Opinion: Spain and Catalonia have a communication problem | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.10.2017

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Opinion: Spain and Catalonia have a communication problem

Spain's lack of debate culture makes it difficult to find a solution to the Catalan independence crisis. It's more than just a state problem. The two sides are not talking to each other, writes DW's Stefanie Müller.

The late Wulf Bernotat, former CEO of the German-based electric utility service provider E.ON, found out firsthand how confusing Spanish communication can be. Double standards on private and professional levels are quite normal and by no means seen as an offense.

Bernotat arrived in Spain in 2006 with the intention of taking over E.ON's competitor Endesa, a company already eyed by Catalonia's Gas Natural. During the negotiations, the German laid all his cards on the table. But the other side was making gambles – sometimes because they had no plan, sometimes because they were not ready to make a decision. More parties got involved and Bernotat eventually gave up the tough battle. One of his main reasons was that that he simply did not understand Spanish culture.

The deficits of Spain's political system

It is not just the foreigners in Spain who face this problem. Even Spaniards often do not understand each other. What one says and what one means may be something completely different. The inefficiency of this kind of communication has become obvious in the Catalan crisis, which is growing all the more surreal. Catalonia's regional president, Carles Puigdemont, announced that although the independence referendum has given him the mandate to separate from Spain, he would suspend a declaration of independence.

Stefanie Müller

DW's Stefanie Müller

Madrid's response to the Catalan leader's speech could not have been more ambiguous. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's remarks to parliament – his first appearance since the day of Catalonia's independence vote – left many unanswered questions.

Rajoy has repeatedly emphasized the fact that the referendum was illegal and that his government has done everything right – and that Catalonia will not become a sovereign state. Some media outlets have gone as far as to interpret Rajoy's statements as the intention to use Article 155, a section of the Spanish constitution that would allow Madrid to take over a region if it declares independence. The Spanish prime minister asked Puigdemont whether or not he had declared independence. The government will decide how to react based on the Catalan's response.

Uncertainty for the economy

Directness and transparency are often missing in Spanish culture. Politicians can struggle to discuss issues objectively. Looking the other way is the usual method of dealing with things.

In the Catalan conflict, these factors create a general uneasiness that has driven away many businesses from the region and in some cases, even outside the country. Following in the footsteps of numerous regional companies and banks, the French insurance firm Axa announced Wednesday that it would move to Bilbao. Rumors circulating in finance circles – the Catalan banks Caixabank and Sabadell have already relocated their headquarters – say that an exodus of capital is fully underway, as is a boycott of Catalan products.

Can a forced dialogue work?

For years, the Galician Mariano Rajoy preferred to turn a blind eye to Catalonia's difficulties. Now that it is almost too late for dialogue, Rajoy must try to establish it if wants to avoid digging his political grave. The opposition in parliament demands this from him, as does the international community that saw images of police violence on October 1 in Barcelona.

Rajoy knows that he can no longer take the "Galician route" as he has in the past. Galicians are characterized as being unable to make up their minds. The Spanish prime minister must finally come out of his shell and show his true colors. Taking a peek outside is not enough. He has to face the conflicts in his country head-on and not – as in the past – cowardly hide behind the Spanish constitution. Now he must reform that constitution if he wants to stay in power.