Spain Should Negotiate with Puigdemont, France Didn’t Start the Fire

Spain should negotiate with Carles Puigdemont to find a way out of the Catalan independence crisis.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Jordi Bedmar)

In my latest op-ed for the Netherlands’ NRC newspaper, I argue Spain should negotiate with Carles Puigdemont rather than put the former Catalan president in jail.

Puigdemont was arrested in Germany this weekend on his way back to Belgium from a conference in Finland. He is likely to be extradited.

The numbers two and three of his party, Together for Catalonia, are already in jail. So is the leader of the second-largest independence party, the Republican Left. Its deputy leader has fled to Switzerland.

At this rate, there won’t be anyone left to form a new government in the region, however, Spain cannot restore home rule so long as there isn’t one. It suspended Catalonia’s autonomy after Puigdemont declared independence in October.

To break the gridlock, I argue that Spain, being the strongest party in the conflict, must take the first step: offer increased autonomy for Catalonia and a referendum, not on independence, but on a revised autonomy statute. That way, Spain would no longer have to fear secession and the Catalans would feel they are masters of their own fate.

Unfortunately, such a compromise is unacceptable to Spain’s ruling People’s Party as well as Catalan hardliners.

English speakers may be interested in my Atlantic Sentinel editorial from December: A Third Way for Catalonia.

France didn’t start the fire

The Brookings Institution’s Célia Belin and Ted Reinert argue that the rest of Europe is imitating France in replacing left-right politics with a new chasm: between centrifugal nationalist-populists and a pro-EU center.

This isn’t wrong per se, but it wasn’t the 2017 French election that started it. Andrew Sullivan argued much the same after the 2014 European Parliament elections. I wrote about it in a 2016 report for Wikistrat. British commentators saw the same divide during the Brexit referendum that year.

Michael Cotey Morgan has argued that, far from new, this divide is the latest chapter in Europe’s long-running struggle between Enlightenment universalism and Romantic nationalism. More here.

Party politics in the United States

Seth Masket argues in Pacific Magazine that people’s faith in democracy is tied less to political outcomes than to the health of political parties — and that reformers in the United States are making the parties’ jobs harder, for example, by limiting how much money they can spend and demanding that they open up primaries to non-party members.

Parties do a lot of the organizational work of democracy for us and we’re doing a lot to undermine that.

Christopher Caldwell, David Karol, Michael Kazin and Frances Lee have more thoughts on party politics in Democracy Journal.