Even as the Spanish government remained in a tense stand-off with Catalan leaders over the region’s claim to independence, news outlets around the world weighed in on the impact of the region’s self-styled referendum on Europe.
‘The brutality of the Spanish police in their mission to shut down the Catalan secession referendum succeeded mostly in deepening a political crisis,” said the New York Times in an editorial. “[Spanish] Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had the law largely on his side, but Barcelona now has the television images and the solidarity and sympathy they generate, leaving the prime minister looking like an intransigent bully and rendering any possible political resolution of the conflict more remote… All this amounts to a crisis that could well get far worse if the contending leaders do not back down. Strong-arm tactics by the Spanish government will only draw more support for the Catalan secessionists, while barrelling ahead with an ill-considered declaration of independence whose true support was not possible to gauge from the chaotic voting will only plunge Catalonia into further chaos and conflict. There are potential political solutions, probably involving greater autonomy for Catalonia, but so long as Mr Rajoy and Mr Puigdemont remain intransigent, these will remain out of reach,” the paper said. The Globe and Mail picked up on the same thread and drew a parallel with similar situations in Canada, offering the Spanish government some lessons on how not to control a referendum. “If only Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government had a Canadian in the room. No country has more experience managing independence movements and referendums, legally and peacefully… There were many moments in the last half century of Canadian history when an intemperate overreaction from federal leaders could have escalated things to a point where the country would have been unable to recover. Instead, from Pearson to Trudeau and Mulroney to Chretien, Ottawa sought to derail the independantistes by every means at its disposal – reason, passion, concessions, firmness, money, the law – except one. Ottawa never tried to crush it by force. It beat the sovereignty movement with patience, not truncheons. The Spanish government, in contrast, lost patience and turned a political argument into a police action,” the paper said. While Spain thought the solution to the Catalan government’s provocations was to use force, the paper observed, in a democracy, “jaw-jaw is always better than war-war, and more effective, too... The former can go on and on, opening the door to negotiation, compromise, changed minds and cooled passions. The latter promises the opposite”.
The Guardian was also equally critical of the Spanish government’s handling of the situation. “Mariano Rajoy is playing hardball with Catalonia’s bid for independence. His first response to the declaration by President Carles Puigdemont that the right to independence was won, but would be suspended in order to create space for ‘dialogue’, was to challenge Mr Puigdemont to clarify his region’s status. Mr Rajoy has made no secret of his readiness to trigger article 155 of the constitution and suspend the region’s autonomy. Now he has flatly rejected Mr Puigdemont’s call for mediation. He must take care: boxing the Catalan leader into a corner would be a high-risk strategy,” the paper said.
“Spain has been an extraordinary success story for more than four decades. It has emerged from the long shadow of the Franco years as a modern European democracy. Catalonia has been an important part of that democratic triumph, and Spain has become a vital member of the EU. Yet history casts a long shadow. There are ghosts from that era which have not been entirely laid to rest. Barcelona and Madrid alike must take care not to let themselves be imprisoned by them,” it said.