Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Sunday, 27 august 2017 | FINANCIAL TIMES


Catalan leader accuses Madrid of ‘playing politics’ with security

Carles Puigdemont says Spanish government has underfunded local police

Carles Puigdemont: 'Madrid underestimates the will of the Catalan people' © Jose Colon/FT

By Michael Stothard

The Spanish government has been “playing politics” with the security of the Catalan people by underfunding the local independent police force, according to the region’s president, in comments likely to reignite tensions between Barcelona and Madrid.

One week after the deadly terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that left 15 people dead, Carles Puigdemont told the Financial Times that the Spanish government’s fierce opposition to plans to hold an independence referendum on October 1 had led Madrid to restrict the flow of money and information to Catalonia.

“We asked them not to play politics with security,” said Mr Puigdemont, pointing to Madrid’s decision to block the hiring of new Catalan police officers this year and to drag its feet on granting the local force access to information from Europol. “Unfortunately, the Spanish government had other priorities.”

The comments bring an end to an uneasy truce that took hold in the aftermath of the attacks, where voices across the political divide showed solidarity against the terrorist threat. King Felipe VI, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Mr Puigdemont stood shoulder-to-shoulder last weekend at commemorations for the victims. But since then, the pro- and anti-independence sides have been itching to get back to political warfare ahead of the planned October referendum.

The vote threatens to turn into a full-blown political and constitutional crisis, with Mr Rajoy promising to use all legal means to stop it from taking place. Anti-independence voices have used the attacks to urge Mr Puigdemont to abandon the referendum plan. Madrid-based newspaper El País said the attacks should be a “wake-up call” for Catalonian politics to “return to reality” and start forging a better relationship with Madrid in the national interest. Mr Puigdemont, a 54-year-old former journalist who took over as Catalan president last year, told the FT that abandoning the planned vote on October 1 because of the terrorist attack would be tantamount to letting the terrorists win.

“The return to normality is a defeat for the terrorists,” he said confirming that the vote would still take place. He added that the best way to encourage strong co-operation between Madrid and Barcelona would be an independent Catalonia. “We do not want to turn our back on Spain,” he said. “It’s the opposite. We are convinced that a relationship between equals will improve our relationship.”

The Catalan police force has come under fire this week, firstly after it emerged that a Belgian police officer last year informally requested information from a Catalan colleague about Abdelbaki Es Satty, an imam believed to have been behind last week’s attacks. No warning was passed on. Some newspapers also claimed that the Catalan police missed vital clues ahead of the attacks.

An association representing Spain’s national and military police said Catalan police had “only one goal in mind: to show an image outside our borders of a self-sufficient Catalan state”: Rejecting this, Mr Puigdemont said relations with the Spanish police on the ground were “excellent” and tracking down the terror cell after the attacks had been a success. “The Catalan police, even if they do not have all the tools they need . . . and are badly financed, have managed the crisis exceptionally well,” he said.

He added that there had been similar terrorists attacks all over Europe that intelligence agencies and police forces had failed to stop, and it was impossible to completely eliminate the risk of one occurring. “There are police very well prepared . . . [who] have not been able to stop an attack,” he said. Some in the pro-independence camp in Catalonia have argued that the success of the post-attack operation, which dismantled the terrorist cell and foiled a large assault in the seaside town of Cambrils, was evidence that the region can make a success of being an independent country.

Speaking from the imposing medieval palace in the centre of Barcelona that is the seat of the Catalan presidency, Mr Puigdemont said the operation was just one more piece of evidence showing that independence is possible: “We show each day that we are prepared to act as an independence state . . . Not just in exceptional moments.” He pointed to the Catalan economy, whose gross domestic product is growing faster than the rest of Spain at an expected 3.3 per cent this year, as well as the region’s successful management of 17m foreign tourists every year. 

The Spanish government has threatened legal action against senior Catalan political figures involved in the referendum, which Spain’s constitutional court has deemed illegal. Mr Puigdemont said he was willing to go to jail if it meant giving the Catalan people a chance to vote on independence. “I don’t want to go to prison . . . but there is nothing they can do to me that will make me stop this referendum,” he said. Mr Puigdemont said that despite all the warnings by Madrid, the pro-independence Catalan government had the will and the materials to carry out the vote, so stopping it would be difficult. “We have more than 6,000 ballot boxes already. I do not see how the state can stop it.”
However, Madrid has more cards to play. Aside from legal sanctions, the government could suspend the region’s self-governance, in effect ruling Catalonia from Madrid. It could also take over the police force. “There will be no referendum on October 1,” promised a steely Mr Rajoy last month. Analysts say the chance of independence materialising, even if there is a vote, is hamstrung by the polling numbers. A July poll by the Catalan CEO centre for opinion research found that just 41 per cent of Catalans were in favour of an independent state. If some kind of referendum does go ahead without the courts’ backing, Madrid, may well just downplay it as a protest vote with no legal weight, akin to the informal independence ballot held in Catalonia in November 2014.

Then, only 36 per cent of the population turned out. But in a room filled with sumptuous medieval Catalan artworks, which officials say highlight the existence of a unique culture stretching back hundreds of years, Mr Puigdemont said Madrid was underestimating the will of the Catalan people. “Everyone is convinced this the moment to decide [on independence],” he said. “This is the definitive vote. This is the moment to finish with this process. I am convinced that there will be enough votes to show to the world what is the will of the Catalan people.”

Carles Puigdemont, president of Catalonia

1962 Born in Amer, a small town near Girona in Catalonia
1981 Started working for the daily newspaper El Punt, which is based in Girona, where he later became editor-in-chief.
2004 Co-founded Catalonia Today, a daily newspaper in English.
2006 Elected as a member of the Catalan parliament for Girona
2011 Elected mayor of Girona.
2016 Became the president of Catalonia, the region’s ninth since 1931, replacing Artur Mas


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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

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