COMMENT

The Catalonia predicament

COSTAS IORDANIDIS

The first collateral damage or, more precisely, the first serious casualty – from the Catalonia independence row in terms of how this is being felt in Greece was the affair involving Madrid’s ambassador in Athens, Enrique Viguera, who is said to have criticized the stance of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist-led government on the issue (the envoy has denied the allegation).

The result was a Mediterranean mess as Madrid failed to back its envoy.

If Greece is experiencing repercussions of this nature, then one would expect that the situation in Catalonia could easily spin out of control.

It is the first time since parliamentary democracy was restored in Spain that a region has claimed its independence. And it is the first time that Madrid has responded by imposing direct rule on a region.

Constitutionally speaking, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is in the right – there is no question about that – and he is acting on the decisions of the constitutional court.

However, this is not always enough.

Political developments do not always unfold along legal lines. And when this happens, then what you usually get is conflict, as one side makes a display of its power while the other tries to show off its revolutionary intransigence.

Remarkably, the Spanish right has, in contrast to what has been the case in other European countries, managed to stay united. This was made possible because the party was able to incorporate the supporters of the country’s former fascist dictator General Francisco Franco, who abolished Catalonian autonomy in 1938, seven years after it was declared.

The 1979 Constitution granted Catalonia (as well as the Basque Country) full autonomy, and in 2006 a reformed version of 1979’s statute of autonomy came into force. However, the latest version was questioned by other regions of Spain and by the People’s Party, now led by Rajoy.

In 2010, the constitutional court in Madrid struck down an expanded version of the Statute of Autonomy that granted Catalonia the title of a “nation.”

Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont is the embodiment of political irresponsibility, but if he were to be succeeded in power by a hard-line left then the country could find itself facing the specter of civil war. This is the last thing that the European Union would want.

Online