Talks the only way forward for Catalonia

Madrid has long ignored the rumblings from Catalonia about unfair treatment and now it has to face the consequences. While sovereignty is not up for discussion, that does not prevent negotiations on greater autonomy for the region

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 1:51am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 1:51am

A country’s national day should be for celebration, but Spain’s this year was filled with uncertainty. The stand-off between the governments in Madrid and the wealthy region of Catalonia over a bid for independence has the nation in crisis. With a deadline of today set by Madrid for clarification, a cooling-off period has been created for the sides to assess their positions. There is only one way forward if there is to be a peaceful resolution: negotiations.

Catalonian leader Carles Puigdemont said the region had voted for independence in a referendum on October 1 that the Spanish constitutional court had ruled was unlawful. Madrid’s case was not helped by the violence used by police called in to stop the vote. With more than 700,000 ballots said to have been destroyed, a 90 per cent vote for independence from a turnout of just 43 per cent of the electorate was considered sufficient for a declaration of sovereignty. But amid warnings from Madrid of the consequences of such an action and hundreds of thousands turning out across the country in a show of national strength, Puigdemont chose pragmatism and, instead of proclaiming self-determination to the regional assembly, sought talks with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government.

Spanish PM gives Catalonia eight days to drop independence bid or risk losing autonomy

Rajoy has rejected dialogue, contending sovereignty is not a matter for negotiation. He could easily trigger an article in the constitution enabling a takeover of the Catalonian government. But with passions high on both sides and more violence a possibility, he has also opted for a practical approach. He gave Puigdemont five days to make intentions plain.

That gives time for the Catalonian leader to weigh options with his colleagues, some of whom take a tougher line towards separatism. He has not been given a mandate to declare sovereignty, nor would such a move be sensible. Catalonia does not have its own economy, military or immigration and apart from Madrid and more than half of the region rejecting the idea, several banks and large firms have already started relocating and the European Union has said it would immediately sever links if a declaration was made. But such realities are not grounds for Rajoy to take a heavy-handed approach. The condemnation in Spain and abroad of the violence on polling day in which hundreds were injured shows his administration needs a calm, measured response.

Madrid has long ignored the rumblings from Catalonia about unfair treatment and now it has to face the consequences. Sovereignty is not up for discussion, but that does not prevent negotiating greater autonomy, such as giving Catalonians the ability to manage their own taxes. The risk of the crisis escalating is too great, so both sides need to set aside inflexible positions and cooperate.