Republishing an updated, complete version of the Brief.
Over the last decades, Spaniards have been obsessed with numbers. During the Great Recession, public debt´s risk premiums were debated on TV as frequently as celebrities’ love affairs.
Now that the economic crisis is over, we are all becoming experts on legal affairs as the country faces its biggest political crisis since the end of the dictatorship. Catalonia’s bid for independence has made 155 the most popular number in Spain.
The central government invoked this article of the constitution as the showdown between Madrid and Barcelona finally came this morning. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy can now adopt “the necessary measures” to force the Catalan government to return to the legal order, as the region “seriously” threatened Spain’s general interest.
The reason is Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s half-baked declaration of independence on Tuesday.
In an Orwellian use of words, Puigdemont suspended an independence that he barely declared. He said that the illegal referendum held on 1 October represented a “yes” for Catalexit even if only around 40% of the registered voters had backed this option. And he offered dialogue “with responsibility and generosity” to Madrid, when what he really wants is the central government to sit down and talk with a gun at its head.
We all know how well it worked out when you threatened your parents with leaving home if they didn’t accept your demands…
This time Rajoy has learnt the lesson, compared to the ill-conceived initial response to the referendum.
Article 155 that he has activated can be reversed with no consequences if only Puigdemont comes back from his wonderland. Rajoy forged a unified position with the Socialists and Ciudadanos, a liberal party. And he offered a dignified escape route from this quagmire to the Govern by promising a reform of the Spanish constitution in six months.
A new arrangement to accommodate the region’s demands (mostly identity and money) as part of a parliamentary discussion would satisfy a majority of Catalans, and would make an international mediator superfluous, as it has always been.
In an ideal scenario, Puigdemont would return to the constitutional order. He would be forced to call a snap election as he would lose the support of the CUP, a radical backbenchers’ party. He would probably lose support but his region would win competences. At the end of the day, what is more independent, a stronger autonomy or a pariah state?
But it remains unclear what the Catalan president really wants to achieve. And when you don’t know what you want, it is hard to satisfy your needs.
If Puigdemont remains defiant, Rajoy will be forced to bring the Govern down, most likely prosecute its members, and call snap elections.
Rajoy could retain the upper hand if he remains cool-headed because the events seem to be unfolding in his favour now.
The exodus of companies from Catalonia will continue hurting its effort and the international pressure to restore the order will increase. And the majority of Catalans (52%) who supported the Constitutional order in the last regional elections will remain, if not grow.
But the situation could easily get out of control as protesters would take to the streets in far greater numbers than when a dozen of mid-level Catalonian officials were arrested. And as long as the pro-independence forces remain in the streets, their victory will be still a possibility.
While Rajoy trusts that reason will prevail among his opponents, Puigdemont is praying for an impulsive reaction from the other side to bring the 52% to his camp and win the desired legitimacy.
Another mistake like the one on 1 October and Rajoy would sadly verify that you don’t need to conquer land to win a revolution, but just maintain your army alive and kicking.
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Views are the author’s