The euro zone

Communication breakdown

Apparently, Pedro Sánchez now hopes that if he ignores the Catalan separatists, they'll just go away

Mark Nayler

Friday, 1 November 2019, 13:23

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Acting economy minister Nadia Calviño set the world alight last weekend when she told El País that the priority of the next Socialist administration - providing the PSOE can actually form one after the 10 November election - will be pensions' purchasing power. Pensions: really?

What about Catalonia, the febrile, divisive issue on which the rest of Spain's main parties are centring their campaigns? In fact, even before that, what about forming a stable, functioning government - something that Calviño's boss, Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, has been unable to do in the six months that have elapsed since the last general election?

Since nine leading Catalan separatists received prison sentences of between nine and thirteen years on 14 October (for their roles in arranging the 2017 independence referendum), Sánchez has received intense criticism from the Spanish right, which wants him to more explicitly condemn Catalonia's independence movement and the protests - some violent - that have occurred over the last fortnight. The Socialist leader, however, has declared the Supreme Court's heavily-politicised decision as the summation of an "exemplary legal process". That, in itself, says a lot about his line on the Catalan independence movement, as does his refusal to grant the imprisoned politicians an amnesty.

Sánchez has also repeatedly said that there will be no legal referendum on Catalan independence - let alone a legitimate declaration of secession from the rest of Spain - so long as he is in power.

The acting prime minister does seem to have dropped his belief in the power of communication with Catalan separatists, though. On a visit to Barcelona after the sentences were handed down, he bafflingly refused to meet with Catalan president Quim Torra, and has since declined to answer Torra's phone calls.

Sánchez's attempts to ignore the escalating tensions in Catalonia shouldn't be surprising: in a list of 110 pledges he unveiled in advance of the 28 April election, the issue didn't appear once. Instead, the focus was on education, business, healthcare and gender equality - all important matters, but no more so than Catalonia, especially post-14 October. It's hard to believe that this is the same man who previously favoured a rhetoric of moderation and compromise with regard to Catalan separatists. Apparently, he now hopes that if he ignores them, they'll just go away.

This is a bad error of judgement and one that is already costing the Socialists votes, if the latest opinion polls are to be believed. I don't often agree with Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, but he was right when he said, referring to Sánchez, "You have to earn your salary and talk to people with whom you don't want to talk."

Torra does want to talk and Sánchez has to pick up the phone sooner or later if there's to be any hope of a resolution to the Catalan problem.

For now, pensions can wait.

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