Roberto Fernández, 9 May 2023
The President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, with the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, in a meeting in Moncloa / EUROPA PRESS
Let us say once again that there is no conflict between Catalonia and Spain as if they were two sovereign and independent entities. The existing conflict does not stem from the dissatisfaction of all Catalans, but from the legitimate claims of a part of my compatriots regarding their belonging to the Spanish state and how to decide about it. However, this conflict on the part of the secessionist movement has also become an internal political struggle between Catalans, the solution to which cannot therefore have one of the parties marginalised, as the pro-independence governments of the Generalitat have repeatedly insisted on demonstrating. A conflict that concerns everyone must be resolved by all those affected, without aprioristic exclusions.
In order to resolve the conflict, the current Government of the Generalitat and secessionism as a whole reiterate that they have one issue that they consider non-negotiable: a referendum for independence (agreed for some, unilateral for others). The central government and constitutionalist Catalans have another non-negotiable issue that is also shared by a large part of the rest of Spaniards: no solution can come from non-compliance with democratic legality. In other words, the central political-methodological question for some is to vote directly on the future of the Catalans in a referendum of self-determination, and for others to comply with the current legality, which does not allow it for the time being. So, if this were the basis of the existing disagreement, would it not be possible to think that a possible middle way to reach a consensus could be to accept that the Catalan people should indeed be consulted, but always within the limits of the laws in force at any given time?
Accepting this possibility, it is undoubtedly arguable on the part of secessionism that a legal reform of the Constitution could then be carried out that could contemplate the right to self-determination. Admittedly, it is a complex legal discussion as to whether this is possible, and remember that European constitutions do not admit such a right, only applicable to obviously colonised peoples, which of course Catalonia is not and never has been. In my opinion, however, in a democracy and in a Constitution such as ours, which has no intangibility clauses, I think that such an eventuality of reform cannot be denied from a legal point of view, although it is more than evident that it was conceived, with good reason, as a rigorous and guaranteeing process by the fathers of the Magna Carta.
This means that in the field of real politics what is notorious is that the parliamentary majority that is legally required at the moment makes this option a factual impossibility given the existence of an unfavourable correlation of forces to approve the right to self-determination in the Cortes. An unfavourable majority which, moreover, is not likely to change for some time. For this reason, the most realistic and pragmatic way to get the Catalans to pronounce on our future is to proceed with a dialogue between us that is dedicated to studying the possibility of reforming the Statute to ensure what is truly vital, namely: the best possible quality of life for citizens. Because that is what it is essentially about. Not about the glory of Catalonia or of Spain, but about how we can ensure that flesh and blood citizens (present and future) live their own individual life project to the full, which is unique and unrepeatable. The primary question, then, should be one of citizenship and not of nationalism.
From this perspective, the central issue is for Catalans to dialogue in our Parliament about what we can agree on based on the starting positions of each one of us. And given that to reform or approve a new Statute, two-thirds of the Members of Parliament are required, this makes it obligatory to seek a broad agreement in the Catalan chamber that is presented to the other co-owners of the State for acceptance in the Spanish Parliament and, once its validity has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court, it is put to a plebiscite consultation of all Catalans, exercising alone our capacity to decide on the content of the relations between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. In this way, the red line that everything should be done within the law would be crossed, and the red line that the Catalans should vote in a referendum would also be crossed. This is nothing new politically, given that this is what we Catalans have done so far in democracy: seek a sufficient majority in our Parliament to give political and legal life to a Statute.
I do not think I am wrong if I say that most Catalan constitutionalists do not feel the urgency of a reform of the Statute or the drafting of a new one. But I also think that a large part of them would not put up any resistance to achieving a new statutory consensus that would give Catalan society a better coexistence and greater social cohesion as long as my secessionist compatriots also feel that part of their demands have been met. And if it were the case that the secessionists also opt for realism and pragmatism, taking into account the unhealthy fraternal division that exists in Catalan society, the impossibility for anyone to impose their positions and the unequivocal commitment of the international concert to respect Spanish legality, they should be able to save their own red line, given the unequivocal commitment of the international concert to respect Spanish legality, The Catalan people alone would be the ones to decide whether to accept the proposal of their parliamentarians or reject it, forcing them in the latter case to go back to square one to try to find a consensus with a different content. If secessionism insists on the idea that everything that refers to the statute route is just a screen, I fear that overcoming the current situation will be more than difficult, and that we will be limited to a mere and resigned Orteguian “conllevancia” among Catalans awaiting a new aggravation of the contradictions.
All this means that a referendum of self-determination on independence is neither the only nor the best way for Catalans to pronounce on our future. Nor do we need the trompe l’oeil of a Canadian-style clarity agreement proposed only by one part of secessionism with the aim of continuing to nurture a post-procés so as not to discourage the secessionist forces themselves in the strategic hope that they will be more numerous and in a better political position to achieve independence. And, of course, for electoral purposes in order to be able to keep the Generalitat in aeternum.
There is another way of doing things that seems to me to be more nuanced, more realistic, more stable and more inclusive with respect to the varied identity, political and sentimental sociology of the Catalans. And, furthermore, it is within the current legality. It consists of “forcing” our Catalan parliamentarians to reach sufficient agreement to present us with a voting solution (although neither perfect nor definitive) that, by reforming the Statute, would bring together the majority of citizens, preventing radicalism from determining the lives of the large number of Catalans who desire conciliation, harmony and social cohesion.
Perhaps for some it is a less exciting and epic formula than a referendum with no more decisive content than independence yes or no, but I think that being unequivocally democratic it divides Catalan society much less and is likely to be much more solid and lasting, ensuring a better civil coexistence for us and for the future of those to come. The permanent construction of a country is not achieved by erecting insurmountable borders between its citizens.