Compromise needed in Spanish stand-off

Madrid has important decisions to make on Catalonia’s self-rule and what to do about secessionist politicians who have been imprisoned or are in exile

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 2:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 2:23am

Catalan separatists and the Spanish government have achieved little from months of strategising, threats and intimidation. A stand-off rages on, a snap regional election deciding nothing. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refuses to give sway and independence-minded political parties retain their slim majority in parliament, but lack popular support. With the risk of escalation and violence ever-looming, Now is the time for compromise and mediation.

The constitution does not allow for a region to vote for independence; it is a decision the whole nation must take. Madrid was right to respond to the illegal moves by separatists to hold a referendum and unilaterally declare independence in October by dismissing Catalonia’s government, dissolving parliament and taking control. Police caused widespread outrage by using force to try to stop the vote, a move reflected in the snap poll called by Madrid for December 20 with Rajoy’s party losing support and finishing seventh.

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But the record turnout showed most Catalans do not want to break away from Spain. Nor do they want to leave the European Union, even though it firmly backs Madrid in the crisis. That puts Brussels in a strong position as a potential mediator and, even though it has so far been lukewarm to the idea, it should step forward to help. There is now even more uncertainty over Catalonia, with pro-independence parties having taken 70 of 135 seats in parliament, but failing to gain a majority of votes, and the pro-Madrid party winning the most support, although not enough to form a government.

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The three independence parties disagree on the way forward and there is every chance one could overstep the mark. Madrid has important decisions to make on Catalonia’s self-rule, which was removed in the wake of the independence declaration, and what to do about secessionist politicians who have been imprisoned or are in exile, such as the deposed head of the dismissed government, Carles Puigdemont. Rajoy has so far rejected outside offers of mediation, but being stubborn is a bad strategy.

A settlement can come about only through talks and both sides have to be open to dialogue and willing to compromise.