January 05, 2018
Catalonia's government by Skype
The Catalan regional election took place just before the Christmas week-end, and Spain being a catholic country it observes the feast of the epiphany this coming week-end, so there has not been time for much to happen officially in Catalonia. But there has been a lot of informal activity among the separatist camp, which once against gained a majority of seats in the parliament. The judicial front remains crucial, with several MP-elects and two leading candidates either in jail pending trial for the events of the autumn, or in Brussels under threat of arrest for ignoring a court summons if they return to Spain. In addition, the debate has been spiced up with the invention of a new region - Tabarnia - to separate from the separatists.
Mariano Rajoy - who exceptionally called the regional election under Art. 155 of the Spanish constitution, intended to rein in a recalcitrant regional government - has scheduled the constituent session of the Catalan parliament for the week after next, on January 17. This will be exceedingly important. The board of the regional parliament played a key role in the separatist challenge during the past two years. Without a militant speaker and a separatist majority on the board the parliament would not have taken votes contrary to the Spanish constitution. A first attempt to elect a new regional premier must happen by the end of the month.
Here is where politics interacts with the justice system. The separatist parties have a majority of 70 seats in the 135-strong regional parliament, but three of them including the region's former deputy premier Oriol Junqueras are in pre-emptive jail near Madrid, and five including the dismissed regional premier Carles Puigdemont are avoiding it in Brussels. To guarantee separatist control of the parliament's board, or a majority to elect the next regional premier, at least four of these must take their seats. The ones in jail presumably will, while those in Brussels except Puigdemont might consider giving up their seats for substitutes. There is a precedent for jailed politicians to be allowed out of prison to take part in parliamentary sessions. But the candidate for regional PM must presumably be present at the session though Puigdemont's party has already suggested that the rules of procedure of the parliament are vague enough to allow Puigdemont to take part in the debate on his own appointment by video conference. If this is not possible, as Argelia Queralt argues from a legal and political point of view, Oriol Junqueras' party might attempt to get him appointed instead. Or a separatist majority of the board might ask the parliament to consider an amendment of the rules of procedure that explicitly allows what has been disparagingly described as a "government in Skype".
If the separatists fail to agree among themselves to ensure a separatist majority, liberal unionist party Ciudadanos would propose its own candidate Inés Arrimadas. This would require the support of Podemos' Catalan ally CeCP, and the regional PP is open to the possibility of Arrimadas garnering their support, too. Ciudadanos, meanwhile, has also put forth the new region of Tabarnia (Tarragona and Barcelona), the metropolitan area of Catalonia's south-east coast where the separatists are in a minority, which they say should be allowed to secede from Catalonia and remain in Spain. This doesn't seem like a serious proposal, but just a way to hold a mirror up to the Catalan separatists. If a regional premier fails to be appointed by March, the region faces new elections in May.