Catalan Liberals Start Language War to Woo Conservatives

A proposal to ban the Catalan language requirement is likely to fail, but it could help the Citizens win support in other parts of Spain.

Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Catalonia's Citizens party, gives a radio interview, February 1
Inés Arrimadas, the leader of Catalonia’s Citizens party, gives a radio interview, February 1 (Ciutadans)

Spain’s liberal Citizens party has proposed eliminating the Catalan language requirement for civil servants in the region.

Catalan would be plus, but no longer a prerequisite for most jobs in the public sector.

The idea is unlikely to go anywhere. Although the Citizens made their proposal in the Spanish Congress, which could attempt to overrule the separatist majority in the Catalan parliament, national parties would be foolish to aggravate relations with the province.

So why bother? Because it’s another way for the Citizens to prove to voters in other parts of Spain that they are a national party now.

Popular

The Citizens learned during last year’s independence crisis that agitating against Catalan nationalism can be popular.

After the October 1 referendum, which had been ruled illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court, support for the Citizens shot up from around 15 to 20 percent.

In the regional election in December, they placed first with 25 percent support. The three separatist parties won 22, 21 and 4.5 percent, enough for a pro-independence majority.

Corruption scandals in the ruling People’s Party have helped the Citizens further. They are now polling north of 25 percent support nationally, which would make them the biggest party of Spain.

Breakthrough

New supporters are coming mostly from the right, where opposition to Catalan nationalism is strongest. Hence the need to put distance between the party and its home region.

Founded in Catalonia in 2006 in response to the slow conversion to separatism of the ruling center-right party, now led by Carles Puigdemont, the Citizens broke through nationally in 2015, winning forty seats in Congress out of nowhere.

Albert Rivera, the party leader, first tried to form a coalition government with the mainstream Socialists. When this failed, he switched to supporting a minority People’s Party government led by Mariano Rajoy.

Correction: An earlier version of this story did not make clear the Citizens introduced their proposal in the national, rather than the Catalan, parliament. Thanks to ANC International for pointing this out.