Pedro Sánchez in three hypotheses

JOAN B. CULLA Historiador i articulista d'anàlisi política

Less than a minute in a half-an-hour long address. That is how long Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, the secretary general of the PSOE, spent on the subject of Catalonia on Tuesday afternoon during his speech at Barcelona’s Cercle d’Economia. To make matters worse, the four sentences with which he filled such a short minute were not even new. We had already heard him utter them a few days earlier, in the Viladecans and Valencia rallies where he spoke: the rejection of having to choose between “the Catalan and the Spanish identities”, “nobody has a right to separate us when we need to stay together the most”; or the whole spiel about “we want a country where anyone can be Spanish and Catalan, or Valencian, or Andalusian or Basque or from Madrid, in any order they wish”.

In order to explain the inanity, the political void behind his words, I two hypotheses spring to mind. Firstly, Mr Sánchez did not realise where he was. He might have thought that the Cercle d’Economia was a business forum whose members only cared about their bottom line and he felt that criticizing Rajoy’s euphoria on the matter and telling us about the “agenda for a fair recovery” was really quite enough. If so, then some of the points raised by the atendees during the follow-up Q&A might have alerted him to his error, but still failed to persuade him to be more concrete and precise.

The second hypothesis is that, with regard to the Catalan independence process, Pedro Sánchez has nothing else to say besides a handful of platitudes. That is the impression I got after listening to him during his presentation and over the subsequent lunch.

Otherwise it is difficult to interpret how, two and a half years after the Catalan separatist boom, watching PM Rajoy remain unperturbed for thirty months, the leader of the main opposition party in Spain merely alludes to “shared sovereignty” and claims that “the PSOE has shown that it takes the Catalan crisis very seriously”, as he refers to “Spain’s diversity”, all of it within a mental framework where Catalonia is seen as just another Spanish region and the so-called federal Spain is a mere makeover or a new name for Spain’s current regional organisation, without any changes to the concept of sovereignty or the actual share of power.

Having said that, I would hate to be unfair or too severe. So, I wonder if there might be a third hypothesis that could account for Pedro Sánchez’s stance: perhaps he is aware that the Catalan problem is grave; he may even have an imaginative, bold idea to tackle it. But, faced with this year’s diabolical electoral calendar, he dare not say it out loud.

Let us consider the scenario: the PSOE’s secretary general knows that the separatist bid will not just go away by simply applying the law in a mechanical fashion. Therefore, he might be willing to make a proposal with regard to Catalonia’s finances and its devolved powers and so forth. A proposal that at least part of the pro-independence spectrum ought to consider. But Pedro Sánchez himself is aware that if he voiced such a proposal today, it would be a godsend for the PP’s campaign for the upcoming Andalusian regional election (and the other regional elections in May). He also knows that he would be sending the PSOE’s regional leaders to a certain electoral death --the worst political stigma in Spain is “to give in to Catalan separatism”-- and, therefore, they would be quick to chop his head off and anoint Susana Díaz as their new leader.

This third hypothesis that I wonder about would explain why on Tuesday in Barcelona Pedro Sánchez justified his rejection of a new fiscal deal for Catalonia arguing that (I quote from memory) “when in Madrid we hear about a fiscal deal, we understand it’s a copy of the Basque Country’s and that is unacceptable”. It would also explain why he refused to give any details of the PSOE’s own proposal on the matter --even though he admitted that a new model is needed-- apart from the usual reference to “the solidarity among Spain’s different territories”. It may also account for his tiptoeing around the possibility that Catalonia might have truly devolved powers on language, education and culture. The last thing he needs would be to get Madrid’s media and intellectual hounds frothing in the mouth, from La Razón to Vargas Llosa!

While the socialist leader’s prudence and hypothetical self-censorhip could be justified in terms of Spanish tactics (considering the elections on May 24 and the general polls in autumn), his formula will have catastrophic consequences for Catalonia’s own socialists. With Pedro Sánchez’s grey, fearful, conservative message of the other day at the Cercle d’Economia, the PSC can’t even hold their seats in the local council of Sant Adrià del Besós --Sant Adrià!-- where their four elected councillors have bailed out to join MES.

In order to be like Tsipras and Renzi, Pedro Sánchez will require something more besides his age and looks.

EDICIÓ PAPER 04/07/2020

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