This weekend President Zapatero appears to have broken the stalemate in which all parties involved in negotiations for increased Catalan autonomy had found themselves for the past month. In what may turn out to be a surprisingly astute move, the Spanish president met with leaders of the moderate CIU Catalan party (moderate, that is, compared with the increasingly radical Esquerra Republicana) and managed to get them to compromise on two key issues which had been source of contention between Catalan separatists and most members of all the other parties of the Spanish national parliament.
The first was the word “nation”. The proposal for a new statute presented by all Catalan parties (except the PP whose members remain firmly opposed to any constitutional change in Spain and terribly critical of the Government’s policies which, they claim, are “disloyal” to the Spanish state) described Catalonia as a “Nation state” throughout all clauses, which caused an uproar among Spanish mainstream political parties, including many members of the governing socialist party.
It also lead to some key military leaders to criticise the process and one general even went as far to say that if the Spanish national constitution was ever threatened, it was the duty of the army to protect it.
Despite the fierce criticism, until now the Catalan socialists and all indpendentist parties had defended their “right” to call Catalonia a nation. But in their meeting with the Spanish president this weekend CIU leaders agreed to modify the text, and refer to Catalonia as “a nation of Spain” in the atricles of the new statute. Catalonia will be described as a “nation” in the introduction but, apparantly, because it is not included as such in the actual articles, this will have no legal significance.
The second big compromise is on fiscal policy. The Catalan separatists were demanding total control over all taxes – income and VAT – aswell as local taxes. This weekend Zapatero proposed a 50/50 solution, whereby central government will administer half of the money generated by income and VAT taxes, and the Catalan government will administer the other half. And this was accepted by the Catalans.
Last night members of the Socialist party expressed their satisfaction with the new agreement, even colourful members such as the President of Extremadura who had strongly condemned the Catalan proposal for a new statute from the moment it was presented to Congress. Last night he told reporters the agreement reached this weekend was a victory for non-nationalists in Spain.
Meanwhile the leader of the Esquerra Republicana, Carod Rovira, said his party would not support the modifications to the text.
Infact this may turn out to be in Zapatero’s in the long term. With Esquerra Republicana becoming portrayed more and more as extremists in the Spanish media, the more moderate CIU (who in the past have enjoyed the balance of power in both PSOE and PP national governments) are again gaining ground within Catalunya. And if the Statute is finally approved by Congress with the abstention of the Popular Party and the Catalan left wing separatists, it will be much more difficult for the PP to sustain its claims that Zapatero’s government is in the hands of Catalan extremists. It also might be quite an embarrassment for the respective party leaders, Mariano Rajoy and Carod Rovira, who have spent the past two years insulting eachother, to suddenly find themselves voting for the same thing.
So against all odds, at least this morning, it looks like for the first time since what many see as the “pandora’s box” of Catalan autonomy was opened, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero may have (for the moment) gained control of the situation. Although, of course, as is often the case in Spanish politics, it is impossible to predict for how long this will remain the case.