Give Regional Parties the Balance of Power in Spain

If regionalists are needed to form a government, they could stop the major parties from exacerbating the crisis in Catalonia.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez gives a speech in parliament in Madrid, September 12, 2018
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez gives a speech in parliament in Madrid, September 12, 2018 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

There doesn’t seem to be market in Spain for a political party that is both liberal and pragmatic on the issue of Catalonia.

High hopes

We had high hopes when the Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) emerged as a third party in 2015. It called for lower business taxes, a single contract to break Spain’s dual labor market and meritocracy in public institutions. That year, we called for a coalition with the ruling conservative party (which didn’t happen).

It has since become clear that the Citizens are more interested in fighting Catalan nationalism than they are in liberalizing Spain. They have even been willing to team up with the neo-Francoist Vox (“Voice”), with whom they have nothing in common other than a commitment to national unity.

In the election in April, we endorsed Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Workers’ Party instead, the most left-wing candidate we ever backed. Although we worried that his alliance with the far-left Podemos (“We Can”) could lead to unwise economic policies, such as reversing labor reforms, nationalizing energy companies or withdrawing from international trade deals, the alternative — a right-wing government supported by Vox — was worse.

The Spanish right is so obsessed with Catalan secession that everything it does and says only makes it more likely that the region will eventually break away. Sánchez at least recognized that the status quo was unsustainable in the wake of the controversial 2017 independence referendum and called for dialogue.

Given up

We knew Sánchez had to be careful, for any concessions to the Catalans would cause outrage in conservative Spain. But we didn’t expect him to give up.

He has. Since the conviction of nine of the region’s separatist leaders for sedition against the Spanish state sparked mass and in some cases violent protests in Catalonia, Sánchez has shut the door on negotiations. He refuses to meet his Catalan counterpart, suddenly supports a law to outlaw independence referendums and wants to take control of the Catalan public media away from the devolved government in Barcelona.

Now only Podemos still calls for compromise, but we cannot endorse a party that wants to introduce a universal basic income, abolish spy agencies and withdraw from NATO. As much as we sympathize with the Catalan cause (we believe the Catalans have a right to self-determination, but we also believe they would be better off with more autonomy, not independence), the price cannot be the self-immolation of Spain.

Kingmakers

We believe the best thing to do is vote for regional parties. The Socialists are projected to win a plurality but not a majority of the seats in Congress. A strong regionalist bloc could act as kingmaker and at least prevent the next prime minister from exacerbating the Catalan crisis by, for example, suspending Catalan autonomy. Ideally, such a bloc would pressure the government to federalize Spain, giving the Basques, Catalans and other nationalities irrevocable self-rule.

In the Basque Country and Canary Islands, we support the mainstream, center-right Basque Nationalist Party and Canarian Coalition. Both have supported Sánchez before. Both are reasonable and able to make deals.

In Catalonia, vote for one of the two main independence parties even if you don’t want to leave Spain. The Republican Left and center-right Together for Catalonia can demand more, not less, power for the region in exchange for their support.

In Valencia, Compromís is the pragmatic Valencianist party.

With the exception of Cantabria, other regions of Spain don’t have their own parties, or at least none that stand a chance of winning seats. There, the least-bad option is still the Socialists.

Let’s hope that, once reelected, Sánchez will do what’s right and not just what’s popular.