Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Tuesday, 12 january 2016 | FINANCIAL TIMES


Puigdemont provides new twist in Catalonia’s separatist drama

Pressure grows on Spain’s mainstream parties to form common front against new Catalan government

Denmark has Borgen. The US has House of Cards. And Spain has the Catalan campaign for independence, an engrossing feast of political drama with cliffhangers, surprise turns and last-minute revelations so improbable they would make a television scriptwriter blush.
The latest plot twist came on Sunday night, when — with less than three hours until a midnight deadline — the Catalan parliament voted to elect a new regional president.

Carles Puigdemont, the new leader, is a floppy-haired former journalist and mayor of Girona who also served as the head of an influential association of pro-independence municipalities. Mr Puigdemont will now preside over a staunchly secessionist government tasked with leading Catalonia towards independence from Spain over the next 18 months.

The latest events in Barcelona have obvious and important repercussions for Spain. Until Sunday night, political leaders in Madrid faced much the same challenge as their Catalan counterparts — namely how to forge a workable government out of a fragmented parliament in which no single party has an absolute majority.

With Catalonia seemingly heading for a snap election, the assumption among party leaders in Madrid was that they would have several months to explore coalitions and alliances. Thanks to the weekend deal in Barcelona, that now seems unlikely.

There is huge pressure on Spain’s mainstream parties to set aside their differences and form a common front against the new Catalan government. The re-election of Mariano Rajoy, the current prime minister and leader of the conservative Popular party, is by no means a certainty — but it is more likely today than it was on Friday afternoon.

Much will depend, of course, on how fast and how far Mr Puigdemont intends to move. The new president made clear in his speech on Sunday that he will faithfully implement the independence “road map” agreed between secessionist leaders last year. That means establishing a network of state institutions — from a foreign ministry and central bank to a social security regime — separate from those of Spain.

The political implications for Spain after Carles Puigdemont’s election as regional president

It also requires convincing EU leaders that the Catalan bid for statehood deserves, if not their support, then at least their attention.

No European government is keen to see Spain break apart, not least because it may encourage secessionist movements elsewhere. But Catalan leaders are hoping to involve the outside world in the conflict all the same, if only by provoking an internal crisis so dramatic that it would force the EU to try to intervene.

It is a long shot, admittedly, but perhaps their best chance of ultimately prodding Madrid to accept a binding independence referendum.
The risk for Spain and its future government is clear. But so is the challenge for Mr Puigdemont and his cabinet.

Catalan independence leaders claim to have a popular mandate for secession, but that mandate is weaker than they would like. At last September’s regional election, the two pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament but fell short of winning a majority of the vote.

The cause of independence clearly has huge support in the region, but it is not — or not yet — supported by a majority of the electorate.
Then there is the issue of personal legitimacy and leadership. Mr Puigdemont emerged as president of Catalonia as the result of a last-minute backroom deal, not by popular vote. It was Artur Mas, the veteran Catalan leader, who was the official candidate for the presidency last September. Mr Mas ultimately proved unacceptable to the smaller of the two secessionist parties, but he has the kind of political experience and international profile that Mr Puigdemont will struggle to match.

How, given those drawbacks, will the new president conduct himself? Will he move with caution or press ahead and take advantage of the political vacuum in Madrid?

Speculation abounds. The only certainty is that — by popular demand and by political necessity — this one will run and run.

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

We aim to be recognized as a trustworthy source of information and ideas about Catalonia from a Catalan point of view.
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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia