The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has made a final attempt to negotiate terms for a referendum this Monday in Madrid at an event held at the city hall in the Spanish capital, after meeting with the city’s mayor, Manuela Carmena.
The president started his speech thanking Carmena for the invitation and accusing “others who have greater responsibility” of “strewing problems along the path that we should be walking together”, a first shot at Spanish president Mariano Rajoy.
Puigdemont noted that the initial intention of the Catalan executive was to address the Spanish people from the Senate in Madrid, but “it wasn’t possible” as it was vetoed by the board of the chamber. “There was nothing illegal nor illicit in our request and there was no legal report against it. They told us that the Senate wasn’t ours”, he lamented. It was a “rejection of negotiations”, according to him, but he warned that “there won’t be many more”.
What’s more, Puigdemont responded to the invitation from the Spanish vice-president, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, to bring a constitutional reform to the Spanish congress which the referendum could fit within. He argued that lawyers state that “political will” is needed to solve the constitutional issue, because “it’s not about denying anyone, it’s about saying yes to yourself”.
“Is there any political will to deal with the Catalan question?”, he wondered, before accusing Rajoy of proposing a “trap” with “unnecessary detours”, like going to the Congress “as an alibi to blur” the issue of the lack of will to negotiate in the eyes of “international observers”. The will, according to him, must be “sincere” and the method shouldn’t be an “excuse” to find solutions like it wasn’t during the transition to democracy, when president Tarradellas returned from exile without yet having an approved legal basis. “Attaining the main objective prevailed over the choice of method” he said.
“So you can count on us, but not for some fake notion of dialogue. Let’s work on shared knowledge, but let’s not try to fool anyone nor waste anyone’s time”, he stressed.
Puigdemont wants to meet the Spanish government with “a sincere wish to reach an agreement”. He announced that he will immediately address a proposal for these negotiations to the Spanish government based on the conclusions of Catalonia’s National Pact for the Referendum, with all its conclusions open for debate: “The talks have to lead to a decision on the issue, without bringing confusion, for the response to be considered valid”. “We’ll be waiting their suggestions until the very last minute, but it must be made clear that if they offer no proposals, the Catalan government’s commitment to its people is democratically inviolable”, he added. If no proposals are forthcoming, the referendum will be held and Catalonia’s offer to Rajoy will be to implement its result.
“Most Catalans are hoping that their voice will be heard and that the Spanish government won’t turn its back on them”, he said, including some who would vote ‘no’ but would still like to hear the Spanish government’s arguments.
The Catalan president noted that Rajoy has mentioned how Catalan question is the “most serious challenge Spain is currently facing” and that this leads to a “contradiction” in that they “won’t even allow a discussion”. According to Puigdemont, this shows “they will to do nothing to resolve the problem”. He stressed that this isn’t a “responsible” attitude.
As he tells it, Catalonia has put “on the table” that which “as we understand it” will guarantee the best “life together”: “We respect that the other side thinks differently, but it has no arguments if, once the problem is recognised” it doesn’t act to solve it. The Catalan president has “formally invited” talks with the importance represented by his words.
A civilised process
Puigdemont argued that the Catalan independence movement is “civilised” and that the “social divide” that is “perversely” spun by some doesn’t exist. Catalonia is, according to him, an “example of a pluralistic, mature society”. As such, he branded the judicialisation of Spain’s response to the independence process as “irresponsible”. “We’re not asking for the State to renounce its principles, but neither do we accept that they force us to renounce ours. Even if they try to, the Spanish state doesn’t have enough power to block democracy”, he said, the first sentence to receive applause from the 250-strong audience.
“We’re not a threat. We’re the representatives of a nation that wants to represent its people at the ballot box. We’re not a passing fad nor a disease, nor an emotional disorder”, he said, adding that “we were frustrated in 2010” when the 2006 Statute of Autonomy was struck down by the Constitutional Court. “Many of us who already supported independence then still lament that mistake. But we decided to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and negotiating for compensation in that trade that has so harmed us”, he stated.
The Catalan president believes a negotiated referendum is “the most reasonable option” for everyone: “We’re already at the negotiating table and we won’t leave while there’s the sincere will to talk”. But he warned that he won’t forsake complying with the “mandate” that was legitimately presented and endorsed in the last Catalan elections and that Catalans should be consulted about their future.
No representative of the Spanish executive attended the meeting, but some defenders of Spain’s right to decide did, like the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, who Puigdemont has met before.
Junqueras: “We like responsibility so much that we want it all”
The vice-president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, wanted to focus part of his speech on the positive economic data coming out of Catalonia, with the historical records of exports and foreign investment. He said that the government’s objective is “to share out the wealth that we’re trying to generate”. He gave the example of the basic income guarantee, which is “the best expression of our commitment to growth being reinvested in better quality of life for the citizens”.
“Our commitment goes far beyond bans from public office, sentences and lawsuits of any type. We will not renounce the most fundamental right, which is the right to vote, because, without this right, democracy loses all meaning”, he added.
Also, being in charge of finances in Catalonia, he reminded the audience that there is a problem with public debt and the deficit in Spain, challenges also faced by Catalonia. “We like responsibility so much that we want all of it. We want to be responsible for our successes and our mistakes”, he said and, as such, “we want it to be our citizens who can decide” on those political, economic and social issues.
He also spoke of the welcoming nature of Catalan society, “an open [society] that speaks dozens and dozens of languages” and that “tries to integrate them into its education system” and that looks to “guarantee the full knowledge of the Catalan, Spanish, English languages, and so many others”. Catalonia, he said, has “shared indentities” with Spanish society and “what we want is that everyone around us is doing as well as possible”.
From the political point of view, Junqueras argued that “all those who will vote no” share with them “something much more important than the yes or no” which is “the democratic wish to vote, to exercise their right to vote and decide their collective future through ballot slips and boxes”.
“We request and demand and believe that we have the right to do so, that everyone should respect the result as we have always done”, Junqueras added. He has shown himself to be “convinced” that the referendum is an “essential instrument”, because “self-determination is an inherent right of all the nations and all the political communities of the world”, and “nor do we want to, not can we renounce it”.
“When someone tells the citizens that they don’t want to let them vote, in reality they are saying that they don’t care about their opinion”, he said, adding “we’re convinced that the best way to have a good relationship with Spain is to have a brotherly relationship between equals and, as such, it’s always essential that it’s between political communities and free citizens”.
Romeva focuses his speech on Europe
The person who opened fire at the meeting was the Foreign Affairs minister, Raül Romeva, who argued that the referendum is a “civilised” proposal “with will to negotiate”. He claimed that the “sole interest” of independence supporters is to “relaunch the relationship with Spain” without an “adversarial approach”. Instead, “it’s about determining what we want our relationship to be like”.
“There’s no Catalan problem, but Spain today does have a problem, it’s risking its democracy in Catalonia” he argued. “The future of Europe has to be decided in accordance with freedom and not imposition”. We propose that it be the will of the people that decides on a new union for good, from a standpoint of liberty. He said that “nobody” wants “to isolate” Catalonia; rather, they want to “create a new European identity which comes from the wish to live together”. Former Green MEP Romeva characterised the referendum as an “opportunity” for Spain, Europe and Catalonia because it can establish a “new model” at the European level.
Prior to the conference, Spanish president Mariano Rajoy insisted that the Catalan leaders must make a case for the referendum in the Spanish parliament, with the argument that neither him, not his executive can negotiate about national sovereignty. The Catalan president’s event in Madrid coincided with the leak of a draft of the law of transitoriness to Madrid daily El Pais, which has irked Rajoy, who accused Puigdemont of “liquidating the rule of law” and of “blackmail and threats”.