Last week Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told the press that Catalonia would soon announce its independence from Spain. Today, he held the highly anticipated speech in the parliament in which he was expected to make the announcement. That didn’t happen – well, not exactly. According to The Guardian, Puidgemont stated:
“I want to follow people’s will for Catalonia to become an independent state.”
He then immediately walked back his statement by saying:
“We propose to suspend the effect of the independence declaration… to work towards putting into practice the result of the referendum… Today, we are making a gesture of responsibility in favor of dialogue.”
His hard-left allies in parliament were visibly disappointed. According to The Independent, in response to the speech, the Catalan Socialist Party leader Miquel Iceta said that “you can’t suspend a declaration of independence you haven’t made.”
The speech itself was delayed, and there were indications that negotiations were taking place behind the scenes. It is impossible to say for sure what kind of pressures had been put on Puigdemont, but his careful wording suggests that he wanted to walk the thin line between making an illegal declaration of independence and not disappointing his separatist voters and supporters.
It is up to the central government in Madrid to decide whether they have seen enough public insubordination to warrant using the Guardia Civil to dissolve the Catalan government as illegal, but based on the weak and ambiguous statement by Puigdemont to the Catalan parliament, the more likely outcome is diplomacy and negotiations.
While it could put a dent in his popularity at home, Puigdemont may, in fact, have strengthened Catalonia’s odds of achieving de facto independence within the Spanish federation. It’s almost as if he has picked up a few tricks from President Donald Trump’s bestseller “The Art of the Deal.” Trump’s philosophy has been never to go into a negotiation with a weak hand. Always ensure that you negotiate from a position of strength, and make credible threats.
Whether it was a deliberate strategy or not, Catalonia now is in a position where they have a credible threat of declaring independence and throwing Spain into civil unrest. By “suspending” the decision, Puigdemont gives the government of Spain a chance to save face by offering a deal that is acceptable to Catalonia while also securing a stable and viable peace.
What exactly such a deal would entail is impossible to say at this time, but it is hard to imagine that anything less than the extraordinary autonomy achieved by Basque Country would be accepted by the Catalan government.