Photo Caption: Carles Puigdemont i Jordi Turull, durant el consell nacional del PDECat Photo by CAN
By Oriol March / Roger Tugas / Joan Serra Carné
19/10/2017 at 6:55AM
The president of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, has already made a decision: he will respond to the application of article 155 of the constitution by Mariano Rajoy, with the lifting of the suspension of the declaration of independence. He expressed this, in no uncertain terms, this Wednesday at an extraordinary meeting of the PDECat national council, held at the World Trade Center in Barcelona. This positioning, agreed upon in a closed-doors meeting, came a few hours before the expiration of the deadline given by Rajoy, for Catalonia to “return to constitutional order”. The president and the parties which support the executive – the joint forces of Junts Pel Sí [the ruling pro-independence coalition] and the CUP- outlined their strategy to face the “decisive phase” of the process if self-government is intervened with by Spain. In addition, the PDECat, ERC and CUP parties have all been preparing their organizational structured for this possibility over the last few hours.
According to sources witness to the meeting, Puigdemont explained to the national advisors of the PDECat that they have nearly finished the draft letter that will be sent to the Moncloa, which then must be agreed to by the members of his Government. In fact, the terms of the letter will be finalized this Thursday morning, when final revisions must be complete. It is taken for granted that a final offer for a dialogued solution will be repeated, in with what the Catalan Executive has previously said in public.
Wednesday, the president aimed to reassure constituents of the PDECat that he will “press play” if Rajoy were to apply article 155, thus closing the door to dialogue, although he did not specify a timeline. One of the options on the table is to lift the suspension of the declaration of independence once the Senate approves specific measures through which the Rajoy government could intervene in Catalan self-government. However, a definitive declaration could also come before then, even this weekend. The so-called “decisive phase” will not extend more than ten days, according to the government sources consulted. Regardless of the timeline of the declaration, the offer of dialogue will be repeated on Thursday, with a view, as ever, to involving the international community.
The president can count on the support of his party, who have said that he can lift the suspension “when he deems it appropriate.” According to the general coordinator, Marta Pascal, it must “comply with the mandate of the 1-O.” “We have to send a message that we will defend our institutions, schools, language, and coexistence,” said Pascal in statements to the media – some of them international, as is usual of late, in Barcelona – after the national council meeting had finished.
No party members asked to take the floor after Puigdemont had spoken. “He has given us serenity, firmness and prudence,” added Pascal, who endorsed the government’s “outreached hand” policy towards the Spanish executive. Over the last few days, there has been a strong internal debate – within Puigdemont’s PDECat and all the pro-independence parties – about the next steps to be taken, and the shared answer is that the suspension must be lifted. Over the next few days an extraordinary plenary could be convened for this purpose, although there is still no confirmed date. The stage would be the Parliament, although in recent days it has been speculated that it could be elsewhere, if confronted with self-government intervention from the state. The government sources are conscious of the “legitimacy” that a declaration from within the Catalan chamber would hold. However, they went on to emphasize that secrecy is paramount since Madrid is “watching us every step of the way towards independence” – continuing to assert that this is “literally true” in practicable ways, in the case of certain Catalan political leaders.
Photo caption: Members of the government during the manifestation a the Plaça de Sant Jaume. Photo by Adrià
Broadly speaking, in government circles, there are three options for the future being floated since the 1-O referendum. The first was effectively a declaration of independence in order to negotiate on equal footing with the Spanish executive. The second option was the one that was carried out: to assert the mandate of the referendum – that is to say over two million in votes in favor of a Catalan state despite an unprecedented level of police repression – and to suspend the declaration in order to favor the dialogue and the international mediation. The third scenario, with less support overall, but some key players who cannot be ignored behind it, was that of calling a general election. This latter option has now been cast aside by the pro-sovereignty parties, This last option was brought to light only recently, and Mariano Rajoy set a ten o’clock ultimatum, offering Puigdemont this option to return to constitutional order.
According to sources consulted by NacióDigital, some members of the government addressed themselves personally to Puigdemont, asserting that the “least worse” option would be this latter one of calling fresh Catalan elections. One such formula for implementing this option, which was tabled for discussion this week at the Generalitat, would be to call on the citizens to vote in “constituent” elections, after lifting the suspension of the declaration of independence. “This would not remove the risk of the President being detained” said a consulted leader. The top Catalan leader has increased his security detail over the last few weeks, now consisting of members of the Special Intervention Group (GEI) of the Mossos, the elite corps, who often remain overnight at the Casa dels Canonges [the official residence of the President of Catalonia]. Security is a priority in the face of the presence of the State police in Catalonia and given their continued presence in Barcelona it would be one of the reasons that explains the reduced public presence of the president in recent days.
“We cannot afford to lose the ability to call elections,” government supporters of new elections told NacioDigital. According to a senior governmental leader consulted, some of the talks which took place between leaders gathered at a manifestation to demand the release of Jordi Sànchez – president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) – and Jordi Cuixart -president of Omnium Cultural – were about this electoral scenario. “If there is will to hold elections, it must be made clear that there is no way these could be considered to be autonomous,” stressed a member of the leadership board of Junts Pel Sí (the majority pro-independence coalition). “This option [the elections] has been cast aside,” clarified other government sources. This might be down to several factors, but the most important one in recent is the imprisonment of Sànchez and Cuixart.
One of the problems with the idea of holding fresh elections is the conditionality placed upon them by the Moncloa – that is to say hold elections, and article 155 of the constitution shall not be applied – something that the PP, PSOE and the Ciutadans parties have already devised and will pass in the Senate in the coming days. “The problem we have is that the choice is diabolical, because in this scenario we cannot guarantee being able to enact a declaration of independence, but at the same time we cannot retreat” explained a high-level source. In any case, at the national board level of the PDECat there has been no intervention asking for elections and Pascal has been very clear in denying that the elections are on the table.
An unequivocal “no” from the ERC
The ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia party) argue the mandate of the 1-O was clear, and on this basis reject the notion of calling fresh elections, according to various sources consulted by NacióDigital. “No, without nuance”. Such was the unequivocal response of the leader of the Republican Left, upon being asked about how the party, or its leader and vice-president of the Government, Oriol Junqueras, saw this call for elections, according to La Vanguardia on Wednesday. ERC spokesman Sergi Sabrià pointed out that one of the priorities of his speech at the national council on Saturday was that it was necessary to work to preserve the pro-independence unity, and that a possible early call for elections “does not preserve or resolve anything, but rather puts it at risk”. And, he went on, “there is no guarantee” that the state would respect Catalans’ right to decide if elections once again resulted in the victory of a pro-independence party or coalition.
The CUP and Democrats parties have also already rejected the call for elections if the independence has not been formally declared beforehand. In fact, the president of the anti-capitalists in Parliament, Mireia Boya, pointed out that this scenario would betray “the two million ‘yes’ voters” from 1-O, illustrating the extent to which any change to the unilateral road map of the pro-independence block could lead to fragmentation within it. Republican sources have admitted to internal tensions running high in recent hours, and that negotiations and talks have been difficult since certain players in PDECat have not given up on the elections option. However, sources from within PDECat have also said that there are high-level ERC leaders who have in fact endorsed the possibility of elections.
Photo Caption: Regional Assembly of the ERC, at Olesa de Montserrat. Photo by @ERC_Baixllobreg
In fact, ERC is also reigniting its militancy these days in territorial assemblies, to clarify doubts, explain the current situation, and mobilise people. Party sources explain that the three assemblies they convened this Wednesday – a third of the total – brought together about a thousand people, who were briefed on the political occurences leading to the current situation, the need for participation in manifestations, and been told that the “end goal” or “horizon” they ought to have in their sights is not elections. However, the ERC continued to deliver the messages that dialogue and the possibility of mediation ought to be left open as options, in the regional assembly presentations.
According to the sources present in these assemblies, presentations showed support for the work done thus far by the coalition, despite recognizing the bittersweet taste of the suspended declaration of independence from Tuesday of last week. Other issues were discussed such as the activation of nascent Catalan state structures in the event of an intervention by the Spanish government, and expectations regarding international support or recognition in the event of the lifting of the suspension of the declaration of independence. It can be said that the pro-Sovereignty parties are preparing the springs to hop over the wall!