11 JUN 2019 – 00:00 CEST
In light of the consequences that the last legislature has left and the tension that has presided over the last electoral cycle, it is not nonsense to deduce that what we all most want is peace, political stability and fair play. The results of the recent elections indicate that the citizens now call on the political class to concentrate on their work, abandon the permanent confrontation and articulate pacts aimed at improving their living conditions. The citizens hope that the next Government and the newly elected MPs will collaborate to create the rarefied atmosphere that has plagued Spanish politics for years.
The future Government must be required not to delay the activation of social policies and to face with determination and courage the renewal of territorial disagreements, freeing them from the brambles in which they are entangled. Catalonia leads the list of discord, but the problem extends to other regions with similar problems in terms of language policy or funding, which shows a certain exhaustion of the state of autonomy and the current Constitution.
A historical precedent helps to understand and look for solutions to the current Spanish situation. After October 1995, when Quebec was experiencing its maximum independence euphoria, despite the fact that the pro-sovereignty followers had lost a second referendum of self-determination, disputes between Anglophones and Francophones reached their peak. The federal government of Jean Chrétien then appointed Stéphane Dion Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs with the task of proposing an outcome to the Quebec problem. Dion, from Quebec himself, Professor of Political Science at the University of Montreal, was a strong supporter of a project for Canada, based on the deepening of federal ideas, that is, on a common project with respect for and promotion of linguistic differences, cultural and historical features of the various Canadian provinces and, especially, but not only, of Quebec. He was a person respected by the different political forces that recognized his conciliatory spirit and his capacity for dialogue and negotiation between apparently irreconcilable projects.
Federalism is not only political architecture. It is also culture and sentimental education
It is not important here to highlight the measures that Dion undertook but the mission entrusted. The Canadian territorial conflict had similarities with the Spanish conflict, but Canada is not Spain: it is a fully federal State. What must be underlined is the happy strategy of the Canadian Government in designating someone with the capacity and qualities to carry out a difficult task. Dion did not focus as much on highlighting the risks of secession as on emphasizing the advantages of a federal state open to diversity, as historically Canada has been. With these means, he gave birth to the Law of Clarity, which managed to appease the aspirations of both contenders: the legal celebration of another referendum was not excluded from the outset, but it was subject to conditions – democratic and fair for a decision of such magnitude as secession- that made it difficult. In fact, there has not been any other referendum in Quebec since then.
Federalism is not only political architecture. It is also culture and sentimental education. It promotes values necessary for coexistence and interest for each other, instead of confrontation or indifference. Before proposing the measures that were embodied in the Law of Clarity, the objective of Dion was more modest: to devote time and effort to the task in principle impossible of eliminating the victimization of the francophones of Quebec and convincing them of the benefits of federalism. As a Quebecois himself, he was not unaware of the strength of Québec’s identity and the value it had for many compatriots. As he wrote in My Praxis of Federalism (1998): “Quebecois want guarantees that their language and culture are seen by the rest of Canadians as a value and not as an inconvenience. They want guarantees that they can be both Quebecois and Canadians; that they do not have to choose between Canada and Quebec. “Although, from the outset, the management of the new minister was strongly contested by both the Conservative Party of Canada and Quebec fundamentalism, the case is that it ended up halving the secessionist vote while providing a new framework of institutional relations between the federal government and the province of Quebec leaving behind the wounds of the social division. The figure of Dion and his performance are a model for a Ministry of Territorial Organization headed by a person thorough full, dialoguing, patient and conciliatory who reverses the ways that led to write the most unfortunate pages of the Catalan conflict: the nihilism of Rajoy, the law of Wert, the application of the 155, the unilateral declaration of independence or the appropriation of public spaces by secessionism. A person sensitive to the claims of historical nationalities who put a period (no clean slate) in irredentist speeches to move towards pragmatic solutions. John Gray writes that politics “must provide temporary solutions for permanent conflicts”. Well, that’s it.
Citizens now expect parties to stop resolving their disagreements by using civil society
The mission of such a minister should be essentially political. To date, the Ministry of Public Administration and Territorial Organization has had a strongly administrative character, but has barely advanced in a program of cooperation between the different autonomies. And the fact is that federating means not only decentralizing, but co-governing and sharing sovereignty. The new ministry should be entrusted, in collaboration with the Senate, with an emulsifying, pacifying function, and as far as possible, away from lights and stenographers to prevent ambient noise from interfering with their work. Inspired by the Canadian model, some of its preferential lines of action, at least as far as Catalonia is concerned, could be the consensus on a language law, lay the foundations for reasonable funding based on ordinality and better define the respective competences; all in a climate of loyalty and fair play. The Canadian inspiration could be supplemented by the lessons learned from the British Brexit and the political chaos resulting from the devilish issue of the Irish border. An example of the social upheaval that involves building walls instead of building bridges.
Citizens now expect the parties to stop resolving their disagreements by using civil society (professions, trade, science, sports, etc.) as a weapon and to start a constructive and regenerative dialogue that renounces sterile polemics and puts us on the road of reconciliation and of a common project that respects and favors the different territorial sensibilities. The discreet action of an ad hoc minister could be a key element in the set of measures that the new Government should take to clarify the political future of the Catalan question and give back some calm to the people.
Victoria Camps and Antonio Sitges-Serra are members of the Federalist d’Esquerres association.