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Matt Winkler
Matt Winkler
Articles (145) 

How Carles Puigdemont Can Solve the Catalonia Crisis

New elections would effectively amount to a new and fuller referendum. All Puigdemont must do to de-escalate the situation is agree

October 23, 2017 | About:

Catalonia and Madrid look like they are locked in a totally unnecessary mutual suicide pact. If Catalonia insists on defying Madrid, things could get violent, destroying the economies of both Catalonia and the rest of Spain. The consequences for European equities would be enormous, particularly big Spanish banks like Bankia SA (WBO:BKIA) and CaixaBank SA (XMCE:CABK). It would bring the future of the European Union, already reeling from a deadlock in Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom, into an even deeper question.

But there is one simple and fast way out of this crisis that would end – or at least greatly reduce the possibility of violence between Spaniards on the Iberian peninsula in the immediate future.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, without saying so explicitly, actually proposed the solution late last week when he triggered Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, effectively shutting down the Catalan government and imposing direct rule from Madrid. Rajoy, however, has insisted that this move is not aimed at ending Catalan autonomy and is not a punitive measure but merely aims to replace the current government with a new one, to be elected by the Catalan people.

In other words, under Rajoy’s proposal, post new elections, the level of autonomy would, at minimum, remain the same. Effectively then, under new elections Catalans would have a choice. Either elect a new government that runs on an independence ticket, or elect one that wants to remain under Madrid with the same level of autonomy as before. It would be another referendum in all but name. In explicitly saying that Catalan autonomy is not under threat, Rajoy is effectively calling his proposal a new referendum without saying the words.

New elections would be a fuller, more legitimate referendum on independence, not boycotted by half of the territory as the previous referendum was due to its doubtful legal status. All Carles Puigdemont, president of the Catalonia government, and his government have to do is say OK and let Catalonia – this time more than only the pro-independence voters – decide in full if they really want independence from Madrid. If they do, they would simply re-elect the current government or one similar. If not, they would elect a different one that runs under a unionist pledge. Puigdemont or his separatist party could even frame it as a referendum, and who could fault him?

Puigdemont has said over and over again that he wants dialogue. A vote is, effectively, a dialogue between a country’s people and its leaders, both in Barcelona and Madrid. If Puigdemont really wants dialogue, he should just agree to new elections, and if he or someone else that also wants independence wins, Catalonia would be in a much stronger position to demand it with Rajoy looking increasingly like a mad bully if he refuses to allow it and chooses violence instead.

Unfortunately, Puigdemont has rejected Rajoy’s roundabout offer of dialogue, refusing new elections even though conducting them would surely de-escalate the situation significantly. New elections would, of course, threaten Puigdemont’s job, which raises the question of whether this whole independence push is simply a personal power play or a sincere desire for independence for his people.

As disturbing as Madrid’s reaction to the initial referendum was, Puigdemont’s refusal of what would amount to a second and more legitimate referendum may be even more disturbing. Instead of going back to the ballot box, Puigdemont is effectively playing chicken and risking real violence between Spaniards. If violence breaks out, there will be no winners.

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