Madrids aggressive, unconstitutional attempts to crush Catalonias pro-independence spirit will in fact be counterproductive, write Catalonia MEPs Jordi Sol, Josep-Maria Terricabras and Ramon Tremosa
On the morning of 26 October, the Catalan and Spanish government had reached an agreement whereby Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would not proceed with suspending Catalonias devolved powers, provided President Carles Puigdemont would not make a formal declaration of independence and call regional elections immediately.
This would have been a heavy blow to the independence movement, as its leaders would have failed to fulfil the democratic mandate of the previous regional elections in September 2015, when pro-independence parties won an absolute majority a mandate that was reaffirmed by the independence referendum held in Catalonia on 1 October.
Almost 2.3 million people voted in that referendum, resisting a campaign to put them off exercising their democratic right, designed by Spains interior ministry and carried out by 10,000 national police and paramilitary police sent from all over Spain to Catalonia, which led to large numbers of peaceful voters being beaten with batons and hit by rubber bullets. In spite of thousands of voters being blocked from the polls by these brutal attacks, 43% of the eligible voters still managed to vote, and in the districts where the police did not act, the participation rate was over 50%. Overall, 90% of the votes cast on 1 October were in favour of independence.
The agreement reached between Barcelona and Madrid blew up by midday on 26 October, when Puigdemont learned that the Spanish government was not going to fulfil its part of the bargain. PM Rajoys Popular party, supported by the nationalist radicals in the Ciudadanos party, decided to suspend Catalonias devolved powers regardless of whether Puigdemont called regional elections as he had been asked to do or not. When this became clear, Catalonias parliamentary majority decided to bring the parliament into session in order to implement the mandate for independence.
Therefore, on the following day, Catalonia formally declared independence all the while still calling for negotiations with Madrid to implement this declaration. But simultaneously, Spains senate approved the immediate application of article 155 of the Spanish constitution in order to impose direct rule on Catalonia. This is a measure that has never been used since Spains post-Franco transition to democracy, not even during the worst years of Eta terrorist violence in the Basque country.
Spains suspension of Catalonias home rule was immediate and implacable, and went far beyond what is established in the Spanish constitution. At a cabinet meeting on the evening of 27 October, Rajoys government approved the immediate removal of the Catalan government from office which represented the absolute majority in Catalonias regional parliament substituting it with direct rule by Spains Popular party government, despite the fact that this party holds just 8% of the seats in Catalonias regional parliament.
Among other measures approved with the goal of shutting down the Catalan governments ability to communicate with the international community one of the obsessions of the Rajoy government it was ordered to shut all its delegations abroad, except for the office in Brussels, where the head is being replaced. It was also ordered to close the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat), a public/private consortium made up of some 40 organisations whose purpose was to strengthen links between Catalan society and the rest of the world.
In the face of Spains article 155 offensive, and the insistent rumours of planned repression that could lead to much bloodshed if Catalonias government attempted to implement its declaration of independence, Puigdemont and his government decided to postpone these objectives, making peace and social cohesion the priority over everything else. Today all the ministers of the legitimate government of Catalonia, as well as the officials of the speakerss office at the Catalan parliament, have been summoned to court in Madrid to answer charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of government funds.
The bail has been set at 6 million, and they each face jail sentences of between 15 and 30 years. This is after the leaders of two of Catalonias main pro-independence civil society groups were sent to preventative detention in a Madrid jail to await sentencing after being similarly charged with sedition. There is irrefutable proof that the two leaders were attempting to stop the spontaneous public demonstration that occurred to protest the arrest of 15 senior Catalan government officials from deteriorating into violence, yet they were charged with fomenting unrest.
It is therefore understandable that there is a more than reasonable doubt about the fairness of the highly politicised Spanish courts. The charges launched today are eminently political, and have the objective as openly stated by various PP party officials to severely punish and make examples of the leaders of Catalonias political and civil society self-determination movement.
This is a strategy of revenge that is not only ineffective but also totally counterproductive it merely strengthens this movement in the upcoming Catalan regional elections that the Spanish government itself called for 21 December. The pro-independence movement has agreed to participate in these elections because it will always defend the use of ballot boxes, and now it will be the ballot boxes that will defend our new Catalan republic.
Jordi Sol and Josep-Maria Terricabras are MEPs for Green/European Free Alliance, Ramon Tremosa is an MEP for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe