Pedro Sánchez. EP
Forgiven but not forgotten
The Euro Zone

Forgiven but not forgotten

Sánchez loses credibility as Catalan separists take advantage of his power struggle

Mark Nayler


Friday, 24 November 2023, 16:30

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Catalan separatists squeezed everything they could out of Pedro Sánchez, who proved himself a remarkably compliant hostage. Before releasing the PSOE leader last week, they not only secured the state's admission of wrongdoing against everyone involved in the failed secession bid of 2017 but they also succeeded in getting fifteen billion euros of Catalan debt written off by the Spanish government. Now is the perfect time for the region's separatists to renew their demands for a state-backed referendum on independence - because Sánchez can't consistently refuse it any longer.

Debt forgiveness is a sensitive issue in Spain, in which a high degree of regional autonomy is enshrined in the Constitution. So it was inevitable that, when Sánchez announced the fifteen-billion-euro deal for Catalonia, other regions voiced their sense of injustice. The Socialist presidents of Asturias and Castilla La Mancha have criticised what they see as preferential treatment for the Catalans, while the Conservative leaders of Madrid, Valencia and Andalucía also condemn the debt pardon.

The cumulative effect of all this is to highlight that one region and one region only is happy about the terms on which Sánchez wriggled back into power: Catalonia. Notice, too, that the PSOE leader didn't even bother to justify to the country as a whole the debt arrangement he has made with Catalans. Sánchez at least tried to present the amnesties as good for Spain, not just for its wealthiest region - although that laughable claim suggested he was unaware of the demonstrations occurring all over the country - but there wasn't even a hint of an explanation of the debt write-off for Catalonia.

Sánchez has eroded the basis on which he can reasonably refuse Catalan separatists a referendum

If Catalonia now doesn't have to pay that back to Madrid, who does? And if it's just being cancelled altogether, how can the government afford to do that and what cuts to public spending will it have to make as a result? A debt of that size cannot be written off without implications for the country as a whole.

The granting of the amnesties and the debt forgiveness are both short-term measures aimed at pleasing one region, but their long-term consequences will affect every part of Spain. With the amnesty deal, Sánchez has eroded the basis on which he can reasonably refuse Catalan separatists a referendum on independence; and by forgiving such a huge portion of the northeastern region's debt, he can't consistently refuse to do the same for any other part of the country.

Sánchez might be in a forgiving mood towards Catalonia right now; but the grievances he has stirred throughout the rest of the country will not be forgotten any time soon.

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