This morning, during the second general policy debate of the legislature, the president of the Government of Catalonia, Quim Torra, said: “We will always seek dialogue, but since they won’t sit down at the table, we’ll continue to move forward and won’t stop.” The president added: “We will exercise once again all the rights we’ve been denied, including the right to self-determination.”
While stressing that the Catalan government would “never walk away from the negotiating table”, Torra lamented that “there’s been no one on the other side to talk to”. The president pointed out that in a year and a half the Spanish state has not made a single concrete proposal, and that “its side of the road map for dialogue was always a blank page”.
“While in the first months of Pedro Sánchez’s mandate, he seemed to be making some perfunctory gestures, we soon saw that they were just tactical manoeuvres and that there was no real commitment to dialogue.”
“We hope that someday there will be someone in Moncloa who’s willing to talk and solve problems through dialogue rather than in an interrogation room or with the other side in the dock.” Torra also said: “Talking takes courage” and a willingness to negotiate with “those whose positions are farthest from your own. […] This kind of courage is lacking in Madrid. What’s needed is a long view that allows us to resolve conflicts, not a perspective that’s always focused on short-term electoral interests.”
“We’d like to see a government in Spain that’s committed to dialogue, democracy, politics, rights and liberties. But that’s not the way things are,” he said. “It’s the Spanish state that’s constantly seeking confrontation – accusing us, filing complaints, jailing us, forcing us into exile.”
“The criminalisation of the independence movement is unacceptable”
On the arrest of activists on Monday, the president said efforts to “criminalise the independence movement based on accusations of not only rebellion but terrorism” were unacceptable. The president said he would never accept moves to “link a radically democratic movement to terrorism” stressing that the independence movement has always been a peaceful and non-violent, and that this will continue to be the case in the future.
“The independence movement is exemplary for its civism, non-violence, respect and positive spirit – for putting forward proposals rather than just protesting. And it’s this character that has most unsettled its adversaries. They don’t like the fact that we smile. They don’t like the fact that we’ve never used violence. They don’t like our desire to share the joy of the process of building a future of freedom.”
Torra said that when faced with threats and the use of violence by the Spanish state, the response of the Catalan people will always be “radically democratic” with the focus on “human, social and political rights and republicanism”. He also lamented the “deafening silence” of Spanish political parties. “Now, when we most need them, where are the Spanish defenders of the rights and freedoms of Catalans?”
Response to the Supreme Court verdict
In relation to the Supreme Court verdict in the 1 October referendum trial, the president decried the fact that political leaders and prosecutors have already indicated when the verdict will be handed down, which he said goes against the norms that prevail in democratic states. He also said that “on various occasions, Spanish institutions such as Global Spain, have violated the presumption of innocence and passed judgement on the defendants in memoranda and official documents”.
In this context, he emphasised that “the democratic quality of a state is measured by its ability to accept dissidence. […] We’ll see whether the Spanish state passes the test and how much democracy it’s able to accept.”
The head of the Catalan government said the goal was to respond to the verdict in a positive way. “We’ll bring one stage to a close and start another in which we take the initiative.” He added: “We can protest; we can give voice to the sadness and pain we feel… but we have to reach agreement, formulate proposals, make plans, build, move forward and set long-term goals – with the collective ambition of freedom, and in pursuit of the goal of independence.”
“We need all the enthusiasm, all the confidence, all the courage, and all the civic and democratic engagement we can muster to do it again – to bring this nation, once again, closer to its people, more at the service of everyone, within reach of every individual dream, and freer than ever. […] It’s in our hands, as it always has been.”
“The Catalan people will find a way to make their aspirations a reality”
At the beginning of his speech, the president said that “Spanish democracy is foundering” and that “separation of powers in the Kingdom of Spain is a mirage”. He also questioned whether there was any realistic prospect of Catalonia fitting into Spain as it is and stressed that “the empowerment of Catalan citizens is absolute”.
“However many obstacles are put in their path, the Catalan people will find a way to make their aspirations a reality. That’s what I’m committed to doing as president. In fact, it’s my duty, as it should be the duty of all democrats, to make it possible to meet the demands of citizens. And mark my words: that’s what I’ll do.”
Torra also noted that he had originally been scheduled to appear in court today on charges of disobedience. “It seems there were some who didn’t want me to be here today, setting out the government’s positions and plans to the representatives of the people of Catalonia,” he said. “My duty is solely to the Parliament and to the Catalan people, who, in elections or referendums, point the way forward.”
Torra stresses need for new budget and importance of putting aside electoral politics
During his two-hour speech, the head of the government explained in detail some of the lines of action that the executive has pursued in this legislature and initiatives it will launch in the coming months, which he said demonstrate that “this government governs and focuses on the priority objective of providing the best possible public services for the citizens of Catalonia”. Torra stressed that it was perfectly possible to base political action on achieving independence while also effectively managing competences under the existing legal framework, as the government’s track record proved.
In this vein, the president called on MPs to act responsibly in order to pass a budget for 2020 that would be “eminently social with the aim of making Catalonia a nation of equality and equity, a vibrant nation and a just nation”. The president urged MPs to put electoral politics aside and join forces to start the political year in a constructive way. “We urgently need a budget for 2020, and I think we share enough objectives to define an agenda for 2020 that the majority of members of this chamber can get behind.”
Torra set out some of the priorities for the new budget, including recovering the levels of spending on basic public services (health, education and social services) that existed before the financial crisis, increasing the number of regional police officers and firefighters to previous levels, boosting public transport, and launching the 2030 Agenda, which he said would be aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals.
The president emphasised the government’s determination to engage in dialogue with other parliamentary groups “because Catalonia and its citizens need and deserve to have a budget in place”, and said he hoped the debate would serve to “reach some kind of agreement” on this point. Addressing the shortfall of public resources, Torra decried the “obsolete and unfair funding scheme” that applies to Catalonia and the Spanish state’s failure to make transfer payments owing. He criticised a series of deceptive moves by the Spanish government, citing the example of advance payments for 2019. “We hope that statements by the Ministry of Finance to the effect that it will get up-to-date on transfer of advance payments aren’t just a pre-election manoeuvre, but a response to the administrative appeal lodged by the Catalan government just a month ago.”