Rajoy doesn't offer an alternative and Catalan President will call self-determination vote anyway
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, finally met this Wednesday in Madrid to talk about the self-determination process and also about economic, social and institutional issues. Mas told Rajoy that a majority of the Catalan Parliament plans to hold a self-determination vote on the 9th of November and they want to do it "reaching an agreement with the Spanish Government and within the legal framework". However, if Rajoy rejects negotiating such an agreement, Mas will use the Catalan legal framework to organise a legal vote. Rajoy emphasised that the consultation vote "is not legal and will not be legal" and therefore "will not take place". However, the Spanish PM did not present any alternatives to modify the current status quo. Besides, Mas presented Rajoy with a document with 23 issues not related to self-determination, such as Catalonia's under-budgeted public services, pending infrastructure works, and the Education Reform.
Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, finally met this Wednesday in Madrid to talk about the self-determination process and also about economic, social and institutional issues. Neither of them changed their stance. On the one hand, Mas will continue with the plan agreed among a majority of Catalan parties to organise a legal self-determination vote on the 9th of November. Mas emphasised that "an agreement with the Spanish Government" on this issue would be "better" in order to do things "the British way", but if Rajoy continues to reject to negotiate about such an agreement, the self-determination vote will be called using the Catalan legal framework. On the other hand, Rajoy repeated that such a vote is "illegal" and therefore "it cannot take place and will not take place". In addition, the Spanish PM rejected making any concession and did not present any alternatives to improve Catalonia's accommodation within Spain in order to reduce support for independence, such as offering a better fiscal deal. In fact, Rajoy has always excluded this possibility and has even rejected to talk about the mild Constitutional Reform proposed by the Socialist Party (PSOE), which does not recognise Catalonia's nationhood status and its right to self-determination. However, during the meeting Mas presented Rajoy with a list of 23 issues that should be addressed in the next few months which are not directly related to the self-determination, such as the funding of basic public services in Catalonia, funds for active employment policies, paralysed essential infrastructure projects, the recentralisation of powers in Spain or the Spanish Government's Education Reform that damages the Catalan language. In a press release issued after the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, Rajoy stated he would study the 23-point document "with a constructive spirit". He also offered a "sincere and loyal" cooperation in any matter that might "benefit Catalan citizens", while stressing the unity of Spain. Meanwhile, Mas held a long press conference in which he answered questions from journalists and stated that there is "a dialogue open" with Rajoy. It was the first time the two politicians had held a meeting since August 2013, and since then a majority of Catalan Parties have agreed on an exact question wording and date to hold a self-determination vote in December 2013.
Finally, after one year without talking to each other besides a few protocol greetings in events they both attended, the Spanish Prime Minister and the Catalan President met. Mas asked for the meeting in early July, after weeks of controversy about who should call each other to ask for a meeting, although both of them had been repeating for months they were willing to talk. However, Rajoy also repeated that he was open to talk about everything except the self-determination vote, which is precisely the main issue that Mas wanted to discuss and is the main issue in Catalan and Spanish politics at the moment.
Rajoy's single argument has not changed over the past few months: a self-determination vote is illegal according to his interpretation of the Spanish Constitution and the interpretation made by the Spanish Parliament and Constitutional Court, which are both controlled by the People's Party (PP), chaired by Rajoy. In fact, a few Constitutional experts – most of them from Catalonia, but a few from other parts of Spain – have been arguing that such a vote would be possible with the political will to make it possible. This means that it would be legal by making an open interpretation of the Constitution or by passing a small amendment to the Constitution to make its validity more explicit. The Spanish Constitution was already modified in a hurried way in September 2011, in just two weeks, to include limitations to the public deficit and debt levels. Such an agreement was negotiated only between the PP and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), excluding the rest of parties who had participated in the Constitutional Pact from 1978.
Jordi Pujol and Pedro Sánchez fuelled the meeting's intensity
The meeting between Mas and Rajoy arrived in an intense political moment due to the self-determination debate and the closeness of the 9th of November day, when a consultation vote is scheduled. However, it also arrived a few days after the historical leader of Catalan nationalism, Jordi Pujol, confessed to fiscal fraud, and after Rajoy and the new leader of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sánchez, drew an alliance against self-determination.
The Mas-Rajoy meeting came five days after it was known that the historical leader of conservative Catalan nationalism, and Mas' political father, Jordi Pujol, had hidden more than €4 million in an Andorran bank for almost 35 years without reporting it to the tax authorities. Pujol, who had been President of the Catalan Government between 1980 and 2003, gave up all his honorary titles, posts, pension and office on Tuesday, the day before Mas met Rajoy. Many media outlets, mostly from Madrid, interpreted that the Catalan President would meet with Rajoy with a weakened political position due to Pujol's fiscal fraud. When he was asked about it in the press conference, Mas stated that his "strength is given by the Catalan people", since "the strength of a country goes way beyond a single person".
Around 80% of Catalans want to vote
Opinion polls over the past 2 years have shown that between 75% and 80% of Catalans want to hold a self-determination vote in Catalonia, regardless of whether they would vote for independence or not. In addition, in the last Catalan Parliament elections held in November 2012, 80% of the elected MPs supported the organisation of a legal self-determination during the campaign. Therefore, there is a clear democratic mandate to organise such a vote in Catalonia, which the Spanish establishment, including the PP and the PSOE, have been ignoring. Polls also indicate that between 45% and 55% of Catalans would vote for independence while between 20% and 25% would vote against it and the rest is still undecided.
Besides, the meeting also arrived two days after the Spanish PM met on Monday with Pedro Sánchez, who was officially elected as the PSOE's new Secretary General this last weekend. After talking about the current political and economic situation in Spain, the two politicians only agreed in a single point: their views regarding Catalonia's self-determination, which they totally oppose and consider a vote on the issue to be "illegal". During his acceptance speech as Secretary General, Sánchez read that "we have to eradicate from our vocabulary words such as crisis, unemployment, inequalities, violence against women and pro-independence", grouping all these concepts altogether. Therefore he was putting in the same bag a crime with a legitimate political option in a plural and democratic state. The day after, Sánchez recognised that the comparison had been inappropriate.
Mas was interrupted by extreme-right shouts
In the press conference after meeting with Rajoy, Mas was interrupted by a group of people shouting that Catalonia was part of Spain. Mas held the press conference in the Catalan Government's offices in Madrid, the same place where a group of Fascist and Spanish nationalists also interrupted a welcoming drink offered on the Catalan National Day in September 2013. Back then, a group of people pushed assistants and reached the stage. This time, only a single person was able to access the edge of the press conference room and shout, while the rest of the group was kept outside the offices. After a few seconds of confusion, the Catalan President proceeded with his explanations about the meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister. The youth section of Falange, which was the only party during Franco's Fascist and Spanish nationalist dictatorship – a far-right party still legal in Spain – claimed responsibility for the action.
The Catalan President highlighted 4 main messages
During the press conference, Mas wanted to highlight 4 main messages. Firstly, that the "dialogue is open". The Catalan President stressed that "today is not the end of anything" and "not all the doors have been closed", he added. Secondly, Mas presented Rajoy with a document with 23 issues "not directly related to self-determination" but also important, such as Catalonia's under-budgeted public services, pending infrastructure works and the Education Reform that aims to decrease the presence of Catalan language. This document is "not a list of grievances", but of legitimate proposals and issues that have to be addressed.
Among these issues, they discussed the funding scheme of the Catalan Government and the rest of the Autonomous Communities, which provokes a fiscal deficit that damages the competitiveness of the Catalan economy and the effectiveness of its public services. This inter-territorial fiscal transfer scheme should have been modified more than 7 months ago, since the Spanish law ruling it establishes that a new system had to be in place by the 1st January 2014. Despite the law obliges to review it, the Spanish Government refuses to do so this year and in 2015. In addition, it rejects giving more funds to the Autonomous Communities, despite the fact that they exclusively manage essential Welfare State services such as healthcare and education. In exchange, the Spanish Government offered to review the conditions of the loans given to the Autonomous Communities through the Liquidity Fund (FLA). These loans are the only access to credit that the regional government currently have, since Rajoy banned them from accessing international financial markets. According to Mas, Rajoy proposed a revision of the interest rates to be paid back, as the only financial concession.
The third message refers to the self-determination vote. Mas told Rajoy that a majority of the Catalan Parliament plans to hold a self-determination vote on the 9th November, following a clear electoral mandate. "We have the democratic base and majority, the parliamentary base and majority, and the social base and majority" to do it, said Mas. However, the Catalan President insisted that they want to do it "reaching an agreement with the Spanish Government and within the legal framework". However, if Rajoy rejects negotiating such an agreement, they will use the Catalan legal framework to organise a legal vote anyway. "We would like to do it [the organisation of a self-determination vote] the British way", said Mas, but "we are totally determined" to go ahead. "There will not be a stable and good solution [for the Catalonia-Spain conflict] without a consultation vote", stressed the Catalan President. In one way or another, Catalans will vote. Mas was asked about whether he has a plan b if the consultation vote is blocked in November. At this point, the Catalan President emphasised that "there is only a single plan: to vote". Mas explained that this plan "has stages" and "currently we are in the stage of [preparing] the 9th of November". If, in the end, the Spanish Government manages to block it, the self-determination process will carry on anyway, said Mas, but he refused to disclose any further initiatives.
Rajoy did not offer any alternative way out
Finally, the fourth message, is Rajoy's refusal of the self-determination vote once again and his refusal to present any alternative. During the meeting, Rajoy emphasised that the consultation vote "is not legal" and "will not be legal", indirectly rejecting the Catalan legal framework to organise it. According to him, "it cannot take place and it will not take place". However, the Spanish PM did not put any other offer on the table to modify the current status quo and to try to find a better accommodation for Catalonia within Spain. Regarding this point, Mas admitted he was curious to see whether Rajoy would make a move or not to launch what is has been called "the third way", between the current situation and independence, which would keep Catalonia within Spain but with greater powers. The Catalan President reminded that Catalonia has been "proposing third ways our entire life". "We have been proposing third ways on manifold occasions in the previous years", pointed out Mas, "and yet we are in the current situation" because "the Spanish State has rejected them". Therefore, at this point, if a third way has to be put on the table, it has to come from the Spanish authorities in order to be credible, argued Mas; otherwise is only a trick to gain time.