Thursday

25th Feb 2021

Opinion

Two lessons worth learning from the Catalan elections

  • The Valentine's Day Catalonia parliament election took place under coronavirus restrictions. Unionist parties failed once again to oust the pro-independence majority from parliament (Photo: Fotomovimiento/Flickr)

Some years ago, when the Catalan pro-independence movement was reaching its high point in terms of popular mobilisation, quite a few politicians and commentators in and outside Spain argued that it was mainly a reaction to the long-standing hardships caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

That when the economy would recover, support for independence would quickly get back to pre-crisis levels—that is, around 15 percent of popular support.

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They preferred to overlook the underlying factors because they confused wishes with reality.

The main lesson from the elections to the Catalan Parliament that took place on the 14 February is that the wish for independence in Catalonia is not temporary or something that will simply vanish into thin air.

On the contrary, it is a resilient, deep-rooted aspiration able to slowly grow even under very difficult circumstances, such as years of legal persecution, with politicians in prison or exile, or amid a pandemic, the fight against which has been led in Catalonia by the two main pro-independence parties forming the coalition government.

Despite all these difficulties, pro-independence forces were able to increase their absolute majority - from 70 to 74 seats out of 135 - and for the first time, to win over 50 percent of the popular vote - 51.3 percent to be precise - if we count all the votes cast for all pro-independence parties, including those that managed to win seats and those that didn't.

The flip side is that unionist parties failed once again to oust the pro-independence majority from parliament.

True, the Catalan socialists came first, but their run for the Catalan government will fail.

They won in number of votes - albeit with the same number of seats as Esquerra Republicana - but this result will not allow their candidate, former Spanish health minister Salvador Illa, to form a new government because he lacks the parliamentary support.

The second main lesson from the elections is that the argument for dialogue and negotiation to solve the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain has been strengthened.

Esquerra Republicana, the pro-independence party that has been most vocal in advocating a negotiated solution, now leads the pro-independence bloc and our lead candidate, Pere Aragonès, will most probably hold the presidency of the next Catalan government.

At the same time, those parties represented in the last parliament who are clearly against any dialogue for a political solution, i.e. Ciudadanos and Partido Popular (PP), are now marginal.

Support for Ciudadanos collapsed, with a loss of 30 of their 36 seats. PP, the second biggest party in Spain, has now become the smallest faction in the Catalan parliament, with just three seats.

Most of their losses regrettably went to the far-right, ultra-nationalist party Vox -but these have only managed to get in Catalonia half of the support they have in Spain.

The current Spanish PSOE-Podemos government has recognised that there is indeed a political conflict between Catalonia and Spain. Much as it seems evident to us, former prime minister Rajoy's government never acknowledged it was.

When tested at the ballot, the call for amnesty and dialogue based on the right to decide our own future has grown bigger than ever in Catalonia.

Madrid must react. Sánchez cannot keep from taking decisions any longer.

Sceptical Tarragona

We still have a way to go until our project for a Republic for the Catalans can materialise. We still need to convince more people, especially in those densely-populated areas around Barcelona and Tarragona where support for independence is still relatively small.

We need to make our case stronger before the international community, and before the EU which cannot ignore Catalonia's right to self-determination.

And we still have to get our leaders out of jail and exile back home. Amnesty cannot wait.

But every democratic victory at the polls makes our case stronger. In the end, even those many in Spain who thought that going the hard way against Catalonia would pay off may regret their choice.

Not only did they not manage to get rid of pro-independence parties. The stubborn fact is that, election after election - and it's already three consecutive absolute majorities - they cannot convince the majority of Catalans that our democratic rights and a better future can be attained within the Spanish kingdom.

Author bio

Jordi Solé is an MEP with Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Greens/EFA), president of the EFA group in the European Parliament and vice president of the Greens/EFA group.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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