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Could austerity politics scupper Catalonia’s independence 'referendum’?

Por: | 24 de julio de 2015

Support for Catalan independence is at a four-year low as alternative parties shift the focus to the economy and social issues / ANDREU DALMAU (EFE)

 In two months Catalonia will vote in what everyone agrees are crucial elections — but ask anyone exactly what is at stake and you will get a different answer. Last year’s symbolic vote fit nicely into an easily-understood, if admittedly simplistic, Spain vs Catalonia narrative that international media could run with. However, it is this year’s mongrel, rushed election that really matters.

On paper, at least, Catalonia’s upcoming regional elections should be a milestone for nationalist ambitions: an unprecedented pact of major secessionist parties has formed, promising to declare independence within 18 months should it win on Sept. 27. Such a move is still complicated, though. Madrid has maintained its hard-nosed approach, recently suggesting the central government could temporarily wrest control from the Catalan Parliament in the event of the independence faction winning and trying to make good on their promise. This tactic has failed before, only serving to harden the position of the Catalan nationalists, but now the movement faces a greater threat.

Nationalist infighting and the increasingly-powerful alternative parties across the political spectrum have taken their toll on support for the established parties and old divisions are becoming more apparent than ever, despite calls for unity.

The pro-independence joint candidacy brings together the conservative Convergence (CDC) party and the left-wing Republican Democrat Left (ERC) under the “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes) pact, which calls for the establishment of a Catalan state within the European Union. At their head are three independent candidates — foremost among them Raül Romeva, former EMP for the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) — whose prominence is intended encourage voters to put aside political differences and unite to secure independence, but there is little doubt that if the pact were to win it would be CDC leader and incumbent President Artur Mas who would lead the Catalan Parliament.

This has angered Romeva’s former party which branded Junts pel Si as the pact of “continuity.” On Sunday ICV, United and Alternative Left (EUiA) and Podem (Podemos en Cataonia) launched an alternative coalition dubbed “Catalunya Si Que Es Pot” (roughly, Yes Catalonia Can). Backing the right to vote on Catalonia’s status as a nation at a later date but stopping short of the Junts Pel Si pact’s threat to declare independence unilaterally, Catalunya Si Que Es Pot’s manifesto calls for action to lessen the hardships caused by the protracted economic crisis, branding itself an alternative to the traditional parties.

“In Catalonia there are two models of country currently in play: one Catalonia belonging to those up high, represented by Mas and where austerity politics and corruption rule, and our model of a racially integrated, working-class, society of hope that believes we can govern in another way,” Gemma Ubasart, secretary general of Podem, told press on Sunday.

Surveys suggest voters are largely disillusioned with the established parties and will prioritize the economy come the elections. A July poll by Center of Opinion Studies (CEO) found that the majority of Catalans did not share Mas’s vision to convert the elections into a plebiscite. Of those surveyed, 58.1 percent said they would base their vote on the response to the financial crisis put forward by each party, while 21.1 percent said they would do so on the basis of Catalonia’s relationship with Spain. The remaining 14.6 percent said both factors would weigh on their voting decision.

The same survey found support for outright independence down to 37.6 percent, the lowest it has been since the CEO began canvassing the issue in 2011 and way down from its 2012 peak of 57 percent, although pollsters say last month’s breakup of the Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition is likely to have skewed the results somewhat. The decrease in support for independence was mirrored by Catalan voters increasingly focusing on other issues. Asked what their principal concerns were, a majority chose “unemployment,” followed by “dissolution with politics,” and the “economy.”

May’s municipal elections have reflected these shifting concerns on a national level as Podemos-affiliated leftist blocs and the centrist Citizens (C’s) made large gains across the country. Both positioned themselves as alternatives to the establishment, promising to end the steady stream of corruption scandals that have tarnished the mainstream parties.

Referendum or not, then, Catalonia’s regional elections will be closely fought. Sept. 27 will not only be a momentous vote for the Catalan people, but also a telling preliminary battle for Europe’s next showdown between traditional parties and anti-austerity upstarts.


Hay 3 Comentarios

Why is so difficult to understand that we, the Catalan people, would like to held a referendum, in order to officially know the will of all Catalans.
Friends, democracy, is the only tool that organizes modern countries.. No Spain or Europe should be afraid of it . If it is so, then they have a big conceptual problem.
European institutions should take note that now is the moment to face and assume the Catalan reality, complex, but with a really simple solution tool. GRANT THE CATALAN PEOPLE THE RIGHT TO VOTE.
Unfortunately, after what we are witnessing these days, I am not so sure European Instituions will be up to it.

Technically not absurd as last I checked, Catalonia is still part of Spain. Catalonia is one piece of a larger puzzle that the central government has to fit together. Are there problems with the way the central government is run? Yes. But why not fight to fix it, instead of running away and threatening to abolish all ties.

I do not really see such a major contradiction in these two positions. Catalans who are pro independence should ask themselves: "What do we want independence for?" And here the only rational answer is: "in order to have the freedom to build a better country for all of us to live in". Obviously, after independence, Catalans of all opinions shall choose their representatives, and their future. The absurdity is being "governed from the outside", by a party such as PP who regularly obtains only about 10% of the vote in Catalonia. Increasingly people se this very much in the same vein that Danes whould see the situation if requested to vote for a German party with headquarters in Berlin, o for a French party with Headquarters in Paris... Who obtained only 10% of the popular vote in Denmark! Thoroughly ABSURD!

Another intriguing possibility is a new, second edition of the so called Pacto de San Sebastian. In the early 30's, pact was made between Madrid Left leaning Republicans, and Catalan Nationalists (probably also the Basques). They decided to cooperate in order to bring down the Monarchy, and to proclaim the II Spanish Republic. The Pact also included the agreement and comittment of Madrid Republicans to approve a Statute of autonomy for Catalonia and the Basqe Country. All this came to pass!

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Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

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