Unilateral independence bid debate revives
Ruling Socialists stress respect for the law as Esquerra keeps open option of seeking Republic without agreement
“We cannot feed confrontation,” was the reaction by the Spanish government’s delegate to Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera, on Monday, to the Esquerra Republicana (ERC) party’s refusal to rule out the possibility of pursuing independence unilaterally without the agreement of the state. “Everyone must be able to defend their ideas, but always respecting the law,” said the delegate, who added “laws can be changed when you have a majority, but what you can’t do is violate them.”
ERC held its national congress over the weekend, reaffirming its commitment to Catalan self-determination preferably with, but if necessary without, the cooperation of the Spanish authorities. A referendum on independence ruled illegal by the Spanish courts on October 1, which was followed by a declaration of independence in the Catalan Parliament, led to the previous government’s dismissal and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.
“We want independence and we will work towards that, ERC was born to bring about the Republic,” said ERC’s deputy leader and vice president, Pere Aragonès, speaking on Catalan television on Monday, who qualified his party’s decision to keep the unilateral option open. “We have a state and part of a society that does not accept what we have put forward so far. So, if we want to take the path of making our own decisions, there has to be many more of us. The bigger our majority, the less time we will have to wait,” he said.
ERC’s position received cautious approval from the Catalan government spokeswoman, Elsa Artadi, who said: “We prioritize dialogue but we can’t rule out anything either.” ERC is currently sharing power in Catalonia with Artadi’s JxCat political group, which was the most voted pro-independence candidacy in the election in December. Members of both parties who were part of the previous Catalan government are currently in jail or exile while being prosecuted for their part in last year’s independence bid.
PSC warns of “chaos and setbacks”
In fact, a spokesman for the PSC party, the Catalan branch of the Socialist party currently in power in Madrid, made reference to the “chaos and setbacks” in Catalonia that resulted from pursuing independence unilaterally. For PSC’s Salvador Illa, “the frustrated attempt [to achieve independence] in the previous term” shows that the legal framework does not provide for such an approach, even if all political positions deserve “respect.”
The imposition of direct rule was carried out by the People's Party (PP), who were in power in Madrid at the time and later replaced by Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist government. The vice president of the former PP government, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, now a candidate to lead the party, expressed her concern over ERC’s decision. Sáenz de Santamaría warned Sánchez “not to take a step backwards,” reminding the new Spanish president that it took “the efforts of everyone” to ensure the October declaration of independence had “no effect.”