The main Catalan nationalist party points towards Catalonia’s independence

‘Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya’ (CDC), the Liberal force within the two-party Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU), held its party congress over the weekend. For the first time in its history, CDC has claimed for Catalonia to have its “own state” in order “to avoid being erased off the map of cultures, languages, and world nations” as “Spain threatens Catalonia” and is no longer a “project that can be shared”. The current President of the Catalan Government and until last weekend the CDC Secretary General, Artur Mas, has now become the party Chairman. Oriol Pujol, son of the former Catalan president Jordi Pujol and Mas' close collaborator, has been elected the new Secretary General with 97.8% of the votes.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

March 27, 2012 12:35 AM

Reus (ACN).- For the first time in its history, the main Catalan nationalist party ‘Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya’ (CDC) has openly claimed for Catalonia to have its “own state”, in order “to avoid being erased off the map of cultures, languages, and world nations” as “Spain threatens Catalonia” and therefore is no longer a “project that can be shared”. Furthermore, CDC also defined the main guidelines for its main objective on the short run: setting a new fiscal agreement between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, which should be fairer to Catalan citizens and should guarantee public services’ economic viability and infrastructures’ competitiveness. Over the weekend, CDC held its 16th party congress in its 37 years of history and coinciding with the moment the party controls most of Catalonia’s main public offices. CDC is the Liberal force within the two-party Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU), which has been running the Catalan Government since December 2010. At the congress, CDC stressed its pro-independence profile and also changed part of its leadership. After 12 years being the party’s Secretary General, Artur Mas, who is also the President of the Catalan Government, became the new party Chairman. Mas had his management report unanimously approved (with 99.9% of the votes). On Sunday, he passed control of the party’s everyday issues to his close collaborator Oriol Pujol, who became CDC’s new Secretary General, with 97.8% of the votes. Oriol Pujol is the son of CDC’s historic leader, Jordi Pujol, who was the Catalan President for 23 years (1980-2003) and founded the party in 1974, during the Franco dictatorship. In what was the 16th party congress, an octogenarian Jordi Pujol abandoned his position as the party Chairman and became CDC Honorary Chairman, a new position created in his honour.

Between Friday and Sunday, the almost 2,000 delegates of CDC discussed the party’s future in Reus but also reviewed the party’s management over the last four years, since the last congress was held. Mas presented his management report as CDC’s Secretary General to the assembly, which was unanimously approved with 99.9% of the votes.

CDC has passed from leading the opposition to chairing the Catalan Government

In these last four years, CDC has passed from leading the opposition to chairing the Catalan Government. Artur Mas has been running the party’s everyday affairs over the last 12 years, including over the 7 years that CDC was in the opposition (2003-2010), a period referred by Mas as “the desert crossing”. In November 2010, CiU (the coalition formed by CDC and the Christian-Democrats UDC) won the Catalan elections. Seven months later they also won the municipal elections, achieving the best results in their history and winning in important cities where they had never won before, such as in Barcelona and Girona. Since then, they also control all the four provincial councils and almost all the county councils. Therefore, since the last elections, CDC is currently holding the greatest number of public offices ever, although in many places it does not have an absolute majority and has to agree with other parties. This is the case in the Catalan Parliament, when CiU has been implementing what they have called “variable geometry”, agreeing with a party on certain issues and with another force on other matters. Generally agreeing with the Conservative People’s Party (PP) on budget and economic issues, and with the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) on items related with Catalan culture and nation-building.

The right to have “state structures”

In his first speech at the congress, Mas asked for Catalonia “to have the right to have the structures and power that enable us to guarantee our viability as a country, our identity, our culture, our future aspirations, and our dreams”. Mas pictured a future Catalonia inside the European Union, a Catalonia “being the Massachusetts within the United States of Europe”. However, if this united Europe is not possible, Catalonia cannot give up having “state structures”, taking into account its history, “equal or even older than of the rest of European countries”, dating back more than 1,000 years ago.

“The party of the majority of Catalans”

However, the Catalan President sent a warning: CDC cannot become a party “serving a given minority”. Mas stated that CDC was born and has been developed to become the party of the majority of Catalans. Therefore “the party willing to represent a large majority of the people has to do things in a way that the vast majority understands”. This was a clear reference to avoid rushing down the road for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Despite the warning, the original text of the political motion was modified as many congress delegates pressured to mention the support for an independent Catalonia. Finally, the formula used states that CDC’s objective is “to promote the debate within society to build [Catalonia’s] own State that guarantees the survival as a nation and the viability as a society”.

CDC had traditionally avoided officially supporting Catalonia’s independence

CDC has traditionally had quite an ambiguous official stance on the issue, avoiding the claim for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Instead, the party has defended “the right to decide”. CDC coined a word to define this stance: “sovereigntism”. CDC has been defending Catalonia’s sovereignty to decide its own future.

Nonetheless, over the last number of years, an increasing part of Catalonia’s population supports Catalonia’s independence from Spain (43% according to the last official poll). Furthermore, most of CDC’s members, especially the party’s younger generations, clearly support Catalonia’s independence from Spain. And this idea is also shared by most of the party leadership, but on a personal level. For instance Artur Mas, President of the Catalan Government, has publicly stated that he personally would vote “yes” in an independence referendum; however, he had always insisted that this was not the official stance of the party.

The “national transition”

However, Mas is aware that, currently, a majority of Catalans might not support independence from Spain, including part of CDC’s electoral base. Therefore, pushing too much for Catalonia’s independence will mean loosing a percentage of voters and fracturing the country.

In fact, Mas wants to captain what he defines as the “national transition”, a trip that Catalan society is undertaking towards the full acknowledgement of its national reality and therefore reach “full sovereignty”, through which the majority of Catalans would freely decide how they want their country to be structured and which relationship they want to have with Spain. Mas, paraphrasing a poem by Kavafis and re-arranged by the Catalan song-writer Lluís Llach, stated that “in the trip towards Ithaca, our fleet must be formed by all the boats of Catalonia, all the people, and if all is not possible, almost all”.

Out of “the rotten waters” of Spain

Oriol Pujol, in his first speech as CDC’s Secretary General, thanked the party members, the past leadership and especially his father, the former Catalan President Jordi Pujol, for reaching this position. Pujol quoted parts of his father’s memories, such as the moment where he fears that Catalonia might find itself “in a quiet harbour of calm and rotten waters, and half-broken ships”. Oriol Pujol said that under his father’s and Mas’ leaderships, Catalonia had “overpassed obstacles and escaped from these rotten waters”. And continuing with the sailing metaphors, CDC’s new Secretary General said that “the boat, less broken, is now captained by President Mas” and that there were already “many large boats and little boats” pointing “towards Ithaca”. Oriol Pujol directly said to Mas: “certainly there will be more obstacles, and you indicated the transition, but furthermore you showed us to run away from a port that otherwise would have digested us”.

Spain, a project that can no longer be shared

In the text approved by the assembly, “Catalonia’s own state” is the tool to guarantee the Catalan nation’s survival. The text literally states that in the last 30 years it has been proved that Spain’s “congenital and acquired lacks affect its viability as a project able to be shared”, “and if it had ever been so, it is clear that it is no longer the case”. The text adds that the “political Catalanism […] has difficulties to explain the reasons  to continue putting efforts into a purpose [finding Catalonia’s place within Spain] that appears as impossible to reach, efforts that on many occasions are the source of confusion and a lack of understanding”. CDC’s political motion continues by saying that a nation needs a state that acts and that is felt as its own, but Spain “is just the opposite”, because of Catalonia’s fiscal deficit, of neglecting the competitiveness of Catalonia’s infrastructure, and of not respecting Catalonia’s linguistic and cultural identity. “We need an efficient and useful state that stimulates and contributes to our great capacities for economic, social and cultural growth”.

CDC had spent “decades” defending how Catalonia should find its place within Spain

In his last speech, once the formula of had been accepted, Mas addressed the congress once again, this time already as the party’s Chairman. Mas stated that CDC had spent “decades” defending Catalonia’s right to be respected and how it should find its place within Spain. However, “it has been proven that this is not possible”, “and needs a new strategy to continue existing as a people”, he said. Finally, Mas stated that no one should believe “this right to be and to exist” as the will for confrontation, permanent contradiction or threat”, but as a way of “self-affirmation”. “Catalonia does not want to be erased off the map of cultures, languages, and world nations”, he concluded.

A new fiscal agreement between Catalonia and Spain

The 16th congress also defined the main guidelines for CDC’s main objective on the short run: setting a new fiscal agreement between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, which should be fairer to Catalan citizens and should guarantee public services’ economic viability and infrastructures’ competitiveness. As the Catalan Finance Ministry stated this March, since 1986, Catalonia has been giving away each year 8% of its GDP. The money was transferred to the rest of Spain to pay for services and infrastructures, following the principle of territorial redistribution of wealth. However, Catalonia lacks the money to pay for equivalent services or infrastructures, and the Spanish Government tends to not prioritising projects in Catalonia. This directly affects Catalan citizens’ everyday life, as it directly hits Catalonia’s economy and society. Furthermore, this annual effort is not recognised at Spanish level, since the redistribution criteria are not transparent, numbers are not published and the Spanish Government unilaterally decides on the quantities.

Catalonia’s own treasury

In order to correct this fiscal model that is unfair to Catalan citizens and undermines the economy, CDC is proposing setting a fiscal agreement between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. CDC has defined the main guidelines of this fiscal agreement and its non-negotiable conditions. They are the following: collecting all the taxes through a Catalan Tax Agency, abandoning the LOFCA model (the current fiscal redistribution model applicable to 15 of the 17 Spanish Autonomous Communities), and setting a limit to the money Catalonia transfers to the rest of Spain following the solidarity principle “in a level that does not undermine [Catalonia’s] social cohesion and competitiveness”. “The fiscal agreement means holding the key of the safe, and not something else”, the text states.

The new party Chairman, Artur Mas, affirmed in his last speech at the congress that “there are not a lot of possibilities [of Spain accepting this fiscal agreement], but we will use up all of them”. However, if Spain refuses this new fiscal agreement, Catalonia will still have to collect all the taxes, “Catalonia will have to build its own Treasury, because all the countries have their own treasury”, he underlined. In the same line of creating its own state structures, Catalonia “has to be able to govern itself”. Mas framed this Catalonia “into the United States of Europe”, as Catalonia is ready to put part of its sovereignty on Europe’s hands. Catalonia will use its full sovereignty to decide making such step, as any other state within the European Union has done. However, if this united Europe is never created, or it arrives too late, Catalonia will still claim for “the same powers that any other state has, the same powers of those who also defend their personality, the reason of being, their progress, and their welfare”, Mas said. “Catalonia will not be more than this, but it does not want to be less than this”, he concluded.