After half a year of full-on constitutional crisis in Spain, the results are sobering and give little hope for constructive progress, let alone a long-term solution to the current impasse, which so deeply divides Catalan society. Not much has happened since the Catalan independence parties, which represent roughly 50 percent of the population in Catalonia, paved the way for a unilateral independence process in the fall of 2017. Fulfilling this election promise might have seemed inevitable in the face of a central government more interested in repression than dialogue. The not so unexpected result however can be compared to running a car into a brick wall head-on, maybe hoping to come out well on the other side. Unsurprisingly, the Conservative Rajoy government reacted swiftly and unapologetically by shutting down the regional government, incarcerating its leaders, and clearing the way for snap elections of a new Catalan parliament.
Sure enough, the events described constitute an utter and complete failure for the Catalan pro-independence faction, with its exiled former head of government Carles Puigdemont currently residing in Brussels for fear of incarceration in Spain. More so, however, they undeniably demonstrate the utter and complete failure of the government of Mariano Rajoy and his Partido Popular, which, to say the least, holds its fair share of responsibility for this national crisis.
The snap elections before Christmas serve as a glaring example for this failure. As expected, Catalans remained divided along the previously established lines, and the pro-independence parties managed to maintain a slight parliamentary majority. While the centrist-liberal Ciudadanos came out stronger than before and now constitutes the biggest parliamentary group, the grand total remains more or less the same. Much more importantly, the issues that divide Catalonia and drive the independence movement have not been addressed. The weak rhetoric of the central government, and sadly that of Ciudadanos as well, is one reduced to mere questions of legality and respect of the constitution.
While it is hard to deny the importance of the law and its respect, the stubborn refusal to engage in consensus-seeking dialogue regarding the status of Catalonia within Spain, as well as the total absence of a genuine reform agenda for Spain, constitutes nothing short of gross political negligence. Rajoy comes across as a man without any vision or political project, whose only actions are indeed reactions – desperate attempts to cling on to an unsustainable status quo, the centralised post-Franco Spain as we know it. It’s interesting and quite telling indeed that the Socialist PSOE’s party leader Pedro Sanchez appears to be the only national politician with the political will and vision for powerful constitutional reform. At the same time, the political landscape in Spain seems to be rapidly shifting toward a multi-party system, which might inevitably foster a stronger culture of consensus. After all, parties will have to work together and compromise if they want to govern. It can only be hoped that this shift will come to the detriment of those who have no vision for or interest in a future that works for everybody.