Spain's Catalan problem isn't going away any time soon

It was barely a week ago when we talked about how the government of Spain was the verge of a major upheaval, with Prime Minister Rajoy having become embroiled in a serious campaign finance scandal and facing a vote of no confidence. Well, that vote didn’t go well for him at all and things moved quickly from there. After losing the vote, Rajoy was forced out of office. This left the country in need of a new leader.

On Friday, Reuters reported that a replacement had already been chosen. Socialist Pedro Sanchez was almost immediately elevated to the position of Prime Minister, vowing to clean up the mess Rajoy left in his wake.

Spanish socialist Pedro Sanchez was catapulted to power on Friday, taking over as prime minister from veteran conservative Mariano Rajoy, who lost a no-confidence vote in the wake of a corruption scandal.

Lawmakers stood and cheered in parliament as the untested 46-year-old – a pro-European lawmaker who has never been in government – became the country’s seventh head of government since its return to democracy in the late 1970s…

“I am aware of the responsibility I am assuming, of the complex political moment our country is going through, and I will rise to all the challenges with humility and dedication,” Sanchez told reporters.

The promotion of Sanchez no doubt brought a sigh of relief in Brussels because the new Prime Minister is a socialist who is happy to keep up the status quo with the European Union. What he might do about the previous administration’s corruption problems remains to be seen. (Though I’m sure it will be brilliant because we all know how honest and incorruptible the socialists are.) But Sanchez has some bigger fish to fry first.

He still has the runaway province of Catalonia stirring up trouble. They’d been crossing verbal swords with Rajoy for quite a while now, particularly since he’d thrown a number of their elected leaders in prison and had warrants out for more across Europe, including the previous Catalan president. Some seemed to wonder if the election of the new President, Quim Torra, would open the door to a less combative relationship and a return to normality. On Saturday, before Sanchez could even find the keys to the executive washroom, Torra splashed cold water on the idea, vowing to continue to move toward independence and inviting Sanchez to stop by and chat about it. (Daily Beast, emphasis added)

Quim Torra, the separatist leader of Catalonia, effectively ended Madrid’s rule of the region by swearing in a new Cabinet on Saturday. “This government is committed to moving towards an independent state in the form of a republic,” Torra said after the swearing-in ceremony. He openly invited new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to sit down and talk about Catalonia’s breakaway ambitions. “Let’s talk, let’s deal with this question, let’s take risks, you and us. We need to sit around the same table and negotiate, government to government,” he said.

An invitation to sit down and talk, “government to government” is the speech of someone who already sees Catalonia as an independent nation. Unfortunately, the invitation likely won’t be well received, since Sanchez had just finished giving a speech in which he said that an independent Catalonia wasn’t up for discussion. So Spain may have a fresh new leader, but the same old problem with the Catalan government. And if Sanchez has to begin his term by attempting to disband Torra’s government and call for yet another set of new elections, Sanchez might not be in office long either.