Catalan Chess Game Gives Rajoy Upper Hand With Endgame Unclear – Bloomberg

In the final days of Spain’s complex political chess match with Catalan separatism, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made the best tactical moves. The longer game of keeping the country’s economic powerhouse in Spain may prove harder to win.

Rajoy lined up backing from the opposition Socialists for his plan to sweep out the Catalan government while his diplomats ensured the European Union supported his stance all the way. The concurrent dismissal of the Catalan government and the announcement of elections in the region Dec. 21 disoriented the independence movement and reasserted Spain’s authority.

Mariano Rajoy

After the early missteps in his Catalan strategy when a clumsy deployment of riot police to hinder an illegal independence referendum produced violence and sparked outrage around the world, Rajoy staged a comeback in recent days by peacefully removing the government of President Carles Puigdemont, who was reported to have fled to Brussels. For all that, however, the challenge for Rajoy and his successors will be to deal with deep divisions within Catalonia that may take decades to heal.

“This will have huge consequences for the political life of Spain and particularly Catalonia,” said Ken Dubin, a political scientist at ISDE law school and IE business school in Madrid. “Its effects could last a generation.”

The halting of Catalonia’s independence movement, even if temporarily, also poses some thorny questions for the EU, which papered over reservations among some of the region’s leaders at Rajoy’s refusal to enter into dialogue with the separatists. In doing so, the bloc managed to anger democracy activists and has ended up with the embarrassing spectacle of a political exile from one of its core member states fleeing to Brussels.  

‘Hearts and Minds’

On the domestic front, the Catalan crisis may have strengthened Rajoy’s political position by shoring up support for the alliance that keeps him in power. An opinion poll published by El Mundo newspaper showed support for his People’s Party rising to 31.4 percent from 30.8 percent in September while backing for his partners in Ciudadanos surged to 16.7 percent from 12.7 percent.

That said, his policies have managed at best to contain the Catalan issue. They have not addressed the root causes of separatist anger, said Joe Haslam, a professor at Instituto de Empresa business school in Madrid.

“He didn’t conquer any hearts and minds,” Haslam said.

Catalonia’s crisis peaked on Oct. 27 when the regional parliament voted for independence in defiance of the Spanish government. Rajoy responded within hours by dissolving the Catalan parliament, placing its administration under his deputy Soraya Saenz de Santamaria and calling elections for the region.

‘Clever Move’

Catalan Chess Game Gives Rajoy Upper Hand With Endgame Unclear – Bloomberg

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