COMMENT

Conclusions from Catalonia

By Paschos Mandravelis

The first conclusion to be drawn from Sunday’s elections in Spain’s Catalonia region is that opportunism does not go unpunished. The Convergence and Union Party, led by the center-right president of the region, suffered a crushing defeat instead of winning enough votes to govern on its own as it had anticipated when it called elections.

Artur Mas wanted to climb atop the wave of the Catalonian people’s discontent at Madrid’s handling of the crisis and, encouraged by the turnout at a large protest rally in September, dragged Catalonia to the polls and managed to reduce the party’s parliamentary seats from 62 to 50.

What he succeeded in with his ambiguous rhetoric was the empowerment of the Republican Left party, which is pro complete independence rather than simply a certain degree of fiscal autonomy. As political analyst Ismael Crespo at the Ortega y Gasset research institute, told Reuters on Sunday, Mas “talked about it so much that he ended up helping the only party that has always been for independence, which is the Republican Left.”

The second conclusion that can be drawn from the regional elections in Spain is that the socialists are paying the heaviest toll for the crisis. While Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party gained one additional seat from the 18 it held before the elections, the Socialists’ Party of Catalonia lost eight seats (down to 20 from 28), which went to the separatist Republican Left, which more than doubled its presence from 10 to 21 seats.

The third conclusion is that the European Union is playing an increasingly significant role in the internal affairs of member states, even if it is only on a symbolic level. The pro-separatists’ campaign lost a good deal of momentum when they realized that they could not secede from Spain and still remain an EU member. All of the bloc’s officials, including of course Spanish Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, said that a new state that has seceded from an existing member state would most likely find itself outside of the European Union and would have to apply for membership, which would, naturally, depend on Spain’s agreement. The truth is that the EU’s policy in this regard is not very clear.

As has been the case in Greece, poverty has not just bred complaints. It has reopened the debate on issues that the prosperity of previous years had put on hold, and mainly the issue of cohesion and solidarity.

In Catalonia, which belongs to Spain’s north (in terms of productive output) and contributes to the national economy, this is the crux of the matter: the feeling that it gives too much money to the “laggards” of other Spanish regions and that it is being ripped off.

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