Party Review – the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) asks for an “exceptional majority” to back self-determination
The incumbent President of the Catalan Government and the main CiU candidate, Artur Mas, is asking for massive support in order to have the strength to negotiate the organisation of an independence referendum. The CiU is focusing the re-election campaign on the self-determination process, heading away from the unpopular budget cuts it has been implementing over the last two years. The CiU is currently Catalonia’s largest party, running most of the public offices. It has 62 MPs in the 135-seat Parliament and gained 38.43% of the votes in the 2010 elections. Polls give them between 61 and 71 seats, in the best scenario obtaining an absolute majority. However, the CiU campaign has been completely derailed nine days before the elections by the Spanish nationalist newspaper El Mundo, which accused Mas and other top CiU leaders of corruption. These accusations turned out to be false and Mas is now accusing the Spanish Government of playing dirty tricks.
Barcelona (ACN).- The incumbent President of the Catalan Government and the main CiU candidate, Artur Mas, is asking for massive support in the 25th of November elections in order to have the strength to negotiate the organisation of an independence referendum. The CiU is currently Catalonia\u2019s largest party, running most of the public offices. After September\u2019s 1.5 million-strong demonstration in Barcelona asking for independence and the refusal by the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to negotiate a specific fiscal agreement for Catalonia, Mas put himself in support of the self-determination claim and called for early elections, two years in advance. The incumbent Catalan President has managed to focus his re-election campaign on the self-determination process, heading away from the unpopular budget cuts the CiU has been implementing over the last two years while running the Catalan Government. In fact, the next elections are perceived by most of the Catalan voters, but also by the Spanish establishment and international media, to be a plebiscite on Catalonia\u2019s right to organise its own self-determination referendum. According to the polls, the support for Mas and the CiU increased through September and October, although as the elections were approaching the opposition parties managed to also include the austerity measures and budget cuts in the campaign. Currently, the CiU has 62 MPs in the 135-seat Parliament and gained 38.43% of the votes in the 2010 elections. Polls give them between 61 and 71 seats, meaning that in the best senario they will obtain an absolute majority.
However, Catalonia\u2019s electoral campaigns \u2013 and the CiU\u2019s in particular \u2013 has been completely derailed nine days before the elections by the Spanish nationalist newspaper El Mundo, which falsely accused Mas and other top CiU leaders of corruption. These accusations were apparently based on a draft report by the Spanish Police. However, after 5 days of internal investigation, the Spanish Police confirmed that the report does not exist. In addition, on Friday the Spanish Police trade union showed the document used by El Mundo, which seems to be falsified as it lacks a signature, a stamp and a reference number. The document is made using anonymous references and Artur Mas and the former CiU leader Jordi Pujol are not even mentioned. Mas is accusing the Spanish Government of \u201Cusing the State\u2019s sewers\u201D but the Spanish Executive remains ambiguous, spreading shadows on Mas\u2019 honesty and preventing Catalonia\u2019s General Prosecutor from investigating. This false accusation has completely focused the last week of the campaign. Last weekend, the scandal could have torpedoed Mas\u2019 campaign, but after the confirmation that the information is false and the Spanish Government\u2019s ambiguous attitude, the defamation could have a boomerang effect and help Mas, as he is now perceived by many voters as the target of Spanish nationalists\u2019 dirty tricks.
Mas is leading the Catalan self-determination process, after the failed fiscal agreement
Artur Mas \u2013 who is the leader of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) \u2013 adopted in the last two months, as Catalan President, the role of the leader of the Catalan people in their claim to organise a referendum to decide whether they want to remain in Spain or to be an independent state within the European Union. After the massive independence demonstration held in Barcelona on Catalonia\u2019s National Day, which was the largest demonstration ever witnessed in the Catalan capital (1.5 million people participated in it according to local police and 0.6 million according to the Spanish Government), Mas considered that a political answer was needed.
In parallel, Mas was about to propose a radical reform of the fiscal redistribution scheme to the Spanish Government, setting a specific fiscal agreement between Catalonia and Spain similar to that of the Basque Country and Navarra. Under this specific fiscal pact, the Catalan Government would raise all taxes and would pay in two packets for the Spanish Executive: one for the services and investments the Spanish Government provides for Catalan citizens (including general services such as the army and the ministries in Madrid) and a second one for territorial solidarity for poorer regions and countries. This way, Catalans would know how much they are paying and how much they are getting back, as currently there is not full transparency on the issue. The only official report published by the Spanish Government in the 35 years of democracy indicated that Catalans would have a fiscal deficit of between 6.4% and 8.7% of its annual GDP, depending on the methodology used to calculate the figures. This means that Catalans might be giving away between 13 and 17 billion euros each year, a situation repeated over the last decades. This amount is judged to be excessive by three quarters of Catalans, who want a fairer deal, especially when basic services in Catalonia are under-funded and essential infrastructures are not being built by the Spanish Government. In addition, after the fiscal redistribution, Catalonia loses many ranks and regions who are net receivers are in a better position. The proposed CiU fiscal agreement would reduce Catalonia\u2019s contribution for funding services and infrastructures in other parts of Spain, but it would still respect the solidarity principle. However, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, refused the proposal.
The CiU is giving up trying to reform Spain
Mas presented the fiscal pact as the last attempt to find a fair fit for Catalonia within Spain, from a fiscal point of view; but it was refused. In addition, over the last year, the Spanish Government \u2013 run by the conservative and Spanish nationalist People\u2019s Party (PP) \u2013 has launched a centralist offensive, reducing Catalonia\u2019s self-government. In addition, there have been attacks on the Catalan language and the Catalan public school model, based on linguistic immersion, which has been internationally praised (by the European Commission and UNESCO), and in place for three decades. For all these reasons, the CiU is arguing that Spain is not only not funding Catalonia appropriately, but it is also damaging its own identity, language, culture and self-government institutions. The CiU is also postulating that Catalan nationalism, always democratic and peaceful, has been trying to change Spain since the mid-19th century, and especially in the last three decades. The Catalan nationalists have been trying to get the Spanish establishment to recognise Spain\u2019s pluri-national nature, embrace all its languages (including Catalan) and allow the Catalan economy to lead Spain, as it has been doing for the last two centuries. In fact, the moderate Catalan nationalism has historically been a leading force in Spain\u2019s modernisation, pushing or contributing to the most important reforms of the last 150 years. However, Spain has not accepted a territorial model in which Catalonia would be comfortable. The CiU \u2013 and a large number of Catalans \u2013 consider that Spain does not want to change its views regarding Catalonia\u2019s national interests; they think it will continue to downplay Catalonia and the Catalan language and they are giving up trying to change Spain. Instead, they are turning towards independence. Therefore, the CiU considers that it is time for a self-determination referendum and to let Catalans freely decide if they want to continue being part of such a state. However, being part of the European Union is not at all questioned by the Catalan nationalists. In fact, despite Catalonia being a net contributor to the EU budget for decades, Catalans are very pro-EU and so is the Catalan nationalism. In fact, Artur Mas is appearing in all its campaign rallies with an EU flag, aware that EU membership is a key factor linked to a future Catalan state.
The CiU presents the elections as a plebiscite on the self-determination referendum
Following the massive demonstration and Rajoy\u2019s refusal, Mas considered that it was the time for the Catalan people to decide directly. In addition, the CiU has been running the Catalan Government for the last two years, in a very difficult time. The CiU has been obliged to meet drastic deficit objectives and it has implemented austerity measures and very unpopular budget cuts. The opposition parties believe that the CiU could have passed other budget cuts and tax reforms in order to increase revenue. However, the CiU blames the former left-wing cabinet for the inherited situation and states that these are the best budget cuts for the preservation of Welfare State services. The citizens are split, while many agree that budget cuts were needed, a significant number as well are protesting their effect on public services and labour conditions. Therefore, the CiU has no electoral interest in focusing these elections on budget cuts and it has successfully put all its effort into making Catalonia\u2019s independence and the self-determination referendum the centre of their campaign. In fact, Mas is turning these elections into a plebiscite on the Catalan peoples\u2019 right to organise a self-determination referendum. He states that Catalonia is facing an \u201Chistorical moment\u201D and needs to send \u201Can historical message\u201D. Therefore he is asking for \u201Can exceptional majority\u201D to lead this process, which will be \u201Cfull of difficulties and obstacles\u201D. Mas is asking \u201Cto concentrate\u201D the Catalan nationalist vote on him, in order to have \u201Cthe strength\u201D to lead.
A fake accusation that might have a boomerang effect
The CiU\u2019s electoral campaign was completely blindsided by a scandal when the Spanish nationalist newspaper El Mundo falsely stated nine days before the elections that Mas and other top CiU leaders had secret accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The information turned to be false but it could have perverse effects. The main people accused were the Catalan President, Artur Mas; Mas\u2019 father (who died last year); the former Catalan President and historical CiU leader, Jordi Pujol; and one of the current CiU leaders and son of the former Catalan President, Oriol Pujol. In last few days, the Catalan Home Affairs Minister, Felip Puig, had also been included. According to the Madrid-based newspaper, the money in these bank accounts came from corrupt deals between the CiU and construction companies. El Mundo, which is often in line with the PP\u2019s interests, based its accusation on a secret draft that would have been obtained from the Spanish Police. However, after an internal investigation that lasted 5 days, the Spanish Police stated that the draft does not exist. In addition, according to the Spanish Home Affairs Ministry, some of El Mundo\u2019s information came from other reports, but none of them mention the incumbent Catalan President and CiU leader and many pieces of the information are based on Internet rumours and anonymous letters. On Friday, the Spanish Police trade union displayed the document used by El Mundo, which seems to be falsified as it lacks a signature, a stamp and a reference number. The document uses anonymous references and Artur Mas and the former CiU leader Jordi Pujol are not even mentioned. On Wednesday, the Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, stated that the Spanish Tax Agency will investigate Mas. The CiU leader denied the accusations from the first day, as did the other people involved, who have all filed a lawsuit against El Mundo for defamation.
However, the Spanish Government has not fully clarified the issue and is making ambiguous statements that throw doubts on Mas\u2019 honesty. For instance, on Wednesday, after it was known that the draft did not exist, the Spanish Finance Minister stated that \u201Cit is those who have secret accounts in Switzerland who have to provide an explanation to Spanish society\u201D and not the Spanish Government. The same day, the PP\u2019s main candidate in Catalonia, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, stated that \u201CMas is asking for a blank cheque in the shape of an absolute majority\u201D in order to have \u201Cabsolute power to act with impunity\u201D.
Mas is accusing the PP and the Spanish Government of using \u201Cthe State sewers\u201D to \u201Cdestroy him\u201D and what he represents. He also accused the Spanish establishment of playing \u201Cdirty tricks\u201D and trying to interfere with the Catalan elections. Mas has been insisting on these accusations until this very Friday, repeating that they are \u201Cbrutal attacks\u201D against Catalans\u2019 right to celebrate free elections, especially if they have this historical dimension regarding the self-determination process. The Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, stated that it is a \u201Cfalse\u201D idea that the Spanish Government and the PP are building a defamation campaign against the CiU and Mas. Rajoy added that \u201Cif somebody has a problem, they should not transfer it to somebody else\u201D. However, some members of the Spanish Government keep harbouring doubts about Mas\u2019 honesty with ambiguous public statements. In addition, on Thursday Catalonia\u2019s General Prosecutor, launched a criminal investigation against El Mundo for defamation, but his boss, Spain\u2019s Director of Public Prosecution Office \u2013 who is directly named by the Spanish Government \u2013, stopped him and the investigation. This fake report and the scandal around it could have a boomerang effect and end up helping Mas in Sunday\u2019s elections.
The CiU supports for a Catalan state
The CiU, called \u2018Convergència i Unió\u2019 in Catalan, is the traditional main party for moderate Catalan nationalism. It is formed by two parties that have been running together for the last three decades: the Liberal CDC (\u2018Convergència\u2019) \u2013which is the larger party \u2013 and the Christian-Democrat UDC (\u2018Unió\u2019) \u2013 which is the smaller. In the last few years, the CDC base has been gradually shifting towards a pro-independence stance and, at its last party congress, the CDC officially supported the creation of \u201CCatalonia\u2019s own state\u201D, although they refused to openly call it independence. In fact, the CDC has traditionally had quite an ambiguous official stance on the issue, avoiding the claim for Catalonia\u2019s independence from Spain. Instead, the party has defended \u201Cthe right to decide\u201D and they coined a word to define their stance: \u201Csovereigntism\u201D, defending Catalonia\u2019s sovereignty to decide its own future. However, over the last few years an increasing part of Catalonia\u2019s population supports Catalonia\u2019s independence from Spain and most of the CDC\u2019s members, especially the party\u2019s younger generations, clearly support Catalonia\u2019s independence from Spain. In addition, most of the CDC\u2019s leadership would vote for independence on a personal level, including Mas. However, this has not been the official stance of the party but this is gradually changing, especially over the last year and these last two months.
Now, the CiU\u2019s campaign rallies are full of independence flags although Mas, as Catalan President, tries not to say the word \u201Cindependence\u201D and prefers to talk about \u201Ca Catalan state\u201D. Mas is doing this because part of the CiU\u2019s base still has doubts about independence and because its coalition partner, the UDC, does not support it. The Christian-Democrat UDC, which is led by the CiU \u2018number two\u2019, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, does not support independence and proposes a Spanish confederation. In fact, Duran i Lleida \u2013 who is one of the most veteran politicians in Catalonia and Spain, despite being only 60 \u2013 stated a few weeks before the elections that he was not supporting independence. However, Duran i Lleida has been very vocal during the campaign and over the last few years on the Spanish establishment\u2019s attitude towards Catalonia and their lack of respect for Catalan language, self-government and economy. In addition, UDC and Duran i Lleida clearly defend the Catalans\u2019 right to decide their own future through a self-determination referendum.