Iker Rioja Andueza 8 August 2020
From June to October 2017, Lehendakari, Iñigo Urkullu, immersed himself fully in his role as mediator between the Government of Carles Puigdemont and the Government of Mariano Rajoy to first avoid the unilateral declaration of independence in Catalonia and, later, the application of article 155 of the Constitution. He did not stop either one or the other and left the process “unhappy”, in which he involved PDeCAT and the PP, then in Sant Jaume and La Moncloa, but also the PSOE, the PSC and the PSE-EE, the chief of the State – King Felipe VI -, European leaders, ERC, the regional presidents of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, five leaders of the Catholic Church or businessmen. Urkullu was always clear that the legal architecture on which it was based on October 1 escaped legality and that the referendum itself could not be taken “seriously” due to the lack of legal guarantees. And he considered even worse the “social fracture” that occurred in Catalan society to the point of fearing that, instead of 155, what would be applied would be 116, the formula used in 2020 to declare the state of alarm due to the pandemic and that also provides for states of exception.
At the end of July, a few days after Carles Puigdemont published his memoirs of those months in the book ‘M’explico: De la investidura a l’exili’, Urkullu authorized the consultation of the more than 600 pages that he has accumulated from his work in Catalonia, which does not end precisely in 2017 and which has continued until at least February 2019. At that time, Urkullu and his files on Catalunya – which have a ‘senyera’ (catalan flag) on its back and not a ‘stellate’ (independent flag) – appeared as witnesses in the trial of the ‘procés’ before the Supreme Court. Immediately afterwards, Urkullu delivered this material to three archives: the Basque Country, the Sabino Arana Foundation of the PNV –which has opened its doors to elDiario.es/Euskadi- and the Poblet monastery. Since Puigdemont’s book came out, whom Urkullu’s environment considers to have misrepresented his role, the Lehendakari has allowed the reading of dozens of notes, reports, press clippings and even emails, letters, SMS and WhatsApp and Telegram conversations. Only the responses of the interlocutors are not yet public until they give their approval.
The “irresponsible” drift
The archives – mostly written in Spanish but also in Euskara and Catalan – show an Urkullu involved in Catalonia almost every day from very early in the morning until the very early hours of next morning. “Avoiding the crash seems like an obligation. The process and the drift of Puigdemont / Junqueras / Mas is irresponsibly placing the real issue off the radar. There is a broad 2/3 majority whose horizon is a deeper self-government and an approach to rebuild in a new constitutional framework in line with Catalonia in the State ”, he wrote in October 2017. Another of his obsessions – transferred to the current president, Pedro Sánchez- was the “visibility and visualization of a third social and political space in Catalonia and Spain willing to generate a critical mass in favor of a solution” that could go through a “legal and agreed consultation that has European and that could be agreed through a constitutional convention ”. It also did not achieve that goal.
I understand that the PNV has put a lot of good will on it and that it wants us to reach agreements. But they don’t ask me to slow down. They ask me to surrender. And that I can’t do
“The Quebec-Canada model shows that another alternative is possible for a legal and agreed referendum,” defends Urkullu, who speaks clearly that the ‘procés’ was clearly located outside of legality. The following notes shared with a secret advisory group called ‘Zazpiko’ are translated from Euskara: “The first obligation of a president (especially if he is a nationalist) is to keep the institutions of his people (of his nation) alive. […] A referendum carried out without sufficient guarantees cannot be the legal and legitimate basis to advance towards independence, even if the prohibition of the Government of Spain is the reason for the absence of guarantees (I think the prohibition is good or bad, that referendum it cannot be taken seriously as a legal and legitimate basis for achieving independence) ”. “The process that you have developed in Catalonia has shown the world the great capacity for organization, firmness and determination. It will undoubtedly mark a milestone in your history and will offer a positive legacy because it has shown the existence of a clearly differentiated social will that, in a majority way, demands the adoption of political solutions […]. But, honestly, it does not seem that it reaches the significant majority of society, so there is also a lot of risk of loss of what has been achieved in the sense of self-government and bases for an agreed solution. What is achievable is more if one acts from realism and responsibility, from the sum of forces also outside of Catalonia […]. What can be achieved is more than what can be lost if society fell into an exercise, maintained in the time, of social fracture and frustration of a very important part of it, ”he added to Puigdemont.
How it all started? Urkullu traveled to Barcelona on June 19, 2017 on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the ETA attack on Hipercor, one of the bloodiest in its history. From that act there is an image of a smiling Puigdemont reaching out to the Lehendakari in the middle of the crowd. After the tribute, both met for four hours in Sant Jaume accompanied first by the Catalan councilor Neus Munté and by the Secretary of Human Rights of Urkullu, Jonan Fernández, and then alone. “I received the request that I try to do everything possible to help them with the President of the Spanish Government,” says the Lehendakari. “There is no going back, Lehendakari. They are the ones who don’t want to. Everything you can do to get Rajoy to move will be welcome ”, explains Puigdemont about that appointment.
With Sáenz de Santamaría at the airport
“On the same day, later, I met the vice-president of the Spanish Government [Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría] in the authorities room of the El Prat airport [now officially called Tarradellas, one of the leaders of Catalanism], to whom I briefly related the meeting with the President and whom I asked to comment on it with President Rajoy and tell him that I would like to meet him ”, Urkullu abounds. Secretly, Rajoy and Urkullu met in La Moncloa on July 19, 2017. The next day, Urkullu summoned Sánchez in Vitoria.
In August, Urkullu returned to Catalonia. That summer the jihadist attacks took place and, in the acts of tribute, the Lehendakari continued with his mission. “I met for a moment with the ‘president’. I was also able to speak with Sánchez ”, he explains. Three days later, coinciding with the start of the political course in Euskadi and the acceleration of the sovereignist pulse in Catalonia, Urkullu made his first public statements on the subject, although for the moment without revealing his true role on the political board.
September started with two plenary sessions in the Parliament on the 6th and 7th, two key days in which the transitional laws and the referendum were approved. Urkullu filed the contrary legality reports issued by the Chamber’s lawyers and also by the Council of Statutory Guarantees. Two weeks later the tension seemed to be increasing and the police operation took place in the Treasury. Urkullu, determined to avoid “radicalism” and “polarization” affected Rajoy by the actions of the Civil Guard, as well as the shouts of ‘Go for them!’ The Lehendakari has written down that the president promised him that, in the face of the imminent referendum, his steps “were going to be very measured.”
Curiously, in Urkullu’s archives there is little about his activity on October 1, but he does write that “after the referendum, the messages and proposals multiplied exponentially.” He speaks, for example, with the Valencian president, Ximo Puig, and also seeks the collaboration of the Balearic Francina Armengol. The historic leader of the old Convergència Francesc Homs – through the leader of the PNV, Joseba Aurrekoetxea – got Urkullu to speak with the monarch and convey his discomfort over the televised speech after the popular consultation. His proposals for “détente-dialogue-negotiation” and “concordant and chained statements” and the incorporation into the conversations of Santi Vila, critical regional minister with the unilateral way, of Alfonso Alonso, then leader of the Basque PP and of the maximum confidence of Rajoy and Sáenz de Santamaría, and of several representatives of the Catholic Church. Specifically, Urkullu contacted the Archbishop of Bologna, Mateo Zuppi -who had participated months before in the disarmament acts of ETA-, and, through the Bishop Emeritus of San Sebastián, Juan María Uriarte, with the abbots of Montserrat and Poblet and with Cardinal Juan José Omella.
On October 10, another plenary session was convened in the Parliament and a first pronouncement from Puigdemont on independence was expected after having given “yes” as the winner in the referendum vote. Not only Urkullu was active, but also the president of the PNV, Andoni Ortuzar. Puigdemont transcribes his last conversation with him, a dinner: “If you renounce independence, the Madrid Government will speak of whatever you want. In Madrid they want to de-escalate. But you have to give up pronouncing the declaration of independence. President Rajoy does not want to apply 155. In reality, he does not want to do it, what happens is that they squeeze him a lot ”. The president interpreted that “do not declare the independence” of Ortuzar more as a “request” than as a “petition.” “I understand that the PNV has great good will and that it wants us to reach agreements. But they don’t ask me to slow down. They ask me to surrender. And I can’t do that ”, Puigdemont writes about those conversations. “I can’t call off the plenary session and I don’t want”, the president told Ortuzar in Catalan.
“It poses illogical conditions”
In any case, he himself admits that he speaks with Urkullu a few hours later with this message: “I will open a door to negotiation. I will not declare independence and I will extend the deadline to allow time for the conversations we are having these days ”. On this conversation, Urkullu’s version is the following: “He tells me, with witnesses, that the next day he did not want to proceed to DUI in Parliament.” Therefore, the mediator transfers these news to Rajoy and Sánchez.
What happened that day is known: Puigdemont announced independence and suspended it after eight seconds. There the State machinery began to prepare 155, no matter how hard Urkullu tried to make them see that independence as such had not been approved in Parliament. In the following days, the political climate continued to fester -there is a note in which the Lehendakari fears a “civil confrontation” – and they called Ajuria Enea Catalan businessmen such as Emili Cuatrecasas, a well-known lawyer, or the Síndic de Greuges (Ararteko), Rafael Ribó. “I send long written considerations and reflections to the president”, Urkullu points out in his diary. Indeed, from that moment, almost every day the lehendakari sends paragraphs and paragraphs to Puigdemont, who does not always respond. He even writes interventions for you to read directly. They correspond, yes, but they also talk on the phone. On October 21, for example, they have a “serious” conversation.
Little by little, October 27 is approaching, a day marked in red on the calendar so that the declaration of independence would once again be on the table of Parliament. On the 25th, Urkullu and Puigdemont talk by phone but “in the presence of witnesses.” “He raises illogical conditions to propose to President Rajoy”, considers Urkullu, who, at the same time, believed that the DUI would not come. However, nervousness had taken hold of La Moncloa and Minister Rafael Catalá and Santi Vila appealed to Urkullu to “intercede” with Rajoy.
Either some are miscalculating everything or stupidity has reached horrifying limits where we all lose and the common European house has a gap of more considerable proportions than Spain’s exit from the euro
In the early morning of October 26-27, Urkullu goes to sleep peacefully because, after a very intense day, the president anticipates his “intention” to call regional elections. The guarantees scratched on the other party – although there was also talk of the freedom of the ‘jordis’, Sànchez and Cuixart, as well as the withdrawal of troops from the State Security Forces – basically happened because the Government of Rajoy did not intervene Catalan government, the Generalitat, although the Senate formally approved 155. Urkullu had it “achieved” after much discussion about it. “The application of Article 155 is being considered with a frivolous legal frivolity […]. Either some are miscalculating everything or stupidity has reached horrifying limits where we all lose and the common European home has a gap of more considerable proportions than Spain’s exit from the euro, ”Urkullu told Marta Pascal, with whom he also shared that Catalonia had a “dimension” to destabilize all of Spain.
The lehendakari, smiling, arrived that October 27 at the Basque Parliament, where there was a control session for his Government. It was on that day that the news broke that Urkullu had been acting as a mediator and that he had managed to stop the train crash by convincing Puigdemont to call elections. In the PNV environment, a date was even set: December 20. Ortuzar also planned to explain what happened in a public appearance that never took place. It never happened because everything changed with a message received at 2.30pm. From Barcelona, from Sant Jaume, they expressed the “difficulties” to maintain that decision. That afternoon, Puigdemont swerved and declared independence.
“I have felt the permanent confusion on the part of President Puigdemont”, Urkullu is sincere, who ugly to his interlocutor who “said that he was going to proceed in one way” and acted “dramatically” in another. Urkullu, angry, wrote to Vila. “You are honored. Whether I continue as Lehendakari as if not (being that perhaps it is difficult for me to appear in Catalonia), I will be delighted to, if you have the opportunity, if you come to Euskadi, give you a physical hug that today I send you figuratively but felt ”, said. He sent similar messages to Miquel Iceta and Marta Pascal, but he also ended up angry with the role of Rajoy and Sánchez. Of Oriol Junqueras, with whom he did not have much contact, he even said that “the worst of politics had been embodied in him”, although the one who generated the greatest animosity were the CUP, whom he blamed for “bursting institutional stability.”
After those events, the relationship with Puigdemont ended. But not with Catalunya. Still at the beginning of 2019 Urkullu told Sánchez that he continued to receive many calls. “Dear President! You know that you have me at your disposal to help in what is in my power in relation to Catalonia. There are many (I say this without petulance) requests for interviews that I have rejected as well as several requests for meetings with agents of Catalonia (which I have maintained and will continue to maintain in an absolutely discreet manner). It would be good for me to be as informed as possible -always with total discretion even in Euskadi- to respond to the most accurate analysis possible in said meetings, as long as consider pertinent “. Will it continue to do so in 2020?