Sunday, March 31, 2013

“We have to explain that Spain can make it on its own without Catalonia”

by Òscar Palau. Originally published in El Punt Avui in Catalan on March 31, 2013. Translated here with permission.

Roger Albinyana: Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Generalitat (Catalan Government)

Roger Albinyana, in his first interview since being
named Secretary of Foreign and EU Affairs
(Foto: Juanma Ramos, courtesy of El Punt Avui)
A young Europeanist
Despite his youth, Roger Albinyana i Saigí (Barcelona, 1980) has acumulated a notable amount of experience in foreign affairs. After studying Economics and International Relations, he led the Joventut Liberal Europea [European Liberal Youth] between 2004 and 2008 before cofounding and directing for two years the Cercle d'Estudis Soberanistes [Sovereigntist Study Circle]. From 2011 on, he was the director of the governmental program, Unió per la Mediterrània [Mediterranean Union]. He has been a member of CDC [Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, Catalan political party] since 1997 and a coordinator of international relations since 2011. In January he was named Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and thus directs one of the key areas in the pro-sovereignty process.

“We have to explain that Spain can make it on its own without Catalonia”
“We have to develop a credible discourse that makes it clear that Spain not only will make it through, but that it will benefit”
“At this time, there is not a single country, within or outside of the EU, that is encouraging the process”

31 March 2013 Barcelona Òscar Palau

Roger Albinyana has taken on the post of Secretary of Foreign and EU Affairs and wants to work hard, but discretely.

How important is discretion?

Diplomatic relations in any country always have a visible part and one that is more discrete, but we are a government that values transparency and are happy to offer explanations where necessary.

What level of cooperation with the process have you noticed up to now?

It feels like Catalan society is hoping for cooperation from the international community toward the process, but that is a misguided perception. In the two months since we've been working, we have had contacts with various European governments and it's important that we're completely transparent: At this point, there is no country, either within or outside of the EU, that is encouraging the process. Our understanding is that they are observing it from a distance. That is the case now and it has been the case in any previous process of national emancipation; the reaction from the international community has always been lukewarm*. It's important to be realistic, and it's important that the people know the perspective that these countries have, that is, that they do not look kindly on the process.

Does that mean that it is good news that they're not taking a position?

Absolutely. Their neutrality is excellent news.

You said it was necessary to make it clear that this is not an internal conflict.

Albinyana, during the interview, Thursday,
in the office of the Secretary.
(Photo: Juanma Ramos, courtesy of El Punt Avui)

In some way, we have to make it understood that what is going on in Catalonia is a dialectical discourse with the Spanish State, because if not, in the eyes of the international community, the problem does not exist. The process must be perceived as a problem that has to be resolved not only by the Spanish State but by the countries of the EU and beyond, as a whole. But until the Catalan people make their position clear, the process will continue to be considered an internal matter.

If a unilateral referendum is necessary in the end, the international community won't understand it?

This process has various stages and it's very important that the Catalan institutions follow through on each one. Right now, we have to open all possible channels for dialog with the Spanish government so that the referendum can be held thanks to a pacted agreeement, as in Scotland. This is without a doubt the scenario that most suits us, although it's not the only possible way. We have established a path toward the exercise of our right to self-determination and to the point that it's possible, we must forge agreements.

Is Scotland a reference point?

The two situations don't have anything in common; they and we have distinct motives and we both note that our respective situations are unique. At the same time, we see that they have been able to negotiate the terms and the date for their referendum and to the extent that we can, we should be able to do the same.

Will the date of the Scottish referendum affect the choice of the date in Catalonia?

They have chosen a day that makes sense according to their interests and in Catalonia we should do the same, and not be dependent on any outside process.

Can the right to self-determination be claimed, since it is recognized by international organizations and even by the Spanish State?

The support for self-determination in international legislation is pretty minimal, because the Declaration of Human Rights is not a treaty that obligates the parties. The Spanish State was very careful when signing to not recognize this right itself. Our exit must result from dialog between the parties, just as there was even with South Sudan.

Would a Catalan State be excluded from the EU? Barroso said that...

I refer to the position of the European Commission that, beyond the declarations and counterdeclarations, is given through official communications or as answers to specific petitions. And the position is that there is no official position, because no member state has asked for a position on any particular case. In the treaties, there is no reference that takes into account such a process, either for or against. That makes us believe that this is not a process that has a resolution within European legislation—those who say that [Catalonia] would be automatically excluded from the EU are lying—but rather that there must be a political discussion, and that eventually there will have to be negotiations between the member states, the European institutions, and Catalonia. To get to this point, however, we need a clear and unequivocal message, that is, a referendum. Until then, there will be no negotiations, no foreign institution will speak out about Catalonia.

Is there an idea of the timing of an eventual negotiation?

Since there is no automatic legal mechanism to follow, the situation must be understood in political terms, and we must apply a dose of common sense. Catalonia is a territory with 7 and a half million people, with a geostrategical position that is important to the whole of Europe and a GDP of 200 billion euros. Who can imagine that Catalonia will be sidelined from the main group if there is an incontrovertible democratic will in favor of moving toward an independent state integrated with the European institutions?

But Spain has veto power...

It's true that joining the EU requires unanimity, but the Spanish State is very dependent on the other states in the EU, especially now that it has a notably weak foreign position, and thus is quite susceptible to being influenced. When the treaties say that the EU is based on principles of democracy, human rights, and respect for minorities, we speak about that. We are Europeans, and any act that would take away those rights and obligations will have a very high political cost, not only for Spain but for the whole of Europe, whose projects of unity and integration would be severely questioned.

Does Spain's weakness favor Catalonia?

Spain's weakness toward the outside might imply the facilitation of internal processes, though it's important to note that Catalonia has not taken its position based on Spain's weakness. However, we Catalans must be able to explain that Spain can make it on its own without Catalonia because the process that we are undertaking is not a process against Spain, but rather, in the medium and long term, one that should strengthen Spain. We have to know how to express that idea to the international community because the current situation of the internal relationships is not good for the Spanish State either. We have to develop a credible discourse that makes it clear that Spain not only will make it through, but that it will benefit in the end.

Have you felt Spanish pressure against the process abroad?

Spain does what it deems necessary and therefore, it's felt, because they try to boycott actions abroad, especially with respect to business. The embassies have very clear instructions.

You don't like the Spanish government's bill on foreign activity. Have you spoken to them about it?

Not directly, but there has been an offer from the ministry to negotiate the aspects that we don't like. It is our opinion that they clearly invade our jurisdiction in matters of foreign policy; we are the only [autonomous] community with two chapters dedicated to this in our Statute and this new law puts the Catalan government on a par with local entities, when it is up to us to coordinate their activities. It violates existing law and we will make those allegations clear, and if necessary, we will negotiate. If the law continues as presented, we will oppose it.

Is Catalan law the answer?

No, the need to organize foreign affairs, EU affairs, and cooperation on development was already in the electoral platforms of both CiU and ERC. The goal is to move forward in the design of state structures, but we must carefully follow current legislation, because if we ask the State to comply, we have to apply the same criteria to ourselves. Right now, the government has a wide margin with respect to foreign affairs and is covered by the current legislation in effect, but there are limits imposed by the budget.

And what can be done?

With the resources that we have we can do more, and better. Not just with the delegations abroad but also in the defense of our interests in Europe, where the financial framework of 2014-2020 is already being negotiated, and from which new opportunities are emerging. It's more important than ever for the government to position itself properly in the EU in order to get the most out of it, and to demostrate to the Catalan people that our membership is useful from this vantage point.

Catalan communities abroad want to help. What can they do?

We have 128 of them, with 20 particularly active. We have ramped up communications, sending them information on what's going on, talking points... They have a presence in other civil organizations abroad and can act as a means of communication not of the government, but of the process, because this isn't developed from top to bottom, but rather has an all important grassroots base, without which it would be impossible. Therefore, our intention is for the communities abroad to participate, from their respective countries.

They have asked to be able to vote according to the referendum law...

Yes, we are studying that and don't yet have a clear answer.

What do the delegations abroad do?

Let's be specific. The delegation in Brussels is quite strong, with more clearly delineated functions because it exists in a framework in which it is officially recognized. The others don't have a diplomatic status because Spain has never wanted to give them one, in contrast with the delegations in Flanders or in Quebec, and thus have more difficult functions, with political and institutional representation, of being in contact with the media, of internationalizing the economics in contact with business leaders, in contact with the local community, and in publicizing and explaining the Catalan situation.

The change in perception since September 11 is pretty obvious...

Yes, because the process that we're are going through is very interesting to the international media, since it is a civil process that demands leadership and support from political leaders. Many correspondents were and are in Madrid, and until recently they only received information from there, but the interest generated from the demonstration has been palpable, and through the communications group Eugeni Xammar, similar to that of many other governments, we have been able to put that in order.

You've also pulled "public diplomacy" out of your sleeve...

Not exactly. It's a concept invented by the English and Americans, and responds to the fact that it's more necessary to involve the civil society in foreign affairs. With public diplomacy we try to lay out a model of how a future Catalan foreign service would look like, not based on classic state criteria but rather on the sovereignty of the 21st century, with a shared process. All of that will be thoroughly studied but the process that we are initiating allows us to reinvent ourselves as a country, and one of the areas in which we can do the most work is in foreign affairs. It's clear that, realistically, and given our needs and current financial capacity, Catalonia will not be able to allow itself a foreign network as extensive as the Spanish one, but that doesn't interest us anyway, given that theirs hasn't had particularly effective results.

*NB. The literal translation would be "quite cold" which might seem to contradict the word I've chosen, "lukewarm". However, I think "lukewarm" better conveys the resistance and negativity implied in the original, and has none of the romantic connotation that "cold" has.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Google Mapping to focus independence efforts

Marc Belzunces published a cool mapping of Catalonia's Parliamentary election results on Tuesday, and it has generated enormous interest. It uses color to gauge pro-independence feeling by illustrating how people voted with respect to independence in the last elections.

The most exciting part to me is how he explains how to use the map to focus independence efforts in areas with current support between 30 and 50%. It is a monumental and brilliant way of using technology.

First, if you download Marc's KMZ files, and then open them into Google Earth, here's what you'll see as an overview of feeling on independence, based on how people voted in the Parliamentary elections on November 25, 2012:

Majories Finals 2012

In this map, dark blue means super-majority (>50%) in favor of independence, light blue shows a majority in favor of independence, orange means majority in favor of union, and red means super-majority in favor of union. Also note that “in favor of independence” is a rough shorthand for votes for the parties with independence in their platforms, namely CiU, ERC, and CUP, while "in favor of union" is a rough shorthand for votes parties opposed to independence, that is, PSC, PP, and Cs. Of course, there is not a 100% correspondence between an individual's stand on independence and their support for any political party. Also, since ICV (eco-greens) are not clearly pro independence or union, their votes are not reflected here.

It's good to remember, seeing that sea of blue, that the vast majority of Catalonia's population of 7.5 million is concentrated in (1.6M) and around (3.2M) Barcelona and the other metropolitan areas, where the situation is more complex, as you can see by zooming in. The areas surrounding Barcelona, often referred to as the "red belt", have high concentrations of Spanish-speaking, working class people from Andalusia, Extremadura, and other parts of Spain, that, historically, have tended to vote unionist. However, as Marc points out, it's not nearly as monochromatic as people like to think:

Cinturó Roig Relatiu

Marc found that pro-independence sentiment is greater in the historic center of metropolitan areas, like Terrassa, shown here:


Perhaps most interesting from a political and technological point of view is the map that Marc has made to "prioritize efforts for the pro-independence campaign". The map is a gradation of colors showing support for pro-independence parties (CiU, ERC, CUP, and SI), in which:

Dark green indicates 40-50% in favor of independence
Light green indicates 30-40% in favor of independence
Yellow: 20-30%
Orange: 10%-20%
Red: below 10%

The uncolored, transparent areas, which is most of the country, is where independence garners more than 50% support.

Priorització Esforços

Marc recommends focusing effort in those areas in which support for independence is between 30-50%, that is the green areas.

Indeed, I think the most remarkable part of this whole effort is that it is yet another example of someone using publicly-available information to make a tool that others can take advantage of in order effect political change. Anyone can download Marc's KMZ map overlays and then, as he recommends, "spend a few hours playing around with them, analyzing the data and its distribution. And then making decisions about where to act."

Indeed, another person I follow on Twitter, Catalina Ionescu, did just that, and discovered that a few of the most unionist areas of otherwise blue, metropolitan Barcelona correspond to areas with strong Spanish military presence. For example, the area around the Bruc Military Barracks:

Bruc Barracks

It will be interesting to see what else people come up with.

Some additional notes:

Marc commented to me shortly after I originally published this article, the pro-independence areas (dark and light blue) include 70% of Catalonia's electorate. The unionist areas are 30%. He also said that the "areas with simple majorities (light blue and orange) make up 56% of the data. These are the "battle zones".

Monday, March 18, 2013

US DOJ Attorney Writes Report on Secession, Sovereignty, and EU

VilaWeb published news that “the US Department of Justice now has a report on Catalonia on its desk”. The report in question was written by Christopher K. Connolly, an Assistant US Attorney with the Southern District of New York of the US Department of Justice. In a footnote, he stresses that the “views expressed in this article are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect the view of the United States Government or the Department of Justice.” I unfortunately missed this footnote at first, so my first tweets erroneously attributed the report to the US DOJ itself. My apologies.

The Connolly Report is 68 pages long and can be found on the
Social Science Research Network.

I do recommend reading the report in its entirety. Here are my thoughts:

Of course, one of the most important aspects of the report is its very existence. It would seem to indicate that the United States Government is taking the secessionist movements in Europe—particularly that of Scotland, Catalonia, and Flanders—very seriously. Even if the US Department of Justice didn't sign the report, the fact that one of its lawyers did is pretty significant.

Connolly's summary of the events leading up to Catalonia's current political situation is accurate and balanced, if a bit cold. He doesn't explain people's frustration with current dependence on Spain and its power to control Catalonia's culture, language, and finances.

The analysis of whether secession or self-determination are consistent with international law is curious. After some historical background, Connolly concludes that paradoxically,
Although international law recognizes a right to self-determination, such a right, if applied broadly to offer the possibility of statehood to the world’s myriad potential claimants, would result in “the radical undermining of State sovereignty and a dramatic reshaping of the present framework of the world community.” 
and then further
But international law is, first and foremost, a set of rules made by and for states, and states unsurprisingly have been reluctant to condone a  right that would justify their own dismemberment
But I don't think you can have it both ways. Can you claim the benefits of supporting self-determination (“we are broadminded and democratic”) without actually supporting self-determination? I think not.

Connolly then goes on to analyze self-determination in the EU context, rightly pointing out that
The EU, however, changes the calculus for advanced regions such as Catalonia: following independence, if EU membership were secured, Catalans would still enjoy access to Spanish markets and the markets of other EU member states.
The question of EU membership is a key one, and Connolly argues that while it is not guaranteed,
To disentangle these stateless nations from the EU system would be highly problematic and arguably not worth the effort especially since they would almost certainly qualify for membership as independent states.
There was a definite undertone of big-country-unease throughout the report. For example, Connolly cautions against offering intermediate solutions, saying that the British government runs "the risk that many Scottish voters might instead opt for independence." As if it were a bad thing.

He also lauds the "civic" nature of the movements in Flanders, Scotland, and Catalonia, but worries that
Yet the success of Flemish, Scottish, or Catalan nationalism could embolden more divisive nationalist forces elsewhere.
Frankly, it frustrates me that somehow the non-ethnic, thoroughly inclusive (as Connolly himself admits) Flemish, Scottish, and Catalans should be held responsible for xenophobia in Europe.

Connolly makes his position (and home country) pretty clear when he states that
Some states are more sovereign than others by virtue of their size and strength, they are capable of acting with few impediments on the world stage, whereas smaller and weaker states often find their exercise of sovereignty constrained. [emphasis mine]
In the end, however, Connolly suggests three ways to “approach the challenges posed by substate nationalism”

1. States “faced with separatist movements should allow for referendums to gauge support for separation”. Spain has adamantly refused such a referendum up to now. Let's hope they're listening.

2. The EU "should consider expanding the formal opportunities for sub-state
regions to participate in EU policymaking." For me, too little too late. I don't think Catalonia, at least, is willing to wait.

3. The “EU should clarify its position on how it would deal with secession from
a member state.” Yes, I agree.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Catalonia, tweet by tweet, by Òscar Palau

Originally published in El Punt Avui on March 17, 2013 by Òscar Palau
American writer and publisher Liz Castro will be the first curator to
host the @CatalanVoices account. Photo: J. Ramos

The Catalan government is promoting, through its Diplocat office, the Twitter account @CatalanVoices, in which they will invite a different Catalanophile each week to promote and discuss the situation in Catalonia, in English. It's an initiative that already has been successful in Sweden and Scotland.

The world gets smaller every day thanks to new technologies and Catalonia wants to take advantage of these opportunities and trends in order to help spread the word about the sovereignty process. The Council on Public Diplomacy of Catalonia (Diplocat), which depends on the Secretary of Foreign Affaris, has just opened a new Twitter account, @CatalanVoices, which hopes to add one more grain of sand to the pile, if you will, a new tool to the network in order to explain the reality of the situation in Catalonia and at the same time to promote its assets.

Starting Monday, a Catalan, who may reside in any part of the world, or even a foreigner who lives or has lived in Catalonia—called a curator in Twitter techno-slang—will be invited to tweet during the week on their personal experiences, with the only condition being that the tweets have something to do with Catalonia. From things that happened in the past, current events, or opinions about the political process, to places they've visited, dishes they've tasted, and activities that they recommend. The only requisite is to speak about Catalonia, its culture, history, food, sports, and also to communicate some of its internal debates to the world.

The person who will open the salvo is Liz Castro, an American publisher and promoter of the book, “What's up with Catalonia?” which deals with the reasons behind the push for sovereignty. Diplocat has already chosen five additional people of certain renown to host the account in the coming weeks, but afterwards plans to open the account to all those Catalanophiles who wish to collaborate altruistically to spread the word about Catalonia. Anyone who can express themselves correctly in English can sign up to be a curator through the form on the website—in which they have to explain in a few paragraphs their reasons for wanting to participate. The website was set up to support the Twitter account, and will carry profiles of each of the curators. Diplocat will try to select the curators who they find most interesting, and will attempt to have curators from a diverse range of places and professions. To that end, they have also invited people to nominate curators who they think would be good candidates.

The idea, which doesn't cost anything, is not new; there are several other Twitter accounts dedicated to tweeting about Catalonia in English. This one, apart from being promoted by the government, is distinguished by the fact that it is based on trends that have already been quite successful in many countries, from Australia to Pakistan. For example, the @Sweden account, begun last year by local institutions to promote tourism already has more than 66,000 followers. In Scotland, a collective of artists in favor of independence opened the @ScotVoices account just a few months ago and already have 3000 followers. And just this week, @we_are_spain also started up, it seems as a private initiative.

Catalan President orders cabinet to open "all lines of communication" possible with Spanish government

Originally published on Vilaweb, March 17, 2013

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, met with his cabinet yesterday in the Pedralbes Palace in Barcelona after having called off the economic and social policy summit. The purpose of the unusual meeting was to make a plan to confront the "national state of emergency" and the president's directives were clear: an "educational campaign" must be undertaken to help the citizenry understand the devastating economic reality of the country, all lines of communication with the Spanish government must be reopened, and a calendar of political action based on social policy initiatives must be laid out.

According to some media sources reporting today, including La Vanguardia and Catalunya Ràdio, the meeting lasted for more than four hours and its principal objectives were to analyze the economic and political situation. The president was clear with his councillors and indicated to them that they must open "all possible lines of communication" with the Spanish government, and pointed to recent agreements with the Ministries of Agriculture and Public Works as examples to follow. Finally, he suggested the promotion in the second half of the year of a calendar of political and legislative action centered basically on social policy initiatives to fight against the ill effects of the crisis on the most disadvantaged. The referendum on sovereignty was only mentioned in passing, when Mas remarked on the inviolability of two goals: the maintenance of the welfare state and the right to self-determination.

President Mas also criticized the opposition parties, who he accused of avoiding getting their hands dirty in the current difficult situation and instead of taking advantage of the discontent that the budget cuts generate. Among the measures that Mas proposed to the councillors was a concerted effort to educate the citizenry on the perilous economic situation that the country finds itself in, by explaining the fiscal deficit that Catalonia suffers and the monstrous debt that the Catalan government is carrying.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

This Week in Catalonia, 10-16 March 2013

European Court of Justice rules that Spain's mortgage law doesn't offer sufficient consumer protection

On Thursday, in the "El perquè de tot plegat" segment of the El món a RAC1 radio program, Jordi Basté interviewed Dionisio Moreno and his client Mohamed Aziz. It is a phenomenal story, deserving of much, much more attention than it's getting, and anyone who can understand Catalan should listen. But it is not just about Catalonia, it affects mortgage law in all of Spain and is a brilliant tale of the little guy doggedly turning over every stone until they bring the big guy to justice.

Moreno is the Catalan lawyer that just convinced the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that Spain's mortgage law—which dates from 1909—doesn't conform to EU consumer protections law. Once a mortgage begins foreclosure proceedings, the consumer loses immediate recourse, and there is nothing a judge can do to halt foreclosure or eviction. The consumer can sue after the fact, but by then they're already on the street. The ECJ ruling said that:

A system of levying execution, in reliance on notarial documents, on mortgaged or pledged property, in which the possible grounds of objection to enforcement are limited is incompatible with Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts where the consumer cannot obtain effective legal protection, either in the enforcement proceedings themselves or in separate judicial proceedings for the assertion of the rights conferred in Directive 93/13/EC, by the court being able to order the provisional suspension of enforcement.

This is a watershed for mortgage rights in Spain. It gives a judge the power to block an eviction even after foreclosure proceedings have begun.

I was struck also by the fact that Dionisio Moreno got involved with the case because Aziz was a friend of Moreno's father. Moreno has done all the legal work pro bono, and has stated that he paid for many of the expenses out of his own pocket, including the trip to Luxembourg to defend the case before the European Court of Justice. 

At one point, he describes meeting the bank lawyers at the trial in Barcelona, after his client had already been evicted. The Bank lawyer says "What are you doing here? Isn't your client already out?" The fact that Moreno continued working on the case even after the eviction is a key part of the puzzle. And the fact that the bank lawyers completely underestimated him is another. They just expected him to give up.

As Jordi Basté says, Dionisio Moreno is the Erin Brockovich of the Spanish mortgage crisis. Someone should make a movie. And meanwhile, someone should set up a legal fund for his expenses.

There are a fair number of good articles in La Vanguardia on the case (in Spanish):
European Justice system considers Spanish mortgage law abusive and illegal
I want everyone who's going through the eviction trauma to benefit
Dionisio Moreno: "I am broke, but I am rich with sentiment"
And here's a very interesting profile of the ECJ Adovcate General, Juliane Kokott, who is presiding the case

Spain uses “Mediterranean Corridor” name to get EU support for trains to and through Madrid

On March 11, the Spanish Minister of Public Works signed an agreement in Brussels to promote the “Mediterranean Corridor” railway. Spain has assiduously and inexplicably refused to fund or support the connection of Barcelona and Valencia with the rest of Europe, despite the fact that 1) it has built more highspeed rail lines in Spain than any other country in the world except China, and 2) Valencia and Barcelona are the two economic powerhouses on the Mediterranean.

When pushed by the European Parliament, Spain reluctantly agreed to build rail lines along the Mediterranean Corridor while at the same time insisting on a "Central Corridor" which would go straight under the Pyrenees Mountains and require huge infastructure investments as well as maintenance costs to climb and descend the differences in altitude.

So people were more than just a bit worried when the press release gave an itinerary of Almería-Valencia/Madrid-Zaragoza/Barcelona-Marsella-Lyon-Turín-Milán-Verona-Padua/Venecia-Trieste/Koper-Liubliana-Budapest-Zahony.

If you're any good at geography, you'll note right away that Between Valencia and Barcelona, if you pass through Madrid and Zaragoza, you've gone some 1000 km out of your way, and you won't be seeing views of the coastline along the trip.

The Public Works minister then sent out a "clarifying note" that said the itinerary was the same as always—not that of the "Mediterranean Corridor" railway, but instead of the "Corridor Number 6".

According to Germà Bel, expert in infrastructures and investments in Catalonia and Spain, it's all a name game, and even a call to political correctness. If Spain calls the branch that goes from Algeciras through Madrid part of the "Mediterranean Corridor" then they can get money from the EU to build it—which they're already doing. He says

This line (Algeciras-Bobadilla-Madrid-Zaragoza-Barcelona) has always been the priority. Right now it has four tracks (two conventional and two high speed) almost the entire way except for the piece they're finishing up between Algeciras and Bobadilla. And they may (??) make a new normal gauge track for cargo. Meanwhile, from Alacant to Tarragona there are two conventional tracks and they'll make a third for cargo... Three total for the most used land corridor in the south of Europe.
From Almeria to Valencia? All things come to those who wait. Perhaps in a few decades.
From Algecires to Almeria? It's not on the table and it won't be done.
This—in practice—is the agreement that was signed in October of 2010 (where they said that from Algecires to Almeria would be a good plan. There wouldn't be so much confusion if they called the Mediterranean Corridor by its true name, and what they're actually prioritizing: the Madridian Corridor.

In short, there's no telling what Spain's Public Works Ministry means by "Mediterranean Corridor", since it includes a huge chunk of track that goes through Madrid. Buyer beware.

Note also that no high speed connection is planned for linking Valencia and Barcelona, the two major Mediterranean ports. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Discrediting the Catalan police in order to call in the Spanish police

I'm not sure I can even begin to unravel the bizarre twists and turns of the spying scandal that's developing in Catalonia. It's important though, because it now seems to be being used to discredit the Catalan local police force (Mossos d'Esquadra) and bring in the Spanish Police (Policía Nacional).

A quick overview. 2.5 years ago (!) the head of the PP in Catalonia, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho had lunch with the ex-girlfriend of the son of the man who had been President of Catalonia for 23 years, Jordi Pujol. Supposedly the conversation (whose contents have now been protected by judicial order) included allegations from the ex that the son (Jordi Pujol Ferrusola) had smuggled suitcases of 500 euro notes to Andorra. Sánchez-Camacho did not begin any legal proceedings at the time.

I can't remember if the ex-girlfriend publicized her claims at the time, but it all came to light a few weeks ago when it was revealed that a detective agency—Método 3—had recorded the conversation, by putting a microphone in a vase of flowers on the table in the restaurant where they ate. There are some that say Sánchez-Camacho was in on the recording, since in Spain it's legal to record a conversation only if the conversation takes place in public and one of the conversants knows the recording is being made. To my knowledge she has denied it.

Over the weekend, the Barcelona-based conservative daily, La Vanguardia reported that the Spanish Police said that it had seen that the head of the Catalan Police, Manel Prat, (a political appointee from the CiU party) had parked his car in front of the residence of Francisco Marco, Director of Método 3 (detective agency) and picked up a woman there. Further, this was only a few hours before Marco was arrested.

Alícia Sánchez Camacho then held a press conference and said that because of this information, she no longer could depend on the police protection provided to her by the Mossos d'Esquadra and that she had asked the Spanish Police to step in. She further stated that she would only accept the protection of the Mossos in the future if their director, Manel Prat, resigned.

The woman who had met with Manel Prat turned out to be Mayka Navarro, a journalist with El Periódico (Barcelona newspaper). She denied that she had gotten into Prat's car in front of Marco's house, saying that she did meet with him that day but that they met 1.5 km away, on the way to grab a bite to eat.

Prat confirmed her story and added that Sánchez-Camacho had asked for the Spanish Police to step in three weeks ago, without telling the Mossos. There was even an incident where the two police forces were guarding her at the same time, which could have had disastrous consequences, given that both were armed.

Besides sounding like a soap opera, what's really going on here? I listened to a journalist on El Món a RAC1, Esperanza Garcia, saying "don't you think it's a little suspicious" that Navarro met with Marco just a few minutes before meeting with Prat, and just a few minutes before he was arrested." Well, I don't know, it sounds rather like what a news reporter should be doing. Even La Vanguardia's director, Pepe Antich, said as much.

It does seem like a concerted effort to make Prat look bad. Further, it looks like an excuse for Sánchez-Camacho to invite the Spanish Police to do a job that doesn't belong to them, and to make it look like Catalonia can't handle its own affairs, and that it needs the Spanish Police to solve things.

Swiss banks deny Spanish newspaper's report—published mid-electoral-campaign—that President Mas had money there

Meanwhile, the Spanish Minister of the Interior held a press conference today in which he said he didn't know who wrote the Police Report that was published right in the middle of Catalonia's elections in November, a report published by El Mundo newspaper which said that the candidate for the presidency had millions of euros squirreled away in Swiss bank accounts.

The Swiss banks in question have denied that President Mas, former President Pujol, or Pujol's son had any accounts, deposits, safety deposit boxes, etc. in their bank.

My goodness. It's just one week.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What does a Spain-imposed debt ceiling of 0.7% represent for Catalonia? by Oriol Junqueras

Originally published on 13 March 2013 on

Often, we have a hard time understanding the scope of the figures that we work with and we aren't conscious enough of the consequences they may have in our daily life. For that reason, it is our duty to explain to the people of this country just what is represented by the 4.5 billion euros in budget cuts that the Spanish State wants to impose by fixing a debt ceiling of 0.7% of GDP on the Catalan government. Let's look at the numbers.

Let's suppose that we get rid of all of that stuff that some insist are the root of all our problems: TV3 [Catalan Television] (253M€), Catalunya Ràdio (25M€), the entire Parliament of Catalonia (55M€) and Catalonia's delegations abroad (2.5M€). Total: 317M€. We've still got 4.2B€ left to cut; we haven't even made a dent in the total figure of 4.5B€.

We'll forge ahead. What else do they want us to close, hospitals? Universities? Let's imagine that we shut down, completely, the University of Barcelona, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, and the University of Girona (Total: 532M€). Well, we still have 3.7B€ to go.

What else should we get rid of? Entire hospitals? How about we close the hospitals of Vall d'Hebron (580M€), the Clinic (441M€), Bellvitge (300M€), Joan XXIII in Tarragona (111M€), Josep Trueta in Girona (129M€) and Arnau de Vilanova in Lleida (139M€). All shuttered. We still have 2 billion euros to cut.

What else do they want us to close? Shall we get rid of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra? Shall we get rid of the Firefighters? Both? OK, we'll leave the country without a single policeman or firefighter: 900M€ less.

But even after doing all that, we still have 1 billion euros left in additional budget cuts before we arrive at the 4.5 billion euros that the Spanish government is imposing on us. The country can not afford such cuts. We don't deserve it, and it would be unfair and inefficient.

The pressure on and asphyxia of the Catalan government finances is making the holding of a referendum more urgent with every passing moment.

Monday, March 11, 2013

CBS de-Catalanizes Gaudí

CBS' 60 Minutes broadcast a third Catalonia-related story last night, God's Architect, about Antoni Gaudí, the man behind Barcelona's Sagrada Família Church. The images (of course!) were fabulous and the information about the architecture was quite interesting. I didn't know, for example, that the façades were meant to tell a story, that there was a Japanese sculptor who has been working there for 35 years, that the same family of architects has been shepherding the process since the 30's, and that they had managed to salvage and use the models Gaudí had created and that had been destroyed during the Spanish Civil War by anarchists.

On the other hand, I found it pretty frustrating that CBS introduces Antoni Gaudí as a "Spanish architect" and never mentions the word "Catalonia" in the entire 12 minute piece. Catalonia was an integral part of Gaudí's personality and character. Imagine talking about Georgia O'Keefe without mentioning New Mexico, or Woody Allen without talking about New York.

The only political background that CBS offered were the pictures of chaos from the Spanish Civil War. They did not mention that Antoni Gaudí (please, accent on the i!) was as Catalan as he was Catholic, that he was beaten by police for participating in a Catalan language literary event called the Jocs Florals (1920) and when he was 72 years old, was beaten again for refusing to speak in Spanish during a protest against the banning of the Catalan language in 1924. Alfred Bosch asserts in a recent video that the four towers on each façade represent the four stripes in the Catalan flag.

Gijs van Hensbergen, the Gaudí biographer that CBS interviews for the piece wrote “For over forty years Franco's regime stifled the Catalan identity, concealing the meaning of Gaudí's work.”

By suppressing Gaudí's origins, CBS missed half the story. Even if they didn't want to delve into Catalan independence, you can't talk about Gaudí without explaining that he was from Reus, in southern Catalonia, and what it meant to be Catalan at the turn of the century. He was definitely not a Spanish architect. CBS' attempt to keep politics—and Catalonia—out of the story is in itself a political act.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

This week in Catalonia (1)

Last week in Barcelona, I met with @Kippelboy, aka Àlex Hinojo, Wikipedian extraordinaire, and collaborator to "What's up with Catalonia?". Between technology and Catalonia-related stuff, we have a lot in common. One of his strategies for dealing with information overflow really stuck with me. He said that he collects interesting articles and tweets throughout the week to see if what seems so urgent on one day really is worth talking about (or retweeting!) a few days later. This seemed like a great strategy and I thought I'd try it with an attempt at a weekly synthesis of the most important stories in Catalan news. Here's a first installment.

Three stories got the most play this week in the Catalan press and twittosphere: the vote of the Catalan socialists in the Spanish Congress, the firing of Catalonia's Attorney General, and the declarations of the Spanish socialist Rodríguez Ibarra comparing the Catalan President to Hitler and Mussolini.

On February 26, for the first time in their history, the Catalan Socialists (PSC) voted differently, and indeed against, the Spanish Socialists (PSOE). Not only that, but the vote was on whether Catalonia could hold a referendum on independence. It was frustrating to me that the PSC had to wait until they got to the Spanish Congress to vote in favor of such a thing, when they had just voted against sovereignty in the Catalan Parliament in January, but that doesn't completely minimize its significance. (And there were five PSC deputies who broke with party leadership and refused to vote against the declaration of sovereignty.) It should also be pointed out that Carme Chacón, the head of the PSC in the Spanish Congress didn't vote at all (and thus went against her party, the PSC's recommendation—while the PSC had gone against the PSOE recommendation, which is a big deal in Parliamentary politics, so they tell me, a lot different than a Democrat voting with the Republicans or vice-versa). Chacón has been locked in a power struggle for control of the PSOE leadership with Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba for some time, and alternately hides or flaunts her Catalan background depending on where she is campaigning.

But there's a lot more to it than that. The PSOE (the party of former Spanish president Felipe González) can't win a general Spanish election without winning Catalonia, and they can't win in Catalonia without the PSC. The PSC has declared itself in favor of holding a referendum on independence, but against independence itself. They say they favor a "federalist" system in Spain. Yet, there is almost no possibility of that actually happening. No Spanish party can afford to cede Catalonia any more power or financial resources without alienating the rest of the so-called autonomous regions. Advocating federalism is pie-in-the-sky politics at its most cynical. But it's clear that PSOE and PSC—both of which suffered huge losses in their most recent elections—have to figure out what they want, and how to articulate those goals to their dwindling followers.

The second topic of some importance was the firing of Martín Rodríguez Sol, Catalonia's "fiscal superior". I'll admit I'm not really clear on the whole structure of the judicial system between Spain and Catalonia, so I'm not sure just how to translate "fiscal superior" (feel free to help out in the comments). My understanding is that he was Catalonia's "Attorney General" and part of the Spanish judicial system.

Over the weekend (March 2-3), he had declared that it was "legitimate for Catalonia to try to consult its citizens on the political future of their country" even as he added that there was "currently no legal framework that would allow a referendum on independence".

Although he softened his remarks the next day, reiterating that there was no legal way for such a referendum to take place, and that he fully supported said framework, he was called to Madrid on Tuesday where he offered his resignation to Spain's Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce, who accepted it.

The rationale given was that a judge cannot offer public opinions on legal matters; it decreases their judicial independence. Nevertheless, it escaped no one's notice that many other judges have expressed opinions in the past without quite so quick and decisive a resolution. (Listen, for example, to the discussion (in Catalan) on the Oracle radio program, on March 7.)

Catalonia's President Mas declared that Rodríguez Sol's firing was a "monumental scandal" and that "freedom is under siege" in Spain and that "the democracy is on faulty ground". "In a country where freedom was respected and democracy had strong foundations, these things couldn't happen, it would be a huge public scandal."

The final story I wanted to touch upon was the hullabaloo kicked up by former PSOE leader from Extremadura, Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra, who clearly has not studied Godwin's law, and who publicly compared President Mas to Hitler, Mussolini and the Spanish coup leader Tejero. Ibarra's contention is that Mas' leadership of the Catalan Parliament to disregard the Spanish Constitution in order to have a democratic vote on independence is somehow an "overthrow" of the Spanish government, just like Hitler's, Mussolini's or Tejero's. It's true that Ibarra has less and less political credibility, but the fact that not a single PSOE leader stood up to disavow his remarks is perhaps most telling.

So, that's a first attempt at a summary of Catalan news for this week (and a bit of the previous one since I was traveling). And I've already learned a lot. For starters, I need to grab URLs and references during the week as the news breaks. But let me know if you find it useful, and feel free to send me links and news stories that you think I should cover.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Catalan Socialist Party doesn't know it yet, but it's going pro-independence

by Vicent Partal. Originally published on 28 February 2013

It was a few weeks ago that I told a leading member of the PSC (Catalan Socialist Party): "You don't know it yet, but you're going pro-independence" It was probably a comment with too much hubris, but the answer I got was a sly smile that I clearly understood as confirmation. I have said it many times, but I'll say it again today: we're doing great, and we're moving quickly. We can't afford to forget it.

When I made that comment, the vote on the Declaration of Sovereignty had already taken place and the PSC had already divided—negatively and traumatically—the Catalan Parliament. I hardly expected that just a few weeks later the referendum would cause the PSC to cast their first votes different from their Spanish socialist brethren (PSOE) in the Spanish Congress, the marginalization of José Zaragoza and removing him from the Parliamentary group leadership, and the appearance of a slew of voices calling for the breakup of PSC and PSOE—well, the imposition of PSOE over PSC.

The best-read Spanish socialists know that this is a huge deal, especially for their own party. Because without the Catalan socialists, there is no possibility of a socialist government in Spain. In fact, without Catalonia, there is no possibility of a socialist government in Spain. The numbers don't add up, and therefore, clearly for that reason alone, they don't dare split up. Yet.

And they are so sure about it because these Spanish socialists foresee that if PSOE runs in Catalonia instead of PSC—which is what that old dinosaur Guerra proposes—it would be a monumental disaster that would leave them much more exposed than even now, that it would undermine any pretensions they have of being a "national" party and that it would keep them from going back to what they have been up until this week.

The cold calculations, therefore, look to keeping the conflict beyond the horizon, but I have no doubt that politics will lead them inexorably on. Because for PSC, the first step will be the hardest, and then they will be on their way. The vote the other day in Madrid for the Catalan socialists was like the demonstration on September 11th for the rest of the country: the day that they stepped over the line and that you can't ever come back from.

PSOE wants a meek and docile PSC. That's what they mean by "pact". But docility disappeared with the vote of those 13 MPs and the subsequently unleashed suspicions. And now, any discrepancy, no matter how small, will take on an enormous relevance. Historic. And the division will inevitably grow ever wider, exactly the way it has happened in the rest of society. No matter what they do, no matter what they say, the division will grow because the paradigm has changed. When you stop thinking about the other guy and start thinking about yourself, liberation is immediate. And it's really hard to go back to how you were.

Now, finally, the most recalcitrant socialists, the ones who are most loyal to the party, will feel for themselves what many of us have felt for years: the need to respond with dignity when we are scorned, to respond with self-affirmation when we are suppressed. Zaragosa—who would've thought?—did so yesterday. And there will be plenty of opportunities to consciously embrace that which they now unknowingly think.

It's not going to happen tomorrow, for sure. But it will happen, and this step forward for PSC will be a milestone in the process toward independence. Probably the last step.