Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Saturday, 5 march 2016 | ARA


Spain without a project

What is Pedro Sánchez’s project? As far as I know, he hasn’t got one. Rajoy’s? Nobody knows it, either


Even though Felipe González’s first term as Spanish president —which ran from the autumn of 1982 to the summer of 1986— can only be viewed today with rather mixed feelings (let us not forget the LOAPA’s head-on assault on Catalonia’s devolved powers (1)), one must admit that it was, nevertheless, grounded in an ambitious, well-defined political project. Thirty-four years ago, Spain’s PSOE rose as an alternative, not merely to a UCD already in its final throes (2), but to all sorts of francoist remnants: the armed forces were plagued by staunchly far-right elements, the judiciary seemed stuck in another time and the publicly-owned companies set up under Franco’s Instituto Nacional de Industria (INI) were wholly unproductive.

Needless to say, in hindsight González’s first term fas far from stellar. When it comes to Catalonia, it is actually indefensible. Still, his legacy is perceived as positive by Spain’s middle and working classes. In a nutshell, González’s sights were set on three projects that merged into a single idea: to modernise Spain within the European Union. This involved embarking upon a number of uncertain ventures: a) getting rid of the mining and shipbuilding industries in Asturias and Galicia, respectively (both had been financially unviable for decades), which would mean paying a massive political toll in the short term; b) turning Andalusia into “Europe’s California”, to quote then-vice president Alfonso Guerra; c) joining NATO as a stepping stone to the EU and to strengthen Spain’s ties with the US. You may like or dislike these three goals and the general project on which they converged, but you cannot argue that they were certainly part of an extremely ambitious, radical transformation plan.

What is Pedro Sánchez’s project? As far as I know, he hasn’t got one. Rajoy’s? Nobody knows it, either. What about Rivera’s or Iglesias’? Both of them merely seek to touch up conspicuous yet irrelevant things, a populist restyling of the status quo. And that’s about it.

In contrast, Felipe González led a project that garnered the support of most Spaniards in 1982. There is no such a project today. In fact, the recent agreement between Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) and Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos) is mere political posturing: it doesn’t even secure Sánchez a majority in parliament. This lack of vision, of collective ambition, also reveals the weakness and the lack of initiative of Spain’s civil society, which is unaccustomed to voicing its opinions, except very occasionally. Still, the acid test is called Catalonia. Spain’s politicians, the economic elite and Spaniards in general oppose Catalonia’s eventual secession. Yet, at the same time, they lack a true alternative, an attractive, credible project that might avert it. Today Catalonia’s independence movement is no longer perceived as a fad, a political anecdote or an untimely reaction to the economy’s downturn. They realise that, sooner or later, Catalonia’s political and administrative status will change substantially. Likewise, they know that the threat of a political and economic boycott within the EU will not stop Catalan independence in the long run, even if —naturally— it does have an impact on some segments of the electoral body. Why the lack of reaction, then?

I believe that we have seen two distinct periods. Early on, Spain’s attitude was one based purely on incredulity: the turn in Catalan politics was interpreted as a sign of unrest that would eventually wane. More recently, though, we have seen an altogether different stance: the lack of an attractive shared project where Catalonia could fit in has diverted political action towards the judiciary. This is the current state of affairs and, as we have seen recently, it makes judges and prosecutors very uncomfortable, putting them in an untenable position in the medium term. It is for this very reason that I began my piece by referring to Felipe González’s more than questionable project, back in 1982. You can question it as much as you like, of course. But nobody can deny that it was a true project.

Since the Spanish elections of December 20, the political debate among Rajoy, Sánchez, Iglesias and Rivera has been unusually bland and, at times, pathetic. Now that we have established that Spain’s regional devolution system is exhausted; now that we have ruled out federalism as a pipe dream without supporters; now that we can see clearly how the promise of a referendum in Catalonia is anything but credible, what do we have left? My question is obviously rhetorical.


(1) N.T. In the early 1980s the Spanish parliament passed a law known as LOAPA that aimed to water down some of the powers that had been devolved to Spain’s regional governments earlier on. It was widely criticised in Catalonia.

(2)  N.T: Spain’s Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) had ruled for a number of years, following the first democratic elections after General Franco’s death, but was falling apart as a political party in the early 1980s.

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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.

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia