10 SEP 2019 – 00:00 CEST
Those of us from Francophone culture and also by training and tradition who are often Francophiles (sometimes not) were very surprised, annoyed and also outraged by the fact that 52 French parliamentarians signed a statement expressing their concern about the “repression” in Catalonia, as well as about the “attack on democracy and fundamental freedoms”. Have you heard of the PACA? No, it is not a song by Rosalía or Jarabe de Palo; these are the acronyms for which the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region is known in France, that is, Provence, a part of the Alps and the Cote d’Azur. Let’s do an imagination exercise. It is a random example. Suppose that the Regional Council of PACA unilaterally decides to open a secession process with respect to the Republic; in France the Republic is a very serious thing, since 1791 they have in fact had five versions of this type of political regime.
Suppose that the PACA starts this type of process based on… “the right to decide” of the people of the PACA, and begins to make legislative decisions in relation to competences that the PACA does not have, and while we are at it, suppose it invents a process that will go “from law to law” through most picturesque laws of disconnection. Suppose that the French courts intervene until reaching the Conseil Constitutionnel, for this purpose equivalent to the Constitutional Court of Spain, which prohibits everything. Suppose that the PACA calls for a referendum on October 1 without authorization, without competence for it, without verifiable census, and contracting with public money two missions of “international election observers”. Suppose that there are several Committees for Defense of the Republic that every so often cut roads or train tracks, with actions that the PACA institutional bodies themselves describe as “peaceful” and “stoppage of the whole country”, all of this encouraged by the president of the region…
Let us also assume that the judges and prosecutors intervene and, in application of the laws in force in France, detain several of the leaders involved and prosecute them in accordance with all the guarantees for materially punishable acts, and not for their mere republican or pro-independence ideas. If all independentists were treated like these detainees and prosecuted for their ideas, whose provisional imprisonment most people (including judges and prosecutors) consider unnecessary, half of the Parliament and the entire Government of Catalonia would be in prison, almost all the staff of TV3 and Catalunya Radio, and a lot of journalists, opinion makers and citizens who do not stop day after day making independence proclamations. It is not a crime of opinion here. It is, if we look at France, about knowing what would happen in the neighboring country if a process of organization of decisions were launched from the institutions themselves, whose stated objective was to break the constitutional system of the V Republic, with illegal decisions, undue use of public money and under the leadership of a president of the Generalitat who shortly after taking office raised his salary to 147,000 euros per year (public money).
The fact that 52 French parliamentarians signed a statement worrying
about the “repression” in Catalonia surprises and makes us indignant
Compare, if you want, the regime of political and administrative decentralization of Spain with that of France. Believe me, the PACA Assembly has modest competences closer to our provincial councils than to the powers of the Spanish autonomous communities. Let’s not even mention the difference in financial autonomy. Compare what you want.
Precedents of interest of the French case deserve to be cited. A little over 30 years ago, the Corsica Regional Assembly launched the drafting of a new Statute for the island (which has the right to a somewhat greater autonomy), in which the “Corsican people …” was invoked.
In the Conseil Constitutionnel the text did not pass the examination of the first page: there is no Corsican people, there is no Corsican nationality, there is only one sole holder of sovereignty in the French Republic, the French people. Full stop. Around the same time, in a more violent case, a Canaco independence group (that is, indigenous to New Caledonia, a territory that was neither a colony, but a department, as in Spain province) launched an armed adventure in 1988, being Prime Minister the moderate Michel Rocard; there were dead people, more police control, new regional statute, and until today. There are more recent examples, count how many victims have occurred during the last months of the yellow vest mobilizations. Hundreds of detainees, hundreds of wounded (including many police officers) and dozens of rapid trials with immediate prison sentences. And the 52 parliamentarians believe they can give lessons? Excuse me for not reminding you how the institutions of the French Republic work in times of crisis, but in France this process would have lasted a mass and a half.
Pere Vilanova is a professor of Political Science at the University of Barcelona.