Either Democracy or Democracy

Oriol Junqueras's picture
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There are just two alternatives for Catalonia: either democracy or democracy. While all of the Spanish State's shameful secrets come to light little by little, with a huge scandal played by the Minister of the Interior on center stage, they've started recommending that we invest privately because the social security system is teetering; meanwhile, they're setting the stage to delay retirement age while they rapidly drain the reserve retirement funds. And they're not spending it on hospitals and schools. They're wasting it on investments that go against economic logic, on building a State at the service of a subsidized, centralized and nationalist concept of Spain. Meanwhile, we discovered just the other day that the EU funds for the Mediterranean Rail Corridor—which indeed is essential infrastructure and which serves a productive economy!—has been spent on construction projects in Madrid, as if they are simply deceiving us instead of responding to historic demands that are necessary for the economic future of such a prosperous region. At the same time, the resources allocated by Europe to the Spanish Government in order to welcome and settle refugees are being used to turn away those very same refugees or to consolidate the internment centers (the “CIE”). And while Catalan institutions and civil society are scrambling to step up to accommodate refugees, the Spanish Government undermines those efforts without compunction, putting all manner of obstacles in the way of our success.

Either democracy or democracy. We cannot take our eyes off the scourge of corruption, one of the Spanish State's systemic maladies which requires us to clearly adopt a policy of zero tolerance for corruption in Catalonia, no matter where it comes from or who it touches. Corruption is a direct threat to democracy just as much as, or more than, the perverse use of this corruption to manipulate the justice system. Or what is worse, how corruption cases are brazenly invented in the bowels of the State, with the complicity of the media and the judicial system, just as we heard first hand, out loud, explained with certain enthusiasm, by the very protagonists themselves. The impunity with which this whole plot is being perpetrated says a lot about the health of democracy, or lack thereof, in the Spanish State.

Either democracy or democracy. Democracy is associated with societies that progress. At any rate, it's difficult to have democracy in a decadent society or in one that condemns its citizens to poverty. When the rate of unemployment is so alarming as it is in the Spanish State, democracy wavers. That's why the evolution of the current job market is so important, and demonstrates the dynamic nature of Catalan society. Catalonia closed 2016 with an increase of 100,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 14.6% in the last trimester of 2016, almost 10 points lower than the dramatic 24.4% at the high point of the financial crisis. Thus, last January, Catalonia led the reduction of employment in the whole of the Spanish State, with an interannual decrease of 12.4% (three points more than the global figure for Spain). Despite that, we can't be satisfied: unemployment continues higher than what we would want, because salaries are stagnant or are reduced with the impoverishment of the middle class, or because job creation is hindered by job insecurity. Democracy also means equity, justice, and social wellbeing.

Either democracy or democracy. Despite uncertainty in international affairs, 2016 was a good year for our economy, even extraordinary in some respects. Catalan GDP grew 3.5%—the best in the last nine years—and has now been positive for 13 straight trimesters. Let me add one more point that reinforces the optimistic outlook of this data: it's a broad-based increase to which all the sectors of our economy have contributed. And it's important to note the remarkable behavior of industrial production within this growth: with an increase of 5.2% in 2016, it is evolving at a stronger rate than in the principal Eurozone economies. In fact, last year growth in industrial production was three times higher in Catalonia than in the Eurozone as a whole. Democracy also means generating wealth.

Either democracy or democracy. Public debt is another worrisome issue. We have been saying for a while that a rise of 1% in the interest rate that the Kingdom of Spain pays would raise the cost of servicing the debt by about 10 billion euros a year. Let me digress momentarily on the topic of the finances of the Catalan Government (the ‘Generalitat’). According to our calculations, which will have to be confirmed in a few months by the General State Intervention (IGAE), the Generalitat's deficit in 2016 will be 0.9%, almost two points less than in 2015 and 3.6 points less than in 2010. In other words, over the course of six years, we have reduced our deficit by 80%. And we've done it despite being subject to the Spanish Government's arbitrary policies and monopoly of the deficit allowed by Europe—allowing us no flexibility at all. Thanks to this sustained effort, in 2017 for the first time in many years, we will be able to not only stabilize but reduce the weight of the Generalitat's debt with respect to our GDP. And this is a very important data point for a country that aspires to full sovereignty. Because if we are at the mercy of the markets, trapped by a gargantuan debt, it will be difficult to completely exercise our sovereignty. Democracy means that too.

Either democracy or democracy. Catalonia has a vigorous, open economy with an immense capacity for adaptation and progress. Catalonia's export capacity has, to a large degree, contributed to saving the Spanish State in the worst moments of the financial crisis. That registered growth during the last few years is the product of hard work, effort, and rigor. And it is growth that has been achieved with exceptionally limited economic policy tools. Who knows where we would have gotten to if the Generalitat had the competencies to more positively affect the labor market—through active job policies and stimulating hiring—or by designing a regulatory framework for competition that could better support the expansion of our businesses. And of course, who knows all that we could achieve if we could manage and take advantage of the entire fiscal effort made by Catalonia's citizens. Or, to go no further, with infrastructures at the service of the productive economy of the people, with a proper network of commuter and medium-distance rail, without gouging highway tolls, with a Mediterranean rail corridor, with a competitive, independent airport, and a well-connected Port of Barcelona: in short, democracy also means smart, reasonable infrastructures at the service of all of the citizens.

Either democracy or democracy. Exercising our sovereignty is non-negotiable. There is no alternative to democracy and democracy cannot be curtailed by invoking the rule of law or by getting the courts involved. Those were here 40 years ago too. The priority of the Catalan government is and will be the welfare and economic and social progress of its people. At the same time as we will firmly defend the fundamental rights, the civil rights of the whole of our citizenry, trampled on by a State stubbornly insistent on mistreating that citizenry. And today those rights demand a referendum of self-determination that will never be subordinated to the permission of the Spanish Government—to do so would be facilitating a permanent veto—while not precluding fervently demanding a referendum like that which the Scottish and British governments negotiated. In fact, in the defense of fundamental rights, we are just as moderate, or just as conservative even, as David Cameron. And while we have already tried infinite times, hitting a wall of incomprehension and abject rejection each time, we will not give up even now. We will keep trying until the last minute, on a mission that is headed by the National Pact for a Referendum with the following premise (be forewarned!): holding a referendum is non-negotiable, and there is a parliamentary commitment—transparent, solid, and supported by the majority—to hold the referendum before the end of September. What larger expression of democracy is there than defending and exercising the right to decide?

Either democracy or democracy. Either referendum or referendum*. And on that point, also on that point, we have sworn, together with President Carles Puigdemont, clearly and determinedly, to hold a legal, binding referendum. Our first option is to hold the referendum after the desired agreement and negotiation with the State. (It's not that we're deluded, but rather that we want all of the arguments on our side, to leave no stone unturned.) Failing that option, with the approval of the Parliament of Catalonia, the legitimate representative of popular sovereignty, precisely as its President Carme Forcadell declared as she took office: "Long live democracy, long live this sovereign people, long live the Catalan Republic!" There is no alternative to celebrating the referendum. Simply, because there is no alternative to democracy.

 

Oriol Junqueras

Vice President of the Catalan Government

 

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