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Opinion

Opinion: Put the brakes on Catalan independence

Catalonia's president declared independence - but then immediately made overtures to talk. A sensible move and an offer the central government in Madrid should not turn down, DW's Maria Santacecilia says.

Expectations before Catalan president Carles Puigdemont's appearance in the regional parliament on Tuesday were enormous, and he has faced severe pressure in recent days.

The delay at the beginning of the parliamentary session was down to last-minute talks with Puigdemont's left-wing coalition partners in the Catalan government, whose radical views meant his subsequent speech would inevitably be seen as an "unacceptable betrayal."

In the end, the speech by the president of the "Generalitat de Catalunya" largely remained faithful to the arguments he had made in recent months, though he did go further when he said that the recent exit of companies from Catalonia would have no "significant impact" on the Catalan economy.

Maria Santacecilia (Privat)

DW's Maria Santacecilia

Looking backward - and forward

Puigdemont also used his speech to recall the "humiliations" Catalonia had suffered at the hands of the Spanish state in the past 15 years: changes made by the Constitutional Court in sensitive matters regarding autonomy in 2006; the continued refusal of the central government to hold a popular vote on Catalan independence; punitive measures against those who merely wanted to start a national inquiry on independence on November 9, 2014 - and finally the violent action of Spanish police forces during the referendum on October 1, 2017.

Despite the unlawful context of the election, Puigdemont insisted on its legitimacy and proclaimed Catalonia's independence as an independent republic - though he then immediately abandoned the call for independence and demanded dialogue.

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Dialogue as an opportunity

Many people in Catalonia are disappointed with Puigdemont, but he took the most sensible decision he could, given the circumstances. If he had stayed on a confrontational course it would have meant a journey into the abyss with unforeseeable consequences for the region.

Puigdemont has created an opportunity for dialogue, which the government of  Mariano Rajoyshould not be allowed to leave unused.
Dug in on the legal front, the Spanish government has not yet yielded to any kind of negotiation. But since the images of October 1 came out, Europe and the world are watching the conflict with concern.

Rajoy has to make up the political ground and start engaging in negotiations with Catalonia. The Spanish expect their prime minister to do more than just hide behind the shield of the constitution.

At this most crucial moment in Spain in its decades of democracy, Rajoy must show more willingness to enter into dialogue, and prove that his government is capable of a policy that is worthy of Spain's elevated position in the European Union.

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