote because they believe it was ilegal. For whatever reasons you cite the voting process did not comply with the necessary guaranties to ensure a fair outcome. Because of all those reasons I cannot admit the results of the so proclaimed referendum . Anyone who call democrat will admit the way the referendum was developed it was not correct. Also to make effective, as you say it should win by 2/3 of the votes. Nowhere is a simple majority vote considered enough . There were only a campaign for the SI, no the NO. Zero debate.
    I do not want to live in a country where the politicians beach the law to achieve their goals. That means today the constitution and tomorrow other fundamental rights will be violated. The parlament session of September 6th and 7th where the referendum law and legal transitional was passed by the Govern is a perfect example (tv3). The opposition was not given all documentation, was not given time to consider the law and the parliamentary legal counsel reported that the law was illegal. A person simply cannot say that because he disagrees with the law, for example the constitution, it is OK to act contrary to it. That is contrary to civil society. Everybody can go around saying that they will not comply with the law because they disagree with that. That will cause chaos and anarchy. That parliamentary session was an absolute attack on democracy.. So please do not tell the Independence coalition is DEMOCRATIC
    On the other hand Unprovoked and disproportionate use of force by the riot police is not acceptable. I believe some investigation would be appropriate , but I have to admit that the Mossos acted in a similar way when they removed protesters from the plaza Catalunya the 15M. On the other hand, let’s talk about real violence. Do you remember how U.K. behaved in the Bloody Sunday (see the movie) in north Ireland?, there were military parachutists not police in that attack and 13 people died. I keep reading in the medía that we live in Francoland. this is hyperbole and disproportionate. If this was a dictatorship then you would be in jail for all that has been said And done. There was fighting in the street when I was in the university during early seventies , I know how it was living in those time . Did you know that when the second republic was announce in Spain the Catalans didn’t support itand they proclaim the independency which contribute to the falling of the Republic and subsequent civil war?

    The Catalan, who want Independence are looking backwards when they talk about past oppression. And they are not looking forward when they listen to the lies politicians tell them: that an independent republic will directly go into the European Union or the companies will not leave. That nothing will happen. Great harm has already been done to Catalán society and the Catalán economy by Laurel and Hardy. And they have not even obtained independence. There is not one country that recognizes their foolhardy acts. Claims of oppression are an insult to truly oppressed people.

    1. ricard

      That is a false premise. There was no campaign and no perfect conditions because of the heavy opposition of the most European corrupt government, the Spanish government, not because Catalan government did not want it.
      I will say it again and again if necessary, this process started early in 2000 (please consult the previous Wikipedia link) and the PP did everything they could against Catalonia to abort it.
      On the other hand, using the expression “Laurel and Hardy” to refer to our President and Vice-president is really disrespectful and shows an absolutely lack of rational logic. The same degrading unionist message as usual. When you do not have reason, attack the person (argumentum ad hominem).
      Finally, those (like me) who defended the ballot boxes and electoral ballots for more than fifteen hours with the only help of our body and emotional commitment, we will never forget the fear we had thinking that we were going to be hurt just for defending our civil rights. We will never forget, never. Some people continue thinking that Rosa Parks committed an illegality, but as all of you American citizens know, there is a very thin line between legality and legitimacy.

    2. Sue

      The democratic illusion: anyone can think anything, anyone can do and express just about anything in so far as there is not a real practical path to realization. The Catalan Independents-and more so with the inclusion of Catalan Sovereignists- are a majority within a minority. A majority in Catalonia, yet a territorial & population minority in Spain. Spanish legal framework, and the changes this legal framework allows for, cannot modify this permanent status. Once the conditions for an abuse of power by the Spanish Government had been laid out via legislation, this could only worsen over time. Spanish ruling party national campaign to derogate the Catalan Estatut in the mid 2000s perfectly illustrates the above. Political parties at the national level feed themselves in the general elections from this status of domination. Democracy, paramount over anything else, must shape law and politics. Self-serving legalism should not crush the democratic will.

  14. Nitus

    The constitution amend process for “major issues” practically guarantees nothing will come out if this. Any changes need to be approved by both houses first the draft by the current government, then the final change by a new government, to end with a referendum. The popular party will block any changes that smell as a drift to the left which, IMHO, is everything as they currently stand at the far right.

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