Madrid prepares to suspend Catalans' autonomy

The central government in Madrid is moving to suspend Catalonia's autonomy to prevent an illegal secession by the independence-seeking region. This could escalate the situation, commentators fear, doubting that the protagonists have the political skill to react appropriately.

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The Irish Times (IE) /

Rajoy missed chance for a simple solution

The Spanish government should have just let the Catalans vote, writes the Irish Times:

“The puzzle is why the government of such a seemingly secure nation should react so crudely to an exercise in popular democracy being staged in pursuit of a cause that every opinion poll suggested its backers were going to lose. True, some 90 per cent of voters in the referendum backed the separatist cause. But turnout was just 43 per cent. Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, has clouded the outcome further by fudging a declaration of independence, which would have been entirely illegitimate. One has to ask, in the circumstances, what Mr Rajoy and his government were afraid of.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Only new elections can preserve peace

Spain's unity and social cohesion are at stake, Die Welt warns:

“These days will decide the future of the country: war or peace - and this is by no means meant symbolically. If Catalonia can't be integrated in a way that makes the Catalans happy to be part of Spain Spanish unity will be a lost cause. But can the step planned by the central government in Madrid bring peace? ... Neither the government in Madrid nor that in Barcelona were ready for dialogue and compromises. Perhaps it is now up to civil society to take to the streets and demand the only thing that, with a little luck, could restore peace in Catalonia: new elections.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Who can bring Rajoy to his senses?

To prevent a further escalation of the situation after the suspension of Catalonia's autonomy the leaders at the EU summit should issue an urgent appeal to Spanish leader Rajoy to initiate a dialogue, writes De Morgen:

“Madrid's hard line isn't in keeping with the 21st century and could lead to major insecurity and unrest. Demonstrations, opposition, tensions between Spaniards, violence. With his macho behaviour Rajoy is perhaps currently the most popular boy in the country, but the instability he is creating with his hard line is unworthy of a head of government. The question is who can restrain the Spanish prime minister over the next few days. ... If Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron backed Belgium's calls for dialogue at the EU summit in Brussels Rajoy would have less leeway to act crazy.”

Novi list (HR) /

Rajoy only pouring more fuel on the fire

With the arrest of two prominent members of the Catalonian independence movement the Spanish government has taken another step in the wrong direction, Novi list fears:

“Even if it succeeded in breaking the Catalan independence movement with this combination of political and police pressure, this would leave a very bitter aftertaste indeed. That would then sow the seeds for new rebellions in ten or twenty years. Rajoy had many other methods at his disposal for resolving the situation to everyone's satisfaction. Unfortunately, however, they are no longer applicable. It seems Catalonia will remain in Spain, but the political price Rajoy will have to pay for this is far too high.”

Latvijas Avīze (LV) /

Have courage, Catalonia!

Roberts Zīle, an MEP and member of the Latvian nationalist party the Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK, urges Catalonia's separatists to persevere in their fight for independence and cites the Latvian independence movement in Latvijas avīze:

“I would like to remind those who say that the Spanish constitution doesn't foresee an independence referendum for the Catalans that Latvia, too, attained its independence through methods that weren't foreseen in the USSR's constitution. Back then the countries of the West took the stance that the Baltic states' struggle for independence was an internal affair for the Soviet Union. Now Europe should take a look at how things have developed. ... The referendum in Scotland should be taken as an example of how such conflicts can be avoided.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

End stalemate with new elections

The stalemate is such that the separatists must give in to the pressure from Madrid and prepare to hold new elections, El Periódico de Catalunya argues:

“Another day has ended without a solution to the problem having been found. Time is running out, both to prevent the suspension of regional autonomy under Article 155 of the constitution and to cushion the catastrophic economic impact of this political disaster. ... Only the autonomous region's unequivocal return to legality can pave the way for the dialogue the proponents of independence call for. And that dialogue can only end the current deadlock if the definitive answer to Rajoy's ultimatum is accompanied by the announcement of new elections.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Why the Socialists are backing Rajoy

Spain's Socialist opposition leader Pedro Sánchez backs Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's tough line against the separatists in Catalonia but his support has more to do with the situation within his own party, PSOE, Corriere della Sera comments:

“Sánchez's decision is less a result of sudden enthusiasm for the Spanish version of a grand coalition and has more to do with the realisation that the Catalan's rebellion is deeply unpopular in the rest of Spain - particularly in poorer regions like Andalusia and Extremadura which are traditional Socialist strongholds. Sánchez's rival within his own party, the president of Andalusia Susana Diaz, is the biggest opponent of the separatists in Barcelona. If Sánchez were to withdraw his support for Rajoy this would lead to a split within PSOE that could have devastating consequences in potential snap elections.”

El País (ES) /

Madrid has no other choice

If the Catalan government doesn't make it clear that it is not declaring independence the central government will be forced to take strong action, El País warns:

“The state cannot permit the existence of an alternative legal order in one of its territories. Therefore it must resort to the democratic instruments the constitution grants it to re-establish normality. It must be pointed out that Article 155 is similar to the stipulations in other European constitutions and that its objective is not to limit or repeal the autonomy of a region (in this case Catalonia) but to protect a region from precisely the arbitrariness and contempt for the law that Puigdemont, his government and their supporters in parliament have been displaying for years.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

How Belgium keeps separatism in check

Belgium is less threatened by separatist ambitions now than in the past, Belgian journalist Béatrice Dalvaux writes in Le Figaro:

“While Spain is facing disintegration, Belgium seems more stable than ever even though we've often thought the end was nigh. That's all thanks to the Belgian model, the system of dialogue and negotiation which on the one hand leads to complicated agreements and opaque and highly complex institutions but ultimately has brought us peace. ... The Catalonian leader Puigdemont is ready to plunge his 'people' into an institutional adventure that has not been validated by a credible, legitimate referendum. Meanwhile the N-VA, the Flemish nationalist party and the strongest party in Flanders and Belgium, is now taking a very rational stance on the subject of independence.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Please sit down and talk!

Despite the different expectations of a dialogue the participants must not waste this opportunity, editor-in-chief Màrius Carol writes in La Vanguardia:

“Puigdemont is calling for dialogue without preconditions. Rajoy is offering dialogue, but only within the constitutional framework. And EU Council President Tusk believes both should use this dialogue to overcome their differences but within the legal framework. So we're back to the hamster wheel that spins but doesn't move forwards. ... In any case the EU is willing to accompany and promote this process. To waste this opportunity would be a mistake Europe wouldn't understand.”

Karjalainen (FI) /

Save what can be saved

The chance for negotiations must be seized, Karjalainen advises:

“One reason for Catalonia's bitterness is the economy. The Catalonians are right when they say that they finance the Madrid government to an unfair extent. In the last couple of days, however, there have been signs that the economy in an independent Catalonia wouldn't be anywhere near as stable as it is now. ... As the possibility for negotiations has now emerged, it must be made use of. Catalonia won't get independence, but on the other hand Rajoy can't afford to use violence. One way out would be the Basque model. But whatever happens, relations between Catalonia and Spain will no longer be as they were in the past.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Puigdemont in a fix

Catalonia's leader has been cornered now, NRC Handelsblad's Spain correspondent Liev Greven comments:

“Ultimately both Puigdemont's friends and foes feel he has betrayed them. And other countries are keeping their distance. ... Puigdemont is increasingly isolated and trapped in an almost impossible situation. If he decides to declare independence the Spanish government will quickly intervene and remove him and the Catalan parliament from office by applying Article 155 of the constitution. The regional president would be put on trial and if found guilty his political career would be over. If, however, Puigdemont decides to give up the push for secession for the time being he will lose his already fragile majority in the Catalan parliament. Then his only option would be to call new elections and the whole game would start again.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Time to change course

Der Standard also believes that Puigdemont is increasingly standing with his back to the wall:

“The pressure on the Catalan government to back down on the issue of autonomy will increase over the next few days: pressure from business and industry, from the EU that is not offering Barcelona any prospects, and from the anti-independence movement that is growing stronger. It is becoming increasingly clear that insisting on independence will lead to disaster. If this realisation prevails in Barcelona Puigdemont could become the man who starts negotiations on far-reaching autonomy. If it doesn't, new elections are the most likely scenario.”

Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Fresh elections could heal the wounds

The Catalonian president has confused supporters and opponents alike, Upsala Nya Tidning observes:

“With his speech in parliament on Tuesday evening, Catalonian president Carles Puigdemont tried to maintain the illusion that the referendum is valid - that Catalonia will become an independent country. That said, neither the advocates nor the adversaries of independence were convinced by what he said. The most likely scenario is that fresh elections will take place in the region and a new government will be tasked with healing the wounds that have been inflicted in Catalonia and Spain.”