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Home » Content » Francisco Longo: “Reducing extreme polarization is an imperative need in Catalonia”
Longo, professor and director of the ESADE Public Governance Center, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration of the United Nations (2011-2018) believes that the solution must go through a "vote, within the constitutional framework" that endorses an agreement and could be a reform of the Statute. We have been through years of a flagrant institutional synecdoche, with governments and institutions extremely belligerent and partisan, but acting as if they did it in the name of all citizens. A progressive downplaying of the values ​​of legality and the rule of law has also been disseminated through Catalan society. Those drifts, if they do not stop, lead, in my opinion, to a loss of quality of democracy

Manel Manchón

11.01.2020 23:14 h.

Francisco Longo speaks with pause, exactly. Look for an increasingly complicated position: that of those who want agreements to be reached from the assumption that it is the most rational. This does not lead him to avoid firm and clear positions. He is a professor and director of the ESADE Public Governance Center. He has been a member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration of the United Nations (2011-2018). And he has worked as an international consultant, and participated in expert committees for public employment reform, university governance and public sector organization. He belongs to different editorial boards and is the author of numerous publications on governance, public management and public-private collaboration. He collaborates regularly in different media. In this interview with Crónica Global, he fully covers the situation in Catalonia, and points out that “Reducing extreme polarization is an imperative necessity in Catalonia”. It is clear that any agreement reached must, from now on, count on the requests of non-independence sectors on many public and institutional matters.

– Question: Does the new Coalition Government between PSOE and Unidas Podemos, with the participation of the PNV and ERC, mean a revolution, a real cycle change?

–Response: I think it is more a novelty than a cycle change. Certainly, both governing in coalition and that this is an alliance between the Social Democrats and the extreme left are unprecedented events in Spanish democracy, but it remains to be seen what the real impact this has. The fact that the Government is born as minority and with scarce and heterogeneous external support makes fear a prolongation of the cycle of precarious governance and blocking of the important initiatives that we have been dragging since 2015.   

– What possibilities of change in concrete politics, in ‘policies’, does the new Sánchez Government offer?

– The fiscal space for classic leftist policies, which usually involve increases in public spending, is very scarce. In addition, given the situation of the public accounts and the enormous weight of the debt, this Government is going to see itself, immediately, closely monitored by Brussels in its management of the public deficit. On the other hand, it will be necessary to see what is their real capacity to reach agreements that allow substantial changes. First, within the same coalition, I fear that it will not be easy to handle in many aspects. Then, among the same forces that have now joined to facilitate the investiture, but which can then show very different positions in the face of specific policies. And, if we go to the really important issues, it would be essential for the Government to look for support in the center-right that, today, does not seem to be in the best position and willingness to achieve

–Was that government inevitable? Is history repeated in Spain, among a PSOE that reaches agreements with the periphery, vs. a center-right that could be understood to act defensively?

– Inevitable, I don’t think it was. Of course, it was not in April, when the personalist leadership of Sánchez and Rivera fed back to prevent a center-left government with a large majority that would then have been perfectly possible. And, although more difficult, not even in November was this the only alternative that could, at least, be explored. It seems that the rush to stage, just one day after the elections, the Sánchez-Iglesias hug responded to the desire to quickly close the way to other possible exits and supports. Both the blockade and the negotiation of the government have been due, I think, to deliberate political options of the protagonists.

– Is it really possible with this new situation to reach an institutional blockade of Spain, if it is not offered to the right the possibility of collaboration, or if it decides to occupy a diehard position?

– Of course, that is a very real risk. But it is not, as I said before, a new situation. We have been through a few years of governments, we would say, of low intensity, in which no important decisions are taken or reforms that are enormously necessary for Spain are undertaken: education, taxation, pensions, labor market, public sector … The fragmentation of the political map brought us a cycle of governments of different colors, weak in their parliamentary support, of little dense agendas, which have devoted more time to political gesticulation, the massive use of communication and the polarization of the electorate than to design and promote policies themselves. The important policy requires building minimally stable social majorities and, to achieve them, we must go beyond the mobilization of the ranks themselves and seek broad and transversal political consensus … And beware, this challenges both the government and the opposition. One looks to the left and right, in the light of recent experience, and does not see that this broad gaze and those consensus are very likely, but it is everyone’s responsibility, in politics and in civil society, to push for them to occur.

 – Are we facing a decline of liberal democracy, in Spain and throughout Europe? Can we recover, or will we be in the hands of populism for a good time?

–It is a fact that liberal democracy and open society are experiencing a crisis in Europe, but the crisis is somewhat consubstantial to the model. As Krastev and Holmes write in a recent book, unlike messianic utopias, such as communism, liberal democracy is earthly, changing and conflicting, and therefore runs the risk of defrauding people’s exaggerated expectations. In addition, currently, in Europe, globalization, technological disruption and demography itself are producing changes of a historically unknown scope, and this scenario creates uncertainty and fear in many people. Europeans today have been born in the freest, prosperous, safe and inclusive societies on the planet, but now, for many, the future has become threatening. Our democracies face the challenge of protecting people, especially the most vulnerable, reducing uncertainty, fighting fear and making the future more governable. It will depend on their ability to achieve this that the false messianic and authoritarian solutions of populism do not prosper.

– For Catalonia, for all Catalan citizens, does the new situation offer a way out that can benefit them?

– After seven years of noise and misgovernment, some formula should be found that, within the constitutional framework, can achieve an objective. And I think that reducing extreme polarization and normalizing political coexistence is an imperative need in Catalonia. However, the PSOE-ERC agreement offers a path planted with unknowns. In my opinion, the main weaknesses of the agreement affect the interlocution, to whom, and in whose name, they will talk and try to understand each other. We have, on the one hand, a minority Spanish government and a precarious parliamentary position. And, on the other, a Catalan government that gives voice only to half of society – its independent part – and which is also divided between those who are part of the agreement and those who are not. A cynical would ask: what can go wrong? In my opinion, incorporating the search for solutions to broader and more plural political and social sectors is essential for this path to lead somewhere. The fact that the agreement was born as a necessary transaction for the investiture of Sanchez, and amid the noise that some and others have mounted around, does not favor in the short term that transverse extension of the dialogue scenario, but we will have to wait and cross our fingers.

– Can we understand that there is a part of society in Catalonia that feels disappointed, that it believes that they always end up losing, after the agreements of the central governments with the parties – before – nationalists, and now pro-independence?

–Yes, of course, it can be understood. In fact, the belittlement to which the establishment of the procés has subjected during these years the non-independence Catalans has opened wounds deeper than some would like to believe. But all the citizens of Catalonia, without exceptions, have much to gain with a normalization of political coexistence, and that implies willingness to agree and reciprocal cessions. Of course, to go in that direction, it is necessary to guarantee everyone, as I said before, presence and voice. In this sense, it will be necessary to assume that the non-independence side of Catalan society also has demands against the political, institutional, educational and cultural status quo in force in Catalonia, which should be heard and taken into consideration.

– Should we vote yes or yes some kind of agreement in Catalonia, as included in that pact between the PSOE and ERC, or is there an alternative?

– Voting would be good, probably, to provide more explicit support for possible agreements. To me, as long as that vote takes place within the constitutional framework, it would seem fine. In fact, some of the most reasonable proposals that have been made during these years, such as that of the group of jurists chaired by Professor Muñoz Machado, pointed in that direction.

– There are many talks about civil society. What role do you think it has had in Catalonia in all these years? Has silence been the tone?

– There has been everything, not just silence. We speak, of course, of a divided civil society, in which decibels have been mostly on one side, but that is of relative importance. Yes, there has been, to some extent, a loss of social capital, as a result of the predominance of the public sphere by the pro-independence side. This has been very clear, unfortunately, in universities. But I am more concerned about the deterioration of institutions. We have been through years of a flagrant institutional synecdoche, with governments and institutions extremely belligerent and partisan, but acting as if they did it in the name of all citizens. A progressive downplaying of the values ​​of legality and the rule of law has also been disseminated through Catalan society. Those drifts, if they do not stop, lead, in my opinion, to a loss of quality of democracy.

– Should the European Union at some point take an active role in the political problem in Spain with the independence?

–In today’s European Union it would be unthinkable that the European political institutions could assume that role. At the beginning of the proces, that hypothesis was part of the scenarios that the independence movement handled, but I think that, at this point, everyone knows it is a dead road.

– There is a constant debate in Catalonia about the loss of economic weight. It remains at 19% of GDP, although Madrid has surpassed with 19.2%. Should we consider continuing at that percentage of 19%, or consider that time has been wasted, and that there has been an opportunity cost because of the independence proces?

– Without a doubt, the massive exit of corporate headquarters of companies that followed the declaration of independence of October 2017 was a bad news for the Catalan economy, but it is not clear that the recent “sorpasso” in the GDP can be attributed mainly to the proces. The most reliable analyses highlight a rather unfavorable external context, right now, for the industry. The industry has, as is known, a decisive weight – which should be maintained and taken care of, by the way – in the Catalan economic structure. Remember that in Catalonia more than a quarter of Spanish exports originate. On the other hand, Madrid is more powerful in the services sector, which is suffering less economic slowdown. Also, the greater weight of public salaries – which are higher on average than private ones – and the concentration of financial services that being a capital city carries with it are reasons that explain, rather than strictly political factors, the higher growth of Madrid, in this last period.

– Could it be said, as Maragall pointed out in his days, that Madrid is gone? Or that, in fact, despite everything,it  has not left at all, and maintains the same weight as Catalonia?

– Madrid is a thriving city, but Catalonia has in Barcelona a first-order asset, a potential economic locomotive endowed with extraordinarily valuable resources, with a spectacular global brand and a clear growth capacity. It is around Barcelona where the Catalan proposal of value for the world must be developed. The worrying thing would be that a domestic short-flight policy would end up deteriorating this asset, and unfortunately, there have been, unfortunately, some concerns in recent times.

– In your opinion, does the pro-independence sector handle some truths about a supposed damage of the Spanish State to Catalonia in the last decades?

– Without falling into interested exaggerations that have been made about the so-called fiscal deficit, the financing system of the autonomous community is clearly improvable, from a point of view of strict equity. On the other hand, in certain policy areas, such as infrastructure, for example, difficult decisions have been taken from a Catalan perspective. If, instead of agitating the victimhood, wrapping themselves in flags and posing leaps in a vacuum, these imbalances were approached with the necessary firmness, it would be acting in the right direction, in my opinion.

–Do you fear that Spain opts for a kind of new cantonalization, for a pressure from the territories that makes a common State unfeasible?

–Well, with the permission of the mayor of León, who is the last one to get into these jams, I hope not. Of course, the “live Cartagena” is there, in our history, but the history, although we must know and learn from it, does not fatally condition, fortunately, the future of the countries. The societies of each time have the resources to write their own history, and our democratic transition is a clear example of this. What is certain is that the Spanish compound democratic state we were born in in 1978 is a sophisticated public governance model, made of balances that require delicate and intelligent management. Therefore, the quality of political institutions, such as parliaments, electoral systems or parties, and that of political leaderships, are crucial factors for the model to work; and so that it resists, with the necessary adjustments, the passage of time. Of course, we enter a time when these institutions and those leaderships are going to be seriously tested.


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