Up until this past June, former MEP Raul Romeva was living a life far removed from the urgency of the political frontlines and he had no intention of re-entering the fray. Then came the decisive days of the negotiations to fill the pro-independence ticket for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Catalonia. Both the separatist civil society groups, as well as Oriol Junqueras, leader of ERC, and President Artur Mas, of the governing CDC, personally urged him to step in and become the head of list for the Junts pel Sí candidacy, the separatist coalition that, surveys say, will take home the majority of the votes in the 27 September elections. Romeva acquiesced.
As the election campaign ramps up, Romeva keeps his eyes firmly on this election’s main objective: to decide whether Catalonia wants independence, and not to allow talk regarding potential political players and scenarios to become a distraction.
‘Not only do we have the right to pursue this goal, but it can be done, and we have the know-how to pull it off’, Romeva said in this interview with VilaWeb.
—The other candidates regard you as a straw man, a stand-in for President Mas. What is your response?
—Let’s be clear about this. Our list includes Artur Mas and other people from his party, Convergència, but it also has many others who are not from CDC. Some are from ERC, or from other parties. Some are independents, including myself, Lluís Llach, and Pep Guardiola, or economists Elisenda Paluzie and Oriol Amat; there are people with very different profiles. It is reckless and deeply unfair to make such a statement; to pretend this is a one-man list when it actually represents a group of people. Our symbolic list of citizen-candidates has 77,000 people now, and we expect it to reach one hundred thousand. This shows that, over and above well-known personalities on our ticket, this is a list that many people feel as their own. What makes this a powerful project is that its ownership is shared, and everyone who is participating in it has made concessions regarding their personal and ideological viewpoints. This applies to Mas and Junqueras, and also to Toni Comin, Lluís Llach and even Pep Guardiola.
—Junts pel Sí has stated that obtaining sixty-eight MPs is not the same as having seventy-five, and that a narrow absolute majority may mean that things will have to proceed at a slower pace. What does this mean, exactly?
—It means that the more representatives we have, the stronger our mandate and the fewer external challenges we will face, particularly from the Spanish government.
—Would there be any changes to the nine-point roadmap toward independence that you have put forth?
—If it doesn’t rest on a comfortable and strong majority, the government will have a weaker mandate. The goal is to obtain the widest possible support so that there will be no room for debate and no risk. And so we can all be clear as to why we are taking the steps we are taking. That said, the possibilities are limitless.
We have a huge job now explaining why we want to do what we want to do, how we want to do it, and what steps we intend to take. Many people have doubts, many have trouble envisioning the ‘how’ aspect, and are not certain we are sufficiently prepared. My obsession right now is to explain to these people that not only do we have the right to do this, but we also have the technical, political, legal, and economic means of doing it. And we know perfectly well what needs to be done. But we need a democratic mandate.
—What would you tell left-wing, pro-independence voters who are still undecided?
—That if they want to change things, right now the only choice is to obtain a clear majority for the secessionist vote on 27 September. This is clear just by seeing the reactions of the Spanish government. Just that is enough to be able to imagine what might happen if the option we support does not get a clear majority.
—How does Europe see the hostility toward Catalan separatism coming from the Spanish government, the PP, and the PSOE?
—There is a growing perception in Europe that the primary responsibility for the situation in Catalonia today rests on Mariano Rajoy’s shoulders. This is clear. The problem is that in some cases, there is still the belief that a possible alliance between Podemos and PSOE continues to be a viable alternative in Spain. And we know for certain that such an alternative does not exist, given the fact that attacking and threatening Catalonia is politically advantageous in the rest of Spain. Abroad, these threats are seen as further evidence that the problem lies with Spain.
—But we are not seeing any messages of support from Europe. Spanish diplomacy has been able to glean some statements contrary to separatist interests, such as those made recently by Merkel and Cameron.
—But one needs to be able to interpret these messages. One cannot reasonably expect that a state actor or someone at the European level will make a public statement in favour of Catalan independence. This will not happen, because the EU is a union of states. But I don’t care so much about what is said as about what is left unsaid. Nobody has come out and said that a vote should not be held in Catalonia; they have merely discussed what-if scenarios. And they all bring to the fore Spain’s legal framework, which is the easy answer encouraged by the Spanish government.
—Why have they played into that?
—Because they are counterparts. Because the way things work among states is ‘don’t meddle in my affairs and I stay out of yours’. And a state that wishes to stay out of trouble heeds this dictate because it has less to lose if it listens to what the president of the Spanish government has to say than if it lends its support to the Catalans. This is the way things are and we must accept it. And it will stay this way at least until 27 September.
Another issue altogether is what will happen after 27 September. A clear democratic mandate may be met with gestures aimed at getting the Spanish government to deal with the situation in some way. In Europe, people have a hard time understanding why Rajoy has so far refused to sit down and negotiate.
—What is your message for those who are concerned about Europe’s role?
—We tell them that, before a state can be expelled from the EU, first it has to be recognized as such. And, second, that they cannot expel you just like that, because there is a procedure requiring unanimity. And economically, it would be absolutely suicidal for Spain if Catalonia were expelled. This is what I’m trying to explain. This is such a necessary challenge that if we cannot fight these fears with the truth, we will not be able to make it.
—It’s shocking that the set of arguments made by the BBC reporter in an interview yesterday could practically have been penned by the PP or Ciutadans.
—It’s understandable because his sources are the Spanish media. And it’s an issue that the reporter and I later discussed candidly.
—I thought we had moved beyond that.
—What has changed is that, in a different context, I would not have been interviewed by the BBC. It’s a significant shift. Being invited to be interviewed by the BBC means that they want our version of things. And this means that something has already changed. Another matter is the arguments they use, which are the arguments of someone who doesn’t want to rock the boat. In Europe today, the Catalan question causes discomfort. The EU is not waiting for us with open arms, and that is why it’s important that things go well on 27 September. The more smoothly things go on 27 September, the fewer the fears in Europe that what we are doing is ill-advised.
The bulk of the media gets its information from the press in Madrid. And many people, not only in London or Madrid, but also here in Catalonia, have bought these arguments. And that is why it is so important to explain the reasons for our project. We do not take for granted that people have understood that these elections are crucial; many people here in Catalonia still have many doubts and have bought these arguments.
—Would you accept an offer from Spain to hold a referendum if the process goes forward?
—Is that even on the table? When it is, we’ll talk about it. If this ends up on the table, there will be conditions that we cannot foresee today. Since this is not actually on the table, we have only ourselves to rely on. We are the ones who must determine our own path. To speculate on what might happen is to divert attention and to make us believe that we are determined by whatever happens in Spain. And what will happen there will depend on what happens on 27 September.
The possibility of a referendum could only materialize, hypothetically, if the result on the 27th is clearly in favour of independence. If we start speculating, thinking that victory on the 27th is a given, perhaps we’ll discover that we do not win after all. This is a bad strategy. If we are to move the process forward we must be clear about what our goals are; that said, there will be better alternatives and worse. Our goal is to apply the roadmap we have agreed on.
—Which is an eighteen-month process toward independence.
—Eighteen months, which would cover the building of state structures, a participatory constitutional process, and the building of a legal framework to write the body of law that would govern the transition. Within the shortest possible timeframe, eighteen months at the most, independence would be proclaimed, at which point transitional law would come into effect and general elections would be called.
—And in the middle of this, there would be a request to negotiate with the Spanish government.
—The negotiation will be ongoing. The ideal scenario is for the transition to be negotiated. Negotiations with the Spanish state must start from the very beginning. The question is, what are you negotiating, what are you putting on the table. You cannot do all of this while ignoring the fact that there is a state actor in the mix. If on the 27th we obtain a clear majority in favour of Catalonia becoming a state, we will have a democratic mandate.
—And you would request to negotiate. But the answer is predictable.
—Well, we’ll see. If the ideal scenario materializes, fantastic. If not, we will still do what we set out to do.
—In light of the pre-campaign hostility, do you think that Spain is losing its grip or, on the contrary, that it knows exactly what it’s doing and we should all prepare?
—If we have wound up in this situation, it is because of who we are dealing with. The rhetoric of fear, threats, lies, and confrontation is something we have been familiar with for years. The status quo cannot be changed; and now we are seeing this type of reasoning more than ever. Our response to this is the ballot, a democratic mandate, and the construction of a state that will ensure that everyone has opportunities they do not enjoy today.
This campaign of fear and threats stems from the reality that they have no alternative project that is seductive, because if they did they would have already explained what it consists of.
Everyone knows that this fear mongering has bolstered the separatist sentiment here in Catalonia. And everyone knows that in the rest of Spain the same tactics can be beneficial come election day. And that is why we cannot expect the Spanish government to put forth a concrete proposal.
And for the undecided out there, they should know that I find it very hard to imagine anything resembling a third way. No one in Spain has been willing to put forth such a proposal.
People should be aware that the problem we face is colossal, but we have the opportunity to sidestep it. We have a solution, which is to secure a democratic mandate.