Editorial del diari anglès “The Times”
LEADING ARTICLE february 26 2018, 12:01am, the times
Spain should stop hounding Catalan separatists and negotiate in the national interest
King Felipe of Spain will today visit an unhappy corner of his realm, the region of Catalonia. Having voted for unilateral independence in a referendum last October and again for a slight parliamentary majority in favour of separation in December, Catalonia still inhabits a political limbo. It is ruled without concession from Madrid and its ousted president, Carles Puigdemont, lives in exile in Belgium while other members of his former administration are behind bars.
Spain’s calculation is that Mr Puigdemont’s nerve will crack and that he will formally step down, allowing a regional Catalan government to take shape. It is gambling that the oxygen will be squeezed out of the separatist cause. Opinion polls suggest that might yet happen. Catalans are tired of the politicisation of everyday life and are nervous that investors will steer clear of their still-prosperous region. Reports indicate that some Catalan separatists may be ready to dump their leader.
The king considers that he has no choice but to defend the rule of law. He swore loyalty to the 1978 Spanish constitution which defines the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. It was a constitution drawn up to address the wounds of the Spanish civil war and the decades of authoritarian misrule. King Felipe thus talks — and will talk again today — of the need to uphold the rule of law.
This is an uncontroversial statement of the royal mission. It is easy to see, too, that the Catalan arguments for a breakaway state are not necessarily in the interests of the region, let alone the broader prosperity of the Spanish nation. Yet the government of Mariano Rajoy has struck the wrong tone. Mr Puigdemont is being faced with a choice between exile and returning to face arrest. His career has thus been deemed to be over by Madrid.
To underline the point Spanish police have twice searched the private jet of Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, in Barcelona airport, fearing that Mr Puigdemont may have been smuggled back to Catalonia. Spain does not gain in dignity or security by this absurd pantomime. And its narrow interpretation of the law does not address what is essentially a political problem — the limits and possibilities of autonomy within the contours of a centralised state.
The government’s imprisonment of pro-independence activists was plainly excessive, sending a grim message to civil society. The use of pre-trial detention has raised questions among civil rights organisations across Europe. The equation of the separatist debate with sedition is a challenge to freedom of expression. All these issues are also components of the “rule of law” which King Felipe considers so central to modern democratic Spain.
The king is popular in Spain and should use his visit to listen to the Catalans. The country has become so fixated on a potential break-up, from the Basqueland to Catalonia, that it has become the prime European Union blocker to other states seeking independence, such as Kosovo. Behaviour designed to demonstrate principle in fact betrays a lack of self-confidence.
Spain should allow Mr Puigdemont and other leaders to return and enter a dialogue with the Madrid government and the other autonomous regions of Spain. The narrow majority for independence in the regional parliament suggests that there will be no immediate surge of support for a breakaway state. Madrid should take the risk and learn to talk more about pluralism than sedition.