A less impolitic, and not purely repressive, management of the Catalan conflict by the Madrid government would have been much more effective in isolating the most radical separatist impulses, which now feel entitled to up the ante. At the same time, a greater sense of institutional responsibility on the part of Barcelona would have avoided bringing the situation to the breaking point, on the brink of which came Rajoy’s hardline reaction: “Either you explain whether you have declared independence and what you mean by ‘discussions,’ or Article 115 of the Constitution will enter into force.”
Carles Puigdemont, president of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia, remained vague in his reply, asking for two months of negotiations and a meeting with Rajoy in short order. It was neither a confirmation of a unilateral declaration of independence, nor a step back.
The government in Madrid is now trying to take advantage of the most obvious contradiction of the government in Barcelona: the paradoxical pact to support independence between the extreme left (Esquerra Republicana, CUP) and right-leaning moderates (the Catalan European Democratic Party, heirs of the center-right nationalists of the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia).
The moderates are hesitant to declare unilateral independence in the absence of international recognition from the European Union (which remains cautious, while supporting Madrid) and economic solutions for managing a possible transition period required by the start of the independence process. Brussels fears a contagion effect (Scotland, Ireland, Basque Country, etc.), while Rajoy is pushing forward against the contradiction inherent in the Catalan government’s coalition to call for early elections, whose outcome would be highly uncertain.