Sme: Catalan lessons

October 27, 2017

For lessons on how bad leadership can make small problems big, one need only to look at the continuing crisis over potential independence in Catalonia. Even as things seem to get more confusing by the day, one thing has become clear over the past few weeks: Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, and Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan regional government, are both idiots.

To review, Mr Puigdemont called for and insisted on holding an independence referendum that had no constitutional standing, in an atmosphere of hostility, with no clear guarantees on the integrity of vote counting. If voters favored independence — which he knew they would as those opposing independence stayed home — he insisted he would declare independence. Except he did all of that and didn’t declare independence, saying he would suspend that declaration instead.

Meanwhile, Mr Rajoy is a corrupt and tone deaf party boss leading a weak minority government. In 2013, the newspaper El Pais published documents proving Rajoy and other top Popular Party leaders were receiving secret cash payments from Swiss bank accounts — €25 million in donor money funneled through the party to party leaders. During the Catalonia crisis he has decided he would try to distract people from all this by playing the tough guy. He declined to negotiate seriously about granting more autonomy for Catalonia in the lead up to the vote —other Spanish regions like the Basque country and Navarre have more — and sent police to beat people up on referendum day.

More recently, Mr Puigdemont was asked to address the Spanish senate this week, but refused — so much for dialogue. He has claimed that he is willing to call new regional elections “in a normal manner,” but that the central government in Madrid makes this impossible. Of course, nothing is normal about the current situation. In what has to be a sign that Mr Puigdemont has learned nothing over the past year, and in a near exact repeat of the British Conservative party’s Brexit plan — Mr Puigdemont opted to hold a independence referendum with no serious plan on what to do next.

Mr Rajoy insists the Spanish government will now implement Article 155 of the constitution, suspending Mr Puigdemont’s power and calling for new regional elections within six months. In the meantime almost all Mr Rajoy’s actions seem likely to increase support for the separatist cause in those elections. Not to mention he himself could be out of power at almost any moment.

It is ego driven stupidities like this that fuel growing skepticism about politicians and government’s ability to solve problems. In this case, political leaders are making new problems, not solving old ones. The cowardly, incompetent, leadership in Madrid and Barcelona are frightening. More frightening though, is how quickly we can think of world leaders who are even more incompetent, and how easily they could make more serious problems much worse.