Spain's deep crisis of democracy and Catalonia's controversial quest for independence

October 4th, 2017 - by Pablo Ouziel, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria

Looking into Spain from the outside it seems as if the current crisis in Catalonia has been caused by a Spanish State unable to accommodate the legitimate demand of the Catalan people to have the right to decide on their future. Although this is the case, from inside the country things look a lot more complicated. On the one side we have a right wing governing party in Spain the Partido Popular (PP) that is immersed in corruption scandals; Spanish courts are currently investigating 900 of its politicians. On the other hand we have a governing coalition in Catalonia JuntspelSí (Together for a Yes vote) which won the Catalan elections in 2015 with 1.1 million votes (36%) and 62 parliamentary seats. 29 of these seats are held by the right wing PdeCat (Catalan Democratic Party) and the current president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, is a member of this party. The problem with the current independence process being led by this party is that it is the successor to the now-defunct CDC (Democratic Convergence of Catalonia) party, which like its Spanish counterpart is immersed in corruption scandals. In 2014 its founder Jordi Pujol, the leader of the party from 1974 to 2003, and President of the Catalan government from 1980 to 2003, was indicted together with his wife for money laundering and tax evasion. In addition his son who was also a member of the party is now serving a prison sentence for corruption.

            It is important to remember that in Spain in 2011 we lived through the occupation of public squares by citizens referring to themselves as 15M and clearly opposing their representatives. In Catalonia 15M surrounded the Catalan Parliament in an attempt to stop the governing coalition in Catalonia from approving a set of draconian austerity measures. The then president of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, successor to Jordi Pujol in CDC, arrived to parliament in a police helicopter in order to be able to enter the building. It was months later that he announced the drive for a referendum in Catalonia blaming all the ills of Catalan society on the Spanish central government. In September of 2012 he publicly announced that it was time for the people of Catalonia to exercise the right of self-determination. A few years later in the 2015 Catalan elections Artur Mas was forced to step down amidst concerns regarding his own integrity as a politician. He then personally selected Carles Puigdemont as the person from his party that would assume the presidency of Catalonia.

            What we have today in Catalonia is a situation in which it is in the interest of both the Spanish and the Catalan presidents to augment the conflict between nationalisms. Such a conflict helps both presidents save their parties from disintegration by consolidating their voter bases. The PP presenting itself as the only party capable of stopping the secession of Catalonia, and PdeCat portraying an image as the only party capable of making Catalonia into an independent republic. Such a conflict allows these two parties to remain in power while avoiding the crisis brewing in Spain because of their corruption scandals. The social contract that was reached by Spanish citizens in 1978, during the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy has been broken. What we are seeing in Catalonia today is the beginning not the end of an escalation of conflict that will affect Spanish people in numerous ways; secession will be just one expression of social discontent in this deep crisis of democracy affecting Spain. The antidote to this crisis expressed by 15M in 2011 has now been silenced.


 Dr Amy Verdun (Professor of Political Science) and Dr Pablo Ouziel (Postdoctoral fellow) will be speaking to CFAX 1070 radio live on Wednesday 4 October 11:30am- 12:00pm noon. Each of them will speak about different aspects of the recent referendum in Catalonia.

Merkel’s path to victory and the rise of the extreme right

Sept 21, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

See also: CTV News Channel Interviews from Fri 22nd, 2017 and Monday 25th, 2017

On Sunday, Germans will head to the polls after an election campaign that has largely been void of excitement and perceived by many simply as uninspiring. There has not been a great desire for political change in a country that mastered the economic turmoil of the past years relatively well. Most observers agree that Angela Merkel will succeed in securing a fourth term as Germany’s chancellor. The most recent surveys put the governing Christian Democrats solidly in the lead even if their numbers have slipped slightly lately. The longing for stability and continuity is the dominant sentiment in the German public overshadowing any frustration with twelve years of rule under Chancellor Merkel’s leadership.   

However, over the past year, Merkel’s had to face some challenges leading up to the showdown on Sunday. The most serious one was the political repercussions of Germany’s open-door policy towards the hundreds of thousands of refugees who came to Europe in 2015 and 2016 (in 2016 alone, over one million refugees arrived in the country). From an electoral perspective, this strategy proved highly risky for Chancellor Merkel who herself was one of the most outspoken advocates for a liberal refugee policy. In the end, this issue did not cost her as much public support as some might have feared or hoped. The second major challenge was the invigorated Social Democratic Party (SPD) who, at least at the beginning of the year, seemed to be in a position to put up a veritable fight. During these months, there was a real sense of excitement in the electoral race when the SPD candidate, former president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, gained political momentum with his social justice agenda. Yet, this excitement clearly dissipated very quickly. Pollsters put the centre-left party, which has kept a relatively low profile as the junior partner in the Grand Coalition, now at an embarrassing 20+ percent.

The open questions of Sunday’s elections relate to the smaller parties in the German Bundestag. Most importantly, how well will the anti-EU, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfP) do in the election? It is now almost certain that the AfP will be the first right-wing party to be voted into federal parliament since the end of WWII. They are predicted to score close to 12%, which would make the AfP the strongest opposition party, if the Grand Coalition between the two main parties were  continued. Finally, the other striking reason why the votes for the smaller parties will be of decisive weight is that in order to form government for the next four years, Chancellor Merkel might have the choice between 1) continuing the coalition with the SPD or 2) to opt for the re-emerging liberals (FDP) who were not represented in the last Bundestag. This second option would push Christian-Democrats towards a more neo-liberal approach and it would provide the social democrats with the opportunity to regain strength in the opposition. In the end, while the election may not be a dramatic change for Germany now, Chancellor Merkel’s coalition choice and the rise of the extreme right may prove to shift Germany’s political path decisively for the next several years.


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