Un observador inglés (1) – Rajoy is inept and Spain’s lost its mojo.

First, to clarify: I love Spain. I love Catalonia. For over 20 years, on and off, I’ve lived and worked here – 10 years in Madrid, and 10 years in Barcelona, two of the greatest cities in the world. So I feel I can comment …

Not so long ago, Spain used to be cool. Very cool. Fiestas, football, food, fashion, fast and furious new flamenco, modern design and architecture, art and Almodóvar, Penélope and Paz, Banderas and Bardem, Nadal and Gasol, Domingo and Carreras – they all helped to make it cool – and, dare I say it, even Felipe, when he was still just a prince, or at least when he led out the Spanish Olympic team at the opening of the 1992 Games in Barcelona. He was cool then. Was.

Someone once told me that those good times in Spain were just ‘paper over the cracks’. I used to think it meant that behind the façade of all the fiestas, an economic hangover would always resurface, as it did in September 92 immediately after those Olympic Games, and again in 2008 as part of the global financial crisis, bursting the Spanish property bubble and much more. I never wanted to accept that the ‘paper over the cracks’ might refer to other sinister elements of Spanish society, such as the ghosts of Franco. I had a lot to learn, and I’m still learning.

Friends from Madrid and elsewhere in Spain sometimes ask why I support the independence of Catalonia. To be honest I don’t think I initially did, and I’m still not 100% sure that I do now – although I more than sympathise with their reasons for not wanting to remain part of Spain, and even more so every day. What I do support and always will, is the right to vote. I didn’t want Brexit but I thought the referendum was necessary. I didn’t (and don’t) want Scotland to leave the UK, but I thought they should at least have the right to vote on it (and to do so again, if necessary, in light of Brexit).

I spent the whole of Sunday 1 October 2017, the day of Catalonia’s ‘banned’ referendum, working in a newsroom in Barcelona, from 8am until very late that evening – helping on a Catalan and Spanish newspaper’s English edition. As the news, images and videos came in of all the police brutality against innocent citizens simply trying to vote, I also did a report for Sky News. On air, live during the interview, the newscaster from London told me that some of the images they were receiving from Barcelona were ‘too bloody’ to even broadcast. As the day went on, colleagues in the newsroom turned pale with shock. One told me that he was more upset by that day’s events than during the terrorist attack of 17 August; this was the Spanish police attacking its own citizens. I was shocked by how much it also upset me. I really felt for the people of Catalonia. By the time I got back to Sitges later that night, I was in floods of tears. I had to be consoled. I will never, ever forget the impact that day had on me.

The next day, I was incensed that the ‘Madrid media’ failed to report on the true events – unlike the international (and Catalan) media. It incensed me that the EU remained silent. It incensed me that Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, went on CNN and BBC stating that the images of police brutality were ‘fake news’. It incensed me and it still does.

Right now, at the start of 2018, ‘Brand Spain’ is no longer cool – far from it. Spain has lost its mojo. I hope that one day it gets it back – but things need to change, starting at the very top. The prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, is utterly inept. The way that his PP party (already stained with numerous corruption scandals) has handled the Catalan issue has been atrocious – not just an on-going international ‘PR disaster’, but totally wrong, and, I’d say, possibly illegal.

Despite saying he would, Rajoy failed to prevent a referendum in Catalonia from taking place in the first place. Refusing dialogue, the actions he did take, however, were absurd (and still are). Too numerous to list them all here, they range from threatening the Catalan parliament, department of economy and other institutions (as well as raiding some of those buildings), to searching the car boot of a printing company’s cleaner in search of ballot cards (even boasting that the police had managed to confiscate some). His government threatened Catalonia’s mayors, citizens and volunteers, banned posters and the media from running advertisements, stopped events and debates, clearly violating human rights and the freedom of speech. They shut down websites and apps, blocked telephone operators and even threatened to cut off the power. At a huge cost, they then sent a cartoon ship full of Civil Guard and Spanish Police to stop people from voting … but they failed. As for the gifts and awards to Juncker, or pointless trips to see Trump or May … just don’t get me started on all that.

Rajoy has never used ‘politics’ to try and resolve the Catalan issue at all. He’s simply used the judges and the courts … and continues to do so. Yesterday, the democratically elected Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, was ordered to remain in prison, still without trial. Meanwhile, the king of Spain’s brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, who was sentenced to over 6 years in prison yet is still ‘awaiting his appeal’, was photographed on holiday in Rome. I do not believe there is judicial independence in Spain – far from it. That is why Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four other Catalan ministers are still in Brussels. They went there to seek justice, not to avoid it.

Rajoy’s application of article 155 to take control of Catalonia was wrong. He then called the elections for 21 December, but lost. Yes, he lost. There are political prisoners in Spain – that is a fact. They should be released immediately. Every day, things are getting worse. I believe Rajoy needs to take a big step back (or better still, resign – but he won’t, I know). Puigdemont should be allowed to return from Brussels without any threat of arrest. Then they all need to sit around the table with international mediators, and which is what should have happened last September. Dialogue is needed. A political solution is needed. Then Spain (and Catalonia) will get its mojo back …

27 thoughts on “Un observador inglés (1) – Rajoy is inept and Spain’s lost its mojo.

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    Alexandre Samper

    January 6, 2018 at 10:00pm

    Many thanks Mr. Parfitt for being here and provide such articles. Sometimes Catalans doubt from our selves about our reality and the Spanish media imposed reality.
    It is deeply disappointing and frustrating what the so called Spanish justice so with our democratically elected representatives. I cannot see the end of that.
    With your publications, your twits, … you are helping us a lot.
    Sincere thanks and wish you and your beloved an excellent 2018.
    Kind regards,

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      Karen Jones

      January 8, 2018 at 9:02am

      You have perfectly put into words exactly how I – a Brit, married to a Catalan, living in Catalunya Nord – feel. I am scandalised, shocked and distraught at what is happening in Catalunya and I cannot believe that this can happen in today’s EU. Keep shouting Tim!! And I will retweet you all the way.

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    Mjo Tintoré Espuny

    January 6, 2018 at 11:12pm

    Thanks, Tim! I wasn’t Indy 5 years ago. Till I notice, as a Tax advisor, that AEAT started doing with administrative procedures. They need money and tried to get it from little companies with absolutely absurd law interpretations. Now Administrative Court is telling that AEAT was wrong but many of this enterprises had to use the money to make investments to pay and wait till now to have their money back.

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      Alícia Rodriguez

      January 9, 2018 at 12:47am

      Jo també ho he viscut això.
      I a nivell de persones físiques també.
      Les petites empreses y particulars no tenen prou eines ni coneixements i molts cops no s’atreveixen a recòrre, ho donen per perdut. En conec més d’un cas.

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    Víctor Horcasitas

    January 7, 2018 at 1:23am

    As always, very well articulated and on point!
    Happy 2018 and Kings Day, brother Tim!

    Are there solid, relevant examples of how international moderators helped assuage concerns from both sides and crafted a mutually acceptable solution?

    The unjustifiable heavy handedness and demonstrable inability to solve problems through logic, persuasion or economic incentives highlights team Rajoy’s ineptness on this matter. Their attitude increasingly generates both local and international sympathy for the independence movement. Whatever form the solution takes, it will require intelligence and compassion. Even my most ardent PP and C militant friends know this combination is beyond the competence of Spain’s current leaders.

    Jailing people for their political beliefs while using ridiculous charges in a pathetic attempt to justify their actions…is the modus operandi of totalitarians and ruthless despots. Too uncool to rule! Is team Rajoy really the best Spain has to offer?

    While I am definitely not an Independentist, I am proud to see my unlike-minded Catalan friends passionately choosing to continue their independence mission via peaceful and democratic processes. Exercising one’s rights to vote (especially in the face of huge odds favoring the established regine) takes courage …and is, as you say, very cool!

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    January 7, 2018 at 7:38am

    Mr. Parfitt, I couldn’t be more thankful for your precise, yet broad, lecture of the Catalan situation and the true face of the late-francoist Spain that is becoming the shame of Europe these days. As a Catalan I’ve been witnessing all the things you mentioned in your article (and even more!) with a mixture of anger, frustration and impotence against the Spanish authoritarian State that is determined to impose the interests of a small economical and ideological elite. The facts that you point out are the result of a failure of the transition after the dictatorship, and the actors back then are now running the show. They’ve always had.

    I would like to share with you, and your audience, a personal impression over all this. On October 1st I was in three different polling stations in two cities. We all woke up early that day, we knew the Spanish police was going to try to impede the referendum, but we also knew that you can’t stop the spring with your hands. The mood all around was impressive, the determination of the people that day, from all ages, from all classes, ethnies, ideologies.. all of them compromised democrats. That day I felt proud of mankind, that day I knew that we can shape a better future for our children, that our planet is full of good people with good intentions making a huge effort against injustice, manipulation, greed and abuse of power. And now, even under a constant bombardment from the Spanish media, being abandoned once again by Europe, feeling neglected by the Government that uses my own tax money against me and the people I love; I know democracy will win, I know there will be justice, and that all that is happening now will be remembered as the beginning of a revolutionary change that will seed a new society. Thanks Mr.Parfitt, we need more journalists and critical thinkers like you.

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      Amanda Lockwood

      January 7, 2018 at 11:22am

      I agree so much with this sentiment. As a long-time resident without the right to vote, I watched the events unfold with much anticipation and tried to help logistically since I could not influence the ballot box. The sense of community, of optimism, and of pride are unforgettable- but the fear I felt that day will never be forgotten either. Spain played the wrong hand that day, and in my opinion lost Catalonia based on their decision to beat their own citizens, not ask for forgiveness nor admit the error, and then have the King (who isn’t much older than me, married to a non-blue blood divorcée journalist no less!) absolutely waste an opportunity to mediate/sympathize/heal.

      Current events and the lack of independence between the branches of government have only confirmed everything was so much worse than my Pollyanna American mindset had allowed me to understand. Injustice is rife. Corruption and trading influences is the norm, not the exception. Like Mr. Parfitt, I was neither for nor against independence- but definitely pro-referendum.
      Spain had been able to pull the wool over the EU’s eyes based on industry and the strong cities- but their true colors are showing now that we discuss civil rights, the judicial system, and political unrest. What will the EU do? Keep looking the other way and focus on tfinancial issues exclusively? Or will they turn to the people and listen?

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        Alícia Rodriguez

        January 9, 2018 at 1:00am

        Thank. I’m from Catalonia and citoyen Europeen….But where is Europe?

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      January 15, 2018 at 11:16pm

      You speak for me, word by word. There are so many out there wishing for all this as well. 2018 came for a change.

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    Anne Dwyer

    January 7, 2018 at 4:19pm

    Well said, Tim. When I forst met you my impression was that you were defifinetly not pro-independence (though, as someone with a democratic mindset, I am sure you would have supported a referendum). Actually, at the time I met you, this ‘mess was only just beginning’. While ‘anti-Catalanism’ has existed for centuries, it was Aznar who reallly ‘invested’ in the ‘let Spain be great again’ campaign (actually he called it ‘Spain’s doing well’) and the strong anti-Catalan position to win votes all over the place. Catalunya is the only autonomous region with statutes that have not been approved in referendum by the people. The statutes they voted in favour of were partially rejexted by the Constitutional Court; perhaps that is really the referendum that ought to have been held … more than 7 years ago! An article in Foreign Policy ecoes your thoughts. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/12/27/catalonias-crisis-is-just-getting-started/

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    Jeremy Garratt

    January 7, 2018 at 7:24pm

    Excellent piece Tim. Offering some real clarity and insightful comment on the whole sorry affair.

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    Artur Sixto

    January 7, 2018 at 9:16pm

    Thank you Mr Parfitt for an honest account of the turn of events in Spain.

    The real issue is not independence, as most Catalans would have accepted some decent agreement to remain part of Spain. The issue is one of human and political rights, a democratic issue. It took us Catalans 30 years, between 1980 and 2010, to realize that any compromise with Spain is just impossible. Why? For a simple reason: under the democtratic façade of the 1978 constitution, Spanish nationalism kept seeking its reinforcement while seeking, systematically, to misconstrue and weaken ‘peripheral’ national identities, presenting them as artificial, illegitimate, and harmful ‘nationalisms’.

    When general Franco died in bed, in 1975, Spanish nationalism was not fashionable socially after four decades of fascism. In spite of that, Spanish nationalism still pervaded many organizations, including left-wing Spanish political parties and trade unions. Not that they had an agressive nationalist discourse between 1976 and 1980, but their leaders, as most Spanish citizens, harboured ideas about Spain, as a nation, that owed to many decades of Spanish, agressive, imperialistic nationalism and propaganda. Not just since the fascists victory in the 1936-39 Civil War. The imperialistic campaign of Castile started during the 17th century, leading to war against Portugal and Catalonia in 1640. It then continued, leading to the war of Spanish Succession and getting ever worse after the Catalan defeat of 1714. But that was the Ancien Régime. An Ancien Régime that actually remained very much in place after the War of Independence, when Spain got rid of the Bonapartes and entered the bumpy era of 19th century politics. Over the entire 19th century is when we see a Spanish nationalism rising which one cannot blame anymore on a tiny imperial establishment around absolute monarchs. It is a civil endeavour, an elite campaign, no doubt, but one that traverses the entire upper segments of ‘Spanish’ society, i.e. not just the aristocracy and the military, but also the bourgeoisie of the former Crown of Castile.

    In fact, shelving the Crown of Castile in the 19th century to inaugurate the Kingdom of Spain, was just an operation to shelve the Crowns of Aragon and Navarre above all. It was a successful attempt by Castile to eradicate the notion that several peninsular nations were involved, and to establish an identification bewtween Castile and Spain, between the Castilian language (already known abroad as Spanish) and Spain. The very first attempt at a Spanish constitution in 1812, which was failed, overlooked already the views of Catalans etc. That constitution tried to establish the notion of a single nation without any acknowledgement of ‘peripheral’ nations. It was an attempt at building a modern nation without renouncing the previous efforts of Castile, over two centuries, to eradicate its peninsular neighbours. Those efforts had largely failed. The civic, democratic spirit that was supposedly growing and blowing across Europe demanded that Castiian elites revise their imperialistic goals and vision of Spain as an enlarged Crown of Castile. This never happened. On the contrary. Whatever new ideology or discourse became mainstream, it was used to develop a new rationale to justify policies aimed at implementing the very same old program of Castilianization of Spain under its central power. Whether they called themselves liberals, radicals, socialists, or fascists, etc., ‘peripheral’ nations were always depicted as things of the past or even fraudulent obstacles to ‘modern Spain’. The 19th century is when Castile mutates into ‘Spain’ and ‘Spain’ starts to deny the very existence of any other nation. Since they started to deny it, they obviously never stopped trying to eradicate what, officially, didn’t exist. Starting with languages other than Castilian, which suddenly became horrible, hated ‘dialects’. People tend to hate that which falsifies a belief that is painful to give up, and that which reminds one how far he is from his personal utopia.

    Anyway, I was drifting away from the point I wanted to make, sorry: Spanish nationalism (as it is not just the Spanish government or the Spanish state) has NOT applied to Catalonia article 155 of the Spanish constitution. If they had, we might consider that a wrong political decision, but when you say that it was wrong to apply it, Mr Parfitt, you are pointing to something morally, ethically, democratically wrong, aren’t you? And that is the issue. Saying it was wrong is a serious understatement, one that does not help demand the sort of EU reaction that was actually due, to defend international and EU law. Much worse than wrong, it was ILLEGAL. Any competent and honest person who understands the basics of law, or just happens to have learned to read at school, can take article 155 and check that it never allowed to do what has been done, which amounts to a coup, albeit one that may seem to, initially, damage Catalonia only. In fact, it damages very deeply democracy and rule of law for all citizens of Spain. It is one more step towards fully fledged tirany. So far, only Catalans and other ‘peripheral’ nations could feel its weight and damage. Now, above its camouflaged foundations laid over 1975-1978, it is the ground floor and pillars of tiranny that are being built. Soon it will be the first floor, and the ugly face of Spanish authoritarian, genocidal nationalism, will appear at the balcony to wave hello to all the stupid, mediocre, hypocrite, mean leaders and mass media of the EU, which falsely pretend not to be populist and nationalistic but are, and are supporting Spanish populist nationalists.

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    Rob Borgers

    January 7, 2018 at 9:43pm

    Great article Timothy
    Your views express exactly what I saw and felt on October 1st (at Colegio Ramon Llull) and since; a sense of disbelief, disappointment and above all anger. I was never fully convinced that independence would be as bright as it was portrayed to be but since that day in October my rejection to what the current Spain represents, has only become stronger (and that’s putting it mildly). Cataluña could be so much better on its own than as a part of a system that, to me, is archaic, rotten and stuck in the past.
    Keep up the good work!

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    January 8, 2018 at 7:08pm

    I’m agree about all above mentioned.
    M. Rajoy should resing. His behaviour is incredible, we cann’t support, we’re looking for justice and democracy.

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    January 8, 2018 at 11:24pm

    Perfect analisys Tim, i totally agree.
    On top of that, we should mention, hundreds of episodes of intimidation, humilation, menace (Sesena art pieces returned to Aragon, claim of Vat to theatres and cinemas transmitting shows in Catalan, menaces to Catalan language in public Schools, trials to teachers and mayors…)

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    January 9, 2018 at 8:00am

    Totally agree with all the report.
    I.m independent since really I had understand how is Rajoy and all the citizen that vote him.
    Be careful.. is not only a authoritarian system, behind there are religious system that is based like a mafia.

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    January 9, 2018 at 7:22pm

    This is absolutely right. Mr. Rajoy is inept, he has never done politics, he is the kind of person who let things happen while he just watches them. In our Catalan issue dialogue is needed and a political solution is needed. What I find also terrible is Europe’s silent. Spain is an EU state member and there are political prisoners in Spain. It is unacceptable!

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    Heather Cusden

    January 11, 2018 at 2:16pm

    I really enjoyed reading this piece Tim. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions on this – it is also close to my heart and I very much appreciate your view.

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    January 12, 2018 at 5:35pm

    I’m afraid you are giving a biased view in which you are supporting unacceptable behaviour of the independentist movement. That behaviour was not existent some months ago — only some exaggeration of the alleged offenses of Spain to Catalonia. I always respected catalanist politicians. Now, however, they are engaging the population in a narrative of hate against Spain that is yielding a lot of undesirable consequences: between catalan and spanish citizens, and between catalan indepdenetists and catalan not indepdendentists. Please bear in mind (and please, say it when you talk about our conflict) that the former group represents 48% of catalan population (according to last elections and to 2015 “plebiscitary” elections).

    While obviously PP is reacting in a disgusting way, I think it’s worth keeping in mind also who are they reacting to — because one naturally believes that if one side, the central Government, is disgusting, then the other side will not be such. But as I have myself acknowledged, the independentists are behaving in equally utterly unacceptable ways. To give you just a glimpse of what they do, please take a look at that prosecution of a guy that *just thought differently than independentists* (as me and, again, half of catalans think!):

    You know much better than me journalists’ responsibility of giving accurate information regarding this kind of conflicts, so please don’t sell a “maniquean” story of good vs evil when *obviously* both sides are engaging in unacceptable speech and actions.

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    January 15, 2018 at 11:48pm

    OK diario is not precisely an impartial an accurate source, but a far right anti-catalan media which spreads fals information about Catalonia, fo example from a suspicious sindicate of school teachers (AMES) denouncing “indoctrination” in Catalan schools – a sindicate linked to C’s, completely unknown and minoritary in Catalonia, and denounced by the major school sindicates. They are just obsessed with eliminating Catalan from schools as if it was the source of all evil.
    The guy writing this article (J.Bosch) is again linked to SCC, a far-right organizzation close to C’s, and “Dolça Catalunya”, an anticatalan blog that if you explore a bit in deep, ends up glorifying Franco. Accurate? Not so sure.

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    Herbert Steubesand

    January 16, 2018 at 10:03pm

    This summary should be to find of a huge transparent rolled out from the highest building in Brüssel to show the world what is going wrong inside the EU concerning all the values they want to stand for.
    Thx for supporting Catalonia

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    Stephen Lyon

    January 25, 2018 at 10:17am

    Totally agree with you Tim.Never been to Madrid but I fell for the enchantress that is Barcelona.I would never have though if it wasn’t for holidaying in Spain.I’m trying to understand both sides and it is hard finding a balance,but when you look at how Spain is now I’m afraid that maybe that is why I can’t get the balance I’m looking for.what I’m trying to say is that it’s a Shame it’s come to this but Spain has no one to blame but itself,not only now but the past too,surely it’s time to recognise Catalonia either as a Republic or at least have dialogue.You never know what could be achieved by sitting down and listening without the ghost of Franco in the room.

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    Pere Puigmartí Bellart

    January 25, 2018 at 11:23pm

    Congratulations. Its clearly the true. Good job. Thanks a lot, Sir.

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    January 25, 2018 at 11:33pm

    I wanted to thank you for your suport to Catalonia. Thanks for helping us to make people form abroad understand what are we living.

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    May 29, 2018 at 3:32pm

    Fantastic, direct and spot on!

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    May 29, 2018 at 7:38pm

    I do not why if you write in english in a personal website the same opinions catalan soft independentist say they would get more attention that theirs.
    Yes, Rajoy is inept, Trump is inept and dangerous, that does not give California the right to vote its independence from USA.
    No, catalan people does not have the right of vote the future of cataluña without all spanish people.
    No, Tabarnia does not have the right to vote about Barcelona city territory independence.
    No, Valle of Aran does not have the right of vote its independence from Catalonia and Spain.
    Whole 45 million spaniards have the right to vote about what to do with its present territory.
    Thank you

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    John Roe

    October 1, 2019 at 11:34pm

    I remember it well, I arrived on holiday in Salou and and was surprised on an early morning walk to find a hotel that had been closed for the summer was now full of police from the Guardia civil and from the south of Spain there were at least 20 riot wagons parked out the front of the Hotel. I stood for a while in the early morning shadows and watched the police being briefed and taking breakfast, I thought then that it was a very bad time for Catalonia. I’ve read your article Tim and found very interesting, I do feel the pain of of the Catalan people, even though I’m now back in the UK. I still believe that the French are one of the main forces within EU, and will do anything to prevent Catalan Independence as any consessions made would soon spread from Spain into the French Catalan areas.

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