Rajoy’s Offers Are Too Little, Too Late for Catalans

What’s needed is an ambitious proposal to break the impasse, but the Spanish prime minister continues to think small.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy delivers a news conference in Madrid, January 26, 2015
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy delivers a news conference in Madrid, January 26, 2015 (La Moncloa)

In my latest op-ed for the Netherlands’ NRC newspaper, I argue that Mariano Rajoy’s strategy of waiting for others to fail or rescue him isn’t working anymore.

Cautious

The Spanish prime minister is not one to take the initiative.

When his country teetered on the brink of sovereign default in 2012, Rajoy ignored pleas to request an EU bailout. His patience was vindicated when the European Central Bank decided to buy Spanish bonds.

After the inconclusive election of 2015, Rajoy similarly out-waited the problem. Six months of talks between his opponents went nowhere. Snap elections were held and Rajoy returned to power leading a minority government.

It’s little wonder he has taken a similarly cautious approach to the Catalan independence crisis. The problem is that while every step he takes might seem like a reasonable reaction in Madrid, they only aggravate the Catalans more and more.

Thinking small

What’s needed now is an ambitious proposal to break the impasse: perhaps the promise of constitutional reform, a legal referendum or an apology for the police violence on October 1.

Instead, Rajoy continues to think small.

He has promised talks on fiscal autonomy if the Catalans step back from declaring independence, something he previously rejected.

He has agreed to ask a parliamentary committee to explore the possibility of constitutional reform, another Catalan request he previously turned down.

It’s too little, too late. If Rajoy had entertained such reforms months ago, he might have prevented the current crisis. Now many Catalans will accept nothing less than independence anymore.