Catalonia: A long way to an unending crisis

The year is just beginning, yet in Spain, all eyes are set on January 17, since that date may open a new chapter in its unending political crisis with the formation of a new regional Parliament in Catalonia
A Spanish Flag and an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) waving in the street - Photo: Emilio Morenatti/AP
12/01/2018
17:47
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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The year is just beginning, yet in Spain, all eyes are set on January 17, since that date may open a new chapter in its unending political crisis with the formation of a new regional Parliament in Catalonia after the elections on December 21, and the transient proclamation of an independent republic in October.

As expected —and as feared by the European Union,—the electoral gambit of the central government in Madrid, headed by Mariano Rajoy, was a complete failure; the main separatist parties, Juntos por Cataluña (JuntsxCat in Catalan), Izquierda Republicana (ERC), and Candidatura de Unidad Popular (CUP) won once again in the polls delivering a blow to Rajoy’s counteraction strategy, which depended on the legislative victory of the unionist parties: His own right-wing Partido Popular (PP), the centre-right Ciudadanos and the Socialistas Catalanes (PSC).

Moreover, JuntsxCat and ERC reached an agreement last Wednesday that could re-elect Carles Puigdemont as regional president, three months after he fled to Belgium following the Spanish Government’s decision to sack him over his role after staging an illegal referendum and unilaterally declaring independence.

However, the agreement remains unclear since the former Head of the Generalitat is facing immediate arrest the moment he returns to the country on possible charges of rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds related to the secessionist campaign.

An ERC spokeswoman said the party’s legal team was reviewing whether Puigdemont could be invested via video conference or have one of his MPs read the speech that candidates are required to give before voting takes place in the investiture session. Izquierda Republicana was a member of the last coalition in Barcelona and its leader, former vice-president Oriol Junqueras is jailed in Madrid.

While Ciudadanos, winner of the popular vote and the unionist or constitutionalist most voted party, taking 25.4% of the total—five seats mark the difference between the two blocs,—has warned that once in power, the separatists would breach the law again to push the procés of independence.

Heavy economic toll

One thing is clear now: the economic recovery and the stability of Spain are suffering in a time when unemployment and deficit are finally falling. Last year, the Cortes Generales (National Parliament) were unable to pass any organic law, neither legislative decrees, highlights Jerónimo Andreu, EL UNIVERSAL correspondent in Madrid.

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos has put the cost of the crisis at around €1 billion (USD$ 1.2 billion), adding that growth in Catalonia slowed from 0.9% to 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2017. “Catalonia used to have growth above that of Spain, it was one of the drivers of the Spanish economy,” he told national radio. About 3,100 companies, including Mexican Grupo Bimbo, moved their legal domicile out of Catalonia as a result of the uncertainty.

Political experts believe the current situation is a product of the post-Franco democratic settlement and the shocking effects of the 2007-2008 deep economic crisis intertwined with the corruption scandals, which also resulted in the 15 May popular movement of 2011 (15-M Movement) as well as the electoral ascent of Ciudadanos and the leftist Podemos party in 2015.

Nevertheless, it is important to point out that in parallel with the independentist movement of the Basque Country, Catalan aspirations has its roots in history and date back to the eighteenth century. The prosperous north-eastern region once enjoyed autonomy when it was part of the Crown of Aragon. After the Wars of Spanish Succession, the Bourbons extended their control over Spain and brought autonomy to an end in 1716.

With only 16% of the total population, Catalonia provided 21% of the national tax revenue, but only received 66% of the average state funding and it had obtained a mere 8% of investment in infrastructure. Unlike the Basque Country, the region was not given the right to collect 100% of its taxes in the 1978 Constitution enacted after the Franco dictatorship.

In 2006, the Spanish and Catalan parliaments passed a new Statute of Autonomy which defined Catalonia as a nation, but Rajoy, then leader of the opposition PP, referred the new statute to the Constitutional Tribunal, which declared parts of the text unconstitutional in 2010.

Gradually, the support for independence, which included that of the now dissolved nationalist liberal party Convergencia y Unión (CiU) in power for a long time in Barcelona, was consolidated in the polls amid a climate of polarization, ignoring the fact that several of the leading figures in the movement were themselves responsible for austerity measures and the corruption scandals.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen