The professor considers that federalism, appealing to “much more universal values” must take the baton to remake Catalan society, which has been “betrayed”
Francesc Trillas is calm. He is a professor of Applied Economics at the UAB and a defender of federalism without nuances. When the interlocutor tells him that he is a kind of determinist, Trillas comes to say that he assumes it, but he does not see another possibility. The idea is that the best countries are federal and that the European Union is moving towards greater federal ties, and, with it, Spain. “We should be calmer than we are,” he says, in relation to the pro-independence project that exists in Catalonia, because he sees it as “unsuccessful”. He just published Missió Federal, cap a una solució compartida a Catalunya (Federal mission, towards a shared solution to Catalonia, (Bubok editorial), with his experience as one of the driving forces of Esquerra Federal. Trillas believes that there is no doubt that this independence process is not viable, but also questions Catalanism. What he defends is a federal project for everyone. “Because of the independence movement, Catalanism will no longer be a factor of social cohesion”, he says, after acknowledging that he himself has felt “betrayed”.
–Question: Has federalism had true supporters in Catalonia?
–Response: Of course, since the nineteenth century at least. What happens is that in recent years there has been an interest in hiding it, precisely when its voice was more necessary and when the facts gave it more reason about the need for a good multilevel democracy. Anarchism and the left, including ERC, have historically been federalist in Catalonia. The PSUC was as well, and so has been and still is the Catalan socialism and the bulk of trade unionism. At the turn of nineteenth and twentieth centuries federalism was a very popular current in Catalonia, with federal houses and federalist athenaeums in many populations. Federalism was always a point of reference for the progressive workers and enlightened sectors, and it was always an anchor, a mooring point, of sectors that flirted with independence, but had remorse of conscience due to the implications of lack of solidarity and instability that implies separatism. Some of this is still in Junqueras, Carod-Rovira, and some sectors of ERC, which perhaps sometimes, at specific moments of lucidity, realize that they have allowed themselves to be carried away too much by that selfish drive. The Catalans made important contributions (drafting and voting it more than anywhere else) to the 1978 Constitution, which has many federal elements, although with the mouth so shut that the concept was avoided. In recent weeks I have seen federalist claims, in the pages of the same media outlet, from Junqueras and Corbacho alike. And I’ve also seen this claim in an editorial of La Vanguardia. I guess they all said it honestly; so, yes, I think there are real supporters, many and important. And despite all that is said, there are also suppporters in Spain as a whole, starting with their government. Despite the great attack of the independence movement, which for some people had as one of its objectives the destruction of the Catalan left, the majority of voters and political cadres and left-wing trade unions in Catalonia are federalists. And of course it is officially one of the favorite parties to win the general elections in Catalonia, which is the PSC. The moderate center-right nationalism that is committed to cooperating in Spanish politics, in the wake of Duran Lleida and Roca Junyent, has many points of contact with federalism, and it seems that even more and more.
–You said that the independence movement is ‘the highest phase of pujolismo’. Does that imply that from the beginning they wanted to get here, since 1980, with the victory of Pujol?
–No, I do not think that politics works with this planning capacity. On the contrary, I have an evolutionary vision of politics, where the random and the unplanned play a very important role. However, a certain independence horizon did exist, although as a distant program, almost like a myth, something like the society without classes for the left. Nobody reasonable took it seriously as something viable in the short and medium term. Politics is a dynamic complex system, where even the importance of leaders is exaggerated. The pujolismo, by historical interests of class and family, but where Jordi Pujol was a useful instrument, allowed to whitewash the support of the Catalan bourgeoisie to Francoism. It built a system of mass clientelism and propaganda, a huge network on which later the independence movement capitalized very well. To a large extent, the independence movement results from the combination of the pujolismo framework, a massive distraction mechanism at the service of a social class, or more in general at the service of some social groups, with some of the modern elements of the rising national-populisms around the world.
– Do you consider that Catalonia continues to live in post-pujolismo?
– Things have changed, but what I’m saying is that there has not been a big change. The clientelism framework is maintained. It takes advantage of that clientelism, and connects with national-populism, with social networks, and takes advantage of the Catalan electoral law, the municipalities, TV3, everything, to go one step further. It is the nationalist rhetoric, together with the contempt of the institutions, which are not at the service of the community.
–Catalanism now suffers a discredit, because it is accused of having propitiated the independence drift. Is it possible to save it, to recover it in some way, but with other bases and objectives?
– Catalanism has suffered a discredit and the responsibility must be attributed to the independence movement, or at least to its leaders. The proces and its frustrated culmination in the autumn of 2017, scared half of Catalan society, a half that from now on will contemplate with much suspicion any Catalanist initiative. I suppose that the most lucid sectors of the sovereignty side have already realized this, but the less lucid ones, who are still leading the independence movement, have not realized it. Because of the irredentist independence, I have serious doubts that Catalanism alone will once again be a factor of social cohesion; it will not be. I believe rather that federalism can be, for it appeals to much more universal values, while respecting that Catalanism, if it gets rid of its most fanatical sectors, can be an important aspect of a plural, tolerant and multicultural society.
– Could it be understood that there is a Catalonia betrayed by Catalanism, which, after crossing its hands and letting nationalism build ‘the country’, now is asking for accountability and claiming for a new internal pact?
– Of course it can be understood in that way, I at least understand it because I’ve also felt betrayed. I am of the opinion that whoever has done more for the Catalan language in democracy, among many other things they have done, are the female and male mayors of Baix Llobregat and other areas of the periphery of Barcelona, almost all of them from the PSC. Has any nationalist thanked them for that? Far from thanking them, they treated with pushes and an almost xenophobic contempt the only one of them who reached the presidency of the Generalitat, to apply a Catalanist program. Many people of Castilian-speaking origin accepted the social extension of the use of Catalan and linguistic immersion because they believed that it was a factor of social cohesion. If from now on they suspect that it was not to unite society, but to make a new country, they will stop accepting it. It is a shame the irresponsible management of Catalanism that the independentists have made. The Catalan language is not defended in the towns of the Carlist Catalonia, but in Cornellà for example. Balmón, Marín and Poveda have done much more for Catalan than any independence leader. And just as the independence leaders have done an irresponsible management of Catalanism, they have done the same or at least they have tried to do the same with schools, with the Mossos d’Esquadra, with the public media … They defended independence but ended up putting self-government and its institutions through an unprecedented erosion.
Francesc Trillas, during the interview with ‘Crónica global’
–The decision of Catalanists who governed with the PSC, like Marina Geli or Joan Ignasi Elena or Ernest Maragall himself, to opt for the independence movement, reinforces this idea of treason, or is it rather that the PSC has not understood the movement in Catalan society?
– The PSC is still the party that best understands and represents the plurality of Catalan society. It represents it so well that for that reason it has suffered the same tensions as the whole of society. The three ex-partners you mention have ended up with varying degrees of proximity in the movement led by Torra and Puigdemont, two right-wing nationalist fanatics. Like many other exponents of the Catalan-speaking high and middle classes. I talked a lot with Elena to try to dissuade him, but I failed. I am very much displeased and I have had a hard time to understand that he ended up believing almost religiously in Jordi Sànchez and Oriol Junqueras, when he was a great friend of Raimon Obiols among others. I asked to speak with Ernest Maragall, who was a friend of mine, when he started his drift, but we never got a chance for a conversation again. With Marina Geli I had no contact at all. Surely they all had different motivations, and I dare not speak of treason, because everyone has the right to change ideas and party. But please do not let them say that they have not changed their ideas. Nothing happens if they do it. They can argue to themselves that maybe they did not change their ideas, but rather they supported the independence movement only to negotiate a better federalism. But then, they were totally wrong, because the independence movement has not served absolutely at all, except to cause enormous damage to Catalonia. What surprises me most is when some of them make high-sounding statements, when they hurl insults. When I met them, they were not like that, or maybe I am practicing now a retrospective self-deception.
– Federalism, as a possible formula, would not entail more union, and, therefore, will never have the support of that Catalan nationalism that claims, or claimed a better fit with Spain from the recognition of the difference?
– I think there are great points of possible agreement with a moderate and modern Catalan nationalism, as there is with the Basque one, in the context of a Spain that believes in a more united Europe. I do not know if Federalism would lead to more union, but to a better union, yes, in Spain and in Europe. Catalonia has everything to win in a federal Spain and a federal Europe. I think that is understood by the most lucid sectors of the Catalan middle classes. In addition, federalism is a set of ideas that allows people like Iceta, Junqueras, Corbacho, García-Margallo and Garicano, among many others and with different accents, to claim it, at least in their moments of lucidity. In an openly federal Spain that is at the forefront of European integration, people can coexist who have different ideas of what a nation is, including what their nation is. Federalism is the right to difference, with no difference in rights.
– Is an asymmetric federalism possible?
– It is so possible that it already exists, in Spain and in Europe, insofar as they are federations under construction. Quite a different thing is that the asymmetry would be desirable when it is taken to an extreme. I believe that federalism must recognize specificities, but not privileges, and so it does where it works. Europe is a federation under construction with very different rhythms. These rhythms have to be accommodated to make pacts and cooperation possible. Cooperation and coordination are necessary to address the great challenges of our time. I prefer to speak of a flexible and pragmatic federalism, which makes it possible to address the great social problems that humanity faces: inequalities, fiscal fraud, climate change. Federalism is multilevel democracy, to distribute power and sovereignty, to organize in order to achieve pacts that allow equity and the exercise of collective action with rules and division of powers. We are wrong if we consider federalism simply as a technocratic recipe with more or less adjectives. It is a set of values that has to do with empathy, with respect, with universal values.
– Is there a federal right in Spain? Would it be necessary for the less immobile Spain, whatever the color, to opt for that option?
– There is, but it is a minority. It is necessary that the set of the less immobile right choose federalism, and we must help them and collaborate with them if necessary. An intelligent right, Catalan and Spanish, should collaborate with the left creating a large European agency of federalism to act as a modern and powerful think tank, in Barcelona, with irradiation throughout Spain and collaborating with similar initiatives in Brussels and other capitals. That would do more to combat irredentist independence and legal insecurity than several demonstrations with many flags. The European liberal leader, Guy Verhofstat, is one of the main exponents of European federalism, and in the European Parliament defended a federal Spain in a federal Europe. One of the chapters of Luis Garicano’s last book has a section entitled “A federal construction that works”. Federalism is perfectly compatible with a center-right that prioritizes individual rights and institutional reform within a framework of stability. The immobile right has to make a bigger cultural effort because in Spain it has a centralist and uniformitarian tradition, around which it seems the auctions still produce certain revenues. But I think the right is also changing, due to the influence of the autonomous elites in Spain and the process of internationalization. The auction for the flag is delaying the change, but perhaps it is also delaying its return to power. You can be a rightist and be a federalist. What produces more cognitive dissonance is being on the left and not being a federalist.
– What truths are there in the independence movement, about the supposed limitations of self-government offered by the constitutional Spain of 1978?
–The self-government, more than limitations, has imperfections, but not because the independence movement says it, but because they are there. One of them is that it has allowed some very powerful autonomous governments, like the Catalan, to use the tools that the Constitution has given it, to attack it right away. Another limitation is the constant conflict and lack of automatisms of the current model. The only truth I see in the independence movement is that it does not sanctify the existing borders. But it does so not to dilute them, but to create new frontiers. Sometimes it seems that they like a certain caricature of Spain so much because they want to make another one but in small. They have lacked a lot of imagination.
The professor of Applied Economics at the UAB, Francesc Trillas, during the interview with ‘Crónica Global’
– What are the real shortcomings to combine constitutional loyalty with self-government and national recognition?
– It is necessary to introduce elements of more cities with capital status, it is necessary to recognize multilingualism as in Switzerland, Belgium or Canada. Tools of shared governance are lacking, beginning by sharing the representation of the State in Europe. But Torra and Puigdemont are not good for any of this, they have done nothing to get it. On the contrary, they generate a great distrust towards everything coming from Catalonia. If we are not in the debate of all those issues, and with the independence movement we are not, the citizens of Catalonia will be less sovereign, because we will not paint anything where decisions are made that affect us and will continue to affect us. Just as the British are less sovereign if they disregard the European institutions which continue to affect them.
– If we recover this idea of an internal agreement in Catalonia, what should be agreed upon again?
– The first and most urgent, the normal functioning of the institutions, the Catalan government and its Parliament. The opportunity cost of the independence process in terms of collective projects is devastating. Not only do I refer to the loss of the headquarters of the European Medicines Agency, but to everything that could be done and is not done. Nobody in his senses receives the current president of the Generalitat, it is impossible to find allies for anything, we barely manage to keep the things we have, such as the Mobile World Congress. The paralysis in today’s world is equivalent to the backward movement. The economy of Barcelona and Catalonia still live on the inertia of 1992, but this was 27 years ago. We need allies and feasible collective projects, not entelechies. Once the normal functioning of the institutions has been agreed upon, viable proposals for constitutional reform should be agreed, proposals that can be supported by sectors of the moderate independence movement up to sectors of the civilized Spanish right. And we should also agree on a transversal action to put ourselves, as a Catalan society, at the forefront of the struggle for a united Europe without borders, which today is threatened by national populisms. We have to agree on all that. If we do not, the alternative is not independence, which is impossible, but decadence.
– Does everything, or to a large extent, go through a new role of the public media of the Generalitat?
–I do not know if “everything” has to go through there, because less and less the public media play an important role in the times of Netflix e Internet. But it is a shame what has happened with TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio. We had to do the BBC and we ended up doing Fox News. And it’s not Madrid’s fault. But I do believe that a greater institutional, organizational and financial effort must be made to create a powerful federalist narrative that wins the cultural battle against nationalism wherever it comes from.
–You speak in the book of the economists, of the Wilson Collective, of those who defended the independence project, as Sala Martín, or also of Elisenda Paluzie, president now of the ANC. How can it be explained?
– They are prestigious economists, who would never say what they said at an international conference. They have not convinced any of their international colleagues. They defended the project because they are nationalists. They mobilized at the service of an idea.
– Is there an explanation for buying a damaged goods, using the term expressed by Felix Ovejero?
– It has an explanation in the ethnolinguistics. Unconsciously or consciously, 90% of Catalan-speakers defend independence. And 90% of Spanish-speakers are against. It’s unpleasant to talk about that, but that’s the way it is. More difficult to explain is the role of the left, as has been pointed out, and I believe that belonging to the group is more important than a rational defense of the project.