I dreamt the other night that a 72 year old man called Mr.Margallo was begging and bribing me to stop writing anything nice about Catalonia. In exchange, he promised to drop all his plans to take control of Gibraltar after Brexit. Then I woke up. Or at least I think it was all a dream …
The truth is that it has been a bit of an odd week, although it started amicably enough.
On Monday an op-ed piece written jointly by Catalan President Puigdemont and Vice President Junqueras was published in El País newspaper. The heading of the article was ‘Let Dialogue Win, Let Ballot Boxes Decide’. Let’s focus on the ‘dialogue’ bit for now, as the word cropped up many times in the article.
There’s ‘no need for courts to become involved with what could be resolved politically’ they wrote, but that ‘Spain cannot even sit down at a table for a dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments.’ They continued: ‘There is not only a worrying absence of any will to create a dialogue, but also the fact that Spain keeps going in totally the opposite direction: indictments, and politicizing the courts while judicializing what is a political problem in a dirty war, with threats of exceptional measures against Catalonia.’ The article accused Madrid’s central government of hiding ‘behind the Constitutional Court, behind the Supreme Court and the regional courts, with no concern about compromising the separation of powers and the role of the courts as neutral arbiters.’
The article also made reference to those in Catalonia who do not want independence, but would still like a referendum to put the issue to rest. They claim that the ‘Spanish state has abandoned all Catalans, even those who don’t want independence.’ They asked for ‘political dialogue’ and a ‘political solution’. They reiterated that ‘in a democracy there is no right to refuse dialogue’. And they concluded the article stating that they were ‘already seated at the negotiation table. How long before the others arrive? Or will they even come?’
No, is the answer – at least that’s the message from Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy’s PP-led government.
That very same day, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría compared the request for ‘dialogue’ as a ‘demand’. In response to the article, she said that, ‘Dialogue is not what is being offered or asked for; a referendum is being demanded that goes against the Spanish Constitution, and that would deny Spaniards as a whole their capacity to express an opinion about what they want the whole of the Spanish nation to be. It is a demand by those who have a poor understanding of dialogue in their country.’
I don’t get it … I really don’t. Define ‘dialogue’. Define ‘demand’. I’ve re-read the article, in both Spanish and English. They write: ‘the scenario of an agreed referendum’ [ie, ‘agreed’ after ‘dialogue’] ‘is what we would like in Catalonia.’ That is their final aim, yes, but from what I understand, they’re not even demanding a dialogue to try and ‘agree’ an eventual ‘agreed’ referendum – they are just politely asking for dialogue. And they’ve been asking for it for a very long time.
I believe Madrid could quite easily have defused this entire situation several years ago by proposing something as simple as an external ‘seminar of dialogue’ (call it what you like) with a date ‘yet to be decided’ to discuss the ‘concept’ of the ‘possibility’ in the ‘future’ of a parliamentary ‘discussion’ which ‘might eventually lead’, subject to ‘conditions’, to a ‘potential’ parliamentary ‘study’ for the ‘future publication’ of a document to be entitled ‘The Outlines for a Possible Parliamentary Debate on Catalonia’ – or something similar. Isn’t that what politicians are supposed to do? Be ‘diplomatic’? Delay things as long as they can, if necessary, but at least be ‘political’ and show they’re up for some ‘dialogue’?
For heaven’s sake, Mr.Rajoy, talk to Barcelona about all this. Sit down at a table, any table, and start a dialogue. Even I’ll offer to mediate and moderate if you can’t find anyone else, but just do it – before it’s too late. In the meantime, stop treating Catalonia as the disruptive child in the Spanish classroom [The New European]. Stop banning Catalan politicians from public office for ‘disobedience’ (believe me, from an international perspective it is looking absurd). And stop fining people for speaking Catalan at Barcelona airport’s passport control (yes, it apparently happened).
And then there’s that 72 year old man of my dreams (you know what I mean), José García-Margallo y Marfil … but let’s just refer to him as Mr.Margallo.
Well, it turns out that he’s a bit of an old rascal, isn’t he? He was the Spanish Foreign Minister from 2011 to 2016, serving under Prime Minister Rajoy. He’s made a number of very silly comments in the past, mostly about Gibraltar, but he seems to have surpassed himself on the TV this week, revealing some worrying facts on the ‘El Cascabel’ programme on 13TV. It follows a debate he’d had in Madrid with the former President of the Catalan government, Artur Mas (who’s been banned from public office for 2 years).
On the TV programme, Mr. Margallo stated that when he was Minister, the Spanish government made ‘great efforts’ to talk to governments around the world in order for them to not speak in favour of Catalan independence. He said, ‘No one knows the favours we owe to a lot of people for making the declarations they made’. He even explained that it had taken up a lot of his time and energy: ‘I was in the Baltic countries four times, and it is not that we have particular economic interests there … I have been to Canada, to the Vatican, I don’t know how many times … this takes up an enormous amount of energy.’
Whether or not Mr.Margallo had been travelling to all these places on Catalan tax payers’ money or not is yet to be clarified. Or at least it should be clarified …