A SENIOR diplomat is describing the forthcoming meeting of the European Council as the last chance to persuade Spain’s prime minister to “de-escalate” the Catalan crisis before it is too late.

Albert Royo-Mariné, secretary general of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat), says the European Union should be the first to point out that the actions of Spanish police during and after the Catalan independence referendum – beating peaceful, would-be voters, shutting websites and now detaining “political prisoners” – is not compatible with modern democracy.

Writing exclusively for The National today, he says that in Catalonia, Spain has a political problem that will not go away.

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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has dismissed all attempts at dialogue and is on the verge of setting in motion the procedures needed to suspend Catalonia’s existing devolved powers – leaving Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont “between a rock and a hard place”.

Royo-Mariné says such an escalation could result in Catalan government members being arrested and could see hundreds of thousands of Catalans taking to the streets in defence of their home rule and institutions.

He also comments on the jailing of two mainstays of the grassroots independence movement, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, “political prisoners” who are accused of sedition: “It’s pretty clear that both are in jail for no other crime than their political ideas.”

However, Royo-Mariné suggests that Rajoy could have taken action to defuse the crisis, including: removing the 10,000 military police sent to stop the poll, but who are still being housed on cruise ships in Catalan ports; and halting the criminal cases against Puigdemont, other Catalan government officials and hundreds of civic heads.

He says Rajoy did neither, and adds: “The Spanish government clearly has no interest in relieving the tense situation.”


Albert Royo-Mariné: The EU must tell Spain that beating peaceful voters is wrong ... before it's too late

ON Monday, Spain’s National Court sent to jail two key members of the Catalan grassroots independence movement. Jordi Sánchez, who heads the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, leader of Omnium Cultural, are being held without bail accused of sedition. They are being investigated over a peaceful protest on September 20 at the end of which they called to the crowds for calm. It’s pretty clear that both are in jail for no other crime than their political ideas.

Spain has a political problem in Catalonia that will not go away with the action of judges and police, as the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung stated in a recent document. Spain’s prime minister has rejected any type of dialogue to de-escalate tensions with Catalonia, in this way disdaining the hand extended by the President of Catalonia, who, following calls from various international counterparts, decided to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence last week so as to facilitate a dialogue with no conditions.

Thus the head of Spain’s Government outright rejected the possibility of mediation proposed by the Catalan president, as he decided to activate procedures for suspending home rule in Catalonia. Placing Catalonia’s president between a rock and a hard place, the Spanish Government sent a formal notice (a fax) calling for the annulment of the suspended declaration of independence before tomorrow, October 19.

If the Catalan president fails to do so, the Spanish Government, with the support of Spain’s main opposition party, will suspend Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy and could end up arresting members of the Catalan government.

It is more than evident that this would lead to an escalation, without precedent, of tensions and would provoke hundreds of thousands of Catalan citizens to take to the streets to defend Catalonia’s home rule and institutions.

With this step, Prime Minister Rajoy will have scorned the Catalan president’s gesture, one that confounded more than a few of Catalonia’s citizens who understood that the October 1 referendum gave a clear mandate to declare independence, especially after they stoically withstood blows from batons and other physical attacks from the Spanish police as they peacefully queued to democratically express their views by voting. Instead of accepting the glove thrown down and taking measures towards de-escalation, the Spanish Government has doubled down on the pressure and shoved the Catalan Government into a dead-end street.

There are many gestures that Prime Minister Rajoy could have made to de-escalate the crisis and that he neglected to take. He could have removed the 10,000 military police sent to stop the referendum, who are still housed on three large cruise ships tied up in Barcelona and Tarragona ports. They are the ones who are responsible for what Human Rights Watch concluded was an excessive use of force against peaceful citizens that injured 893 people. Or they could have stopped all the court cases the Spanish Government has triggered against Catalan elected officials: the President of the Catalan Parliament is facing three criminal charges for allowing a debate on self-determination on the floor of the parliament; the former President of Catalonia was suspended from politics for two years and was made personally responsible for paying the full costs of an informal consultation held during his presidency in 2014 (€5.2 million, or £4.6m); the mayors of 800 Catalan towns are also indicted for having collaborated on the October 1 referendum; some 200 Catalan government and civil society websites have been shut down; and dozens of young people are charged with having replicated the removed websites, and so on.

Prime Minister Rajoy has not opted to stop any of these court actions, which surely would have reduced tensions. Instead he has sent a new threat to the Catalan authorities: either your surrender or we will arrest you. The Spanish Government clearly has no interest in relieving the tense situation at all. What they want is 100 per cent of their objectives.

Facing such a pessimistic scenario average citizens – working people, businessmen, and in fact all Catalans – ask our international counterparts who called for dialogue – and who have now seen the gestures made by the Catalan Government to reduce tensions and seek this dialogue – to call for the same from the Spanish Government.

The European Council, which will gather all EU heads of state or government tomorrow and Friday, could be a last occasion to ask Rajoy to de-escalate the crisis before it is definitively too late. The EU should be the first to remind its own members that beating peaceful voters, closing webpages and having political prisoners is not compatible with a modern democracy.

Albert Royo-Mariné is Secretary General of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia (Diplocat).

Diplocat is a Council of 40 Catalan institutions among them employers’ associations, universities, Chambers of Commerce, labor unions, saving banks, FC Barcelona, the Government of Catalonia and the Barcelona City Council.