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The passage between a sustainable Catalan moderation and the policies that a Government of Spain considers viable in the framework of its electoral perspectives could be narrow. But recent election results point to its existence and that is the only hope we have left for those of us who want to prevent the conflict from worsening

Dec 17, 2019 – 00:00 CET

Andreu Mas-Colell is an economist (UPF and Barcelona GSE). This article is a summary of the author’s contribution to a dialogue with Carlos Solchaga held on December 11 at the Cercle d’Economia in Barcelona and organized by it, the Fundación Diario Madrid and the Association of European Journalists.

The Catalan political conflict is entering a phase of negotiation, formal and informal. What matters now is that, collectively, we are not wrong again. If not for anything other than my academic dedication, I know well that, with the permission of Adam Smith, the interaction of multiple decision makers can generate results that are not desirable for most of them. That can happen even with full rationality.

In the negotiation we have four sensibilities, which I do not try to associate with political parties. On the one hand, we have, in Catalonia, the pro-independence sovereignty, for whom a nation must have a State, and also the a-independence sovereignty, who can relativize independence and place more emphasis on the preservation of the nation and self-government. On the other hand, in the global Spanish we would have the dialogue and non-dialogue sensitivity. The last two general elections seem to show that the dialogue is the majority, although by little. I think that the strategic interaction of these four sensibilities should give way to a government that encourages dialogue and negotiation. From the Catalan side, promoting it is what is technically called a dominant strategy: it is the best in any circumstance. For a-independence sovereignty, their natural attitude will be to favor the formation of this Government. The pro-independence must do the same because, if they are so convinced of the failure of the negotiation, it will be demonstrating that they are willing to negotiate – and, I add, limiting themselves to organized, demonstrative and non-disruptive manifestations of protest – as they will be loaded with reason and expand the basis for the next phase of the dispute. Obviously, the dialogue strategy will then also be the best for Spanish dialogue sensitivity.

What can we say about the pace and content of the negotiation?

“The pace is going to be slow”. The reality of prison and exile weighs.
– Difficult conflicts are those in which trust is lacking. Building a trust framework, even if the parameters of a possible compromise are intuited, can only be carried out step by step, milestone after milestone.
– I think we have to think in an eight years term, which means that in the first four we should ensure that we get also the next four.

In the first four years it is, to a large extent, to be reached a climate of relaxation and permanent, fluid and progressively empathetic interlocution. This will not happen because of the fact of speaking. There should be gestures with substance and a chain of milestones. I have mentioned two on the Catalan side: to facilitate the formation of Government and limit itself to orderly and non-disruptive mobilizations. The Government of Spain, on the other hand, should keep in mind that two driving axes of Catalan disaffection are the perception that the centralized territorial model is consolidating strongly, exemplified in the AVE map or in the growth of the economic power of Madrid, and the perception that Spain sees the Catalan national identity as a threat, and the persistence of the language, as an imperfection.

We have to think about an eight years term. In the first four we should ensure that we also get the next four

I think that sovereignty, understood as the conviction that the Catalan people are a political subject, will not decrease, but independence could do so if Catalonia had the perception that Spain is willing to be like Germany, with its Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt. Or even better, like Canada, where Quebec’s national reality is parallel to the Catalan one, and more respected. All the milestones and gestures that go in this direction will mark paths of relaxation. It is not difficult to identify the relevant areas: infrastructures, establish and develop in depth the tax consortium already planned, and not discussed, in the 2006 Statute, or not to question the school core nature of Catalan language and the objective of perfect and cultured bilingualism.

Will the final milestone be a referendum on independence?

I doubt it, but I also affirm that it is legitimate to claim it. Certainly, at some point there must be an appeal to the popular vote to seal an agreement solemnly. But it can’t be soon, and it can’t be as long as the jail and exile continue. The Catalan conflict would not be resolved by a constitutional reform that did not have a majority in Catalonia, or had a limited one. I don’t see another possible result in the short or medium term than this. I also think that our core problem is not one of the Constitution, but of the Constitutional Court. The ambiguities in the Constitution leave many paths open, including, for example, the federal one (with regions and nationalities). But these roads have been closed by reactionary dominance in the Constitutional Court. Any relaxation agenda must include rebalancing this situation. Do not tell us that this is politicizing. Those of us who have lived many years in the United States know well that the composition of the highest court of a country is an essentially political issue. The Spanish right also knows. The left not so much.

Can there be a lasting agreement if it does not include the Spanish right?

Surely, no, but the observation cannot imply that this right has veto power. Traditionally, the Spanish left has been more in favor of dialogue with Catalonia. And this justifies now that from Catalonia they are allowed to govern. In democratic countries the majorities govern and any majority is legitimate. The day when the intolerance towards the Catalan and Basque difference subtracts to the right more votes that it adds will be a decisive day in the future of Spanish society.

The Catalan parties must work so that this day arrives, which will not be, in my opinion, before eight years. For this they should practice a sufficiently moderate policy to ensure that if the right calls an election as an assault on self-government, it loses it. The passage between a sustainable Catalan moderation and the policies that a Government of Spain considers viable in the framework of its electoral perspectives could be narrow. But recent election results point to its existence and that is the only hope we have left for those of us who want to prevent the conflict from worsening. Some people think that the Spanish right will never change and will continue to intimidate the left in such a way that a Catalan moderation will lack oxygen. But they will serve their interest better pretending not to believe it. There are still many Catalans predisposed to give this opportunity a chance. It is better that they do not see an obstacle in pro-independence.

The formation of the left-wing coalition government may fail. The PSOE could take the path of the great coalition without Sanchez. It is not likely if he has a cooperative attitude of Esquerra. In addition, with highly esteemed political leaders in prison and in exile, any incident or provocation carries emotional impacts that can interfere in a negotiation. Especially if they affect electoral competition. Esquerra wants to make way for the coalition government. But it fears losing votes to Junts per Catalunya or the CUP, located in the comfortable position of being arithmetically irrelevant. In the medium term, I am convinced, a responsible performance of the leaders will be rewarded electorally. I cannot help expressing the desire that voters also know how to contain their emotions, and react with a cold head, also in the short term.



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