Tag Archives: federalism

Who is Carles Puigdemont? Catalonia’s new regional president.

Carles Puigdemont, a longtime proponent of Catalan independence (unlike his predecessor) will now serve as the region's president. (Elena Ramón / Expansion)
Carles Puigdemont, a longtime proponent of Catalan independence (unlike his predecessor) will now serve as the region’s president. (Elena Ramón / Expansion)

Ultimately, in the game of chicken between Catalonia’s regional president Artur Mas and the handful of radical left legislators standing in the way of forming a new executive government, it was Mas who blinked, leading the way for another Catalan moderate, Carles Puigdemont, to take the premiership in an 11th hour drama Sunday night. Spain_Flag_Iconcatalonia

On Sunday, he finally gave in, offering to step aside for the sake of winning a majority for a pan-ideological coalition committed to pushing the region’s independence from Spain within the next 18 months. In so doing, Mas acceded to the  Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP, Popular Unity Candidacy), the far-left group that won around 8% of the vote in the most recent September 27 elections that otherwise delivered a strong plurality to the pro-independence front, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes).

With six seats short of a majority, Junts pel Sí, dominated by two parties, the center-right Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC, Democratic Convergence of Catalonia) and the center-left Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Republican Left of Catalonia) had agreed prior to the election, along with several other minor parties, that it would be Mas to lead any resulting government.

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Though the CUP also embraces independence (it also rejects membership in NATO and the European Union), it didn’t formally join the Junts pel Sí coalition. Antonio Baños, the CUP’s leader, steadfastly refused to support Mas’s investiture to form a new Generalitat, the regional executive government, because his party opposes the budget cuts that Mas introduced at the regional level during Spain’s economic crisis and due to longstanding allegations of corruption surrounding CDC governments dating back decades.

By stepping down, Mas made it clear that he wasn’t willing to drag Catalans to their fourth election in five years just to cling to power.

Mas’s replacement, Puigdemont, is another CDC veteran. Though he comes from the same moderate background as Mas, he has long been among the most outspoken advocates of Catalan independence, unlike Mas. For now, at least, that represents sufficient change for Baños and the CUP to support the independence-driven government.

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RELATED: Catalonia’s post-election future murky as Mas prioritizes power over secession

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Increasingly, Mas used the pro-independence fervor to maintain his own grip on power, to the point that it forced a split in the CDC’s longtime two-party governing coalition, Convergència i Unió (CiU, Convergence and Union) in a bid to hold onto the premiership.

While CiU governed the region consecutively for nearly a quarter-century from the 1980s to the early 2000s, it took a markedly nationalist stand. But, for the most part, it always leaned more toward regional autonomy and not in favor of independence.

Not so with Puigdemont, however, who is much more of a true believer in the independence cause than Mas ever was. Puigdemont is a former journalist and an arts and cultural critic, but his major political breakthrough came in 2011, when he won the mayoral election in Girona, long a stronghold of Spain’s federal socialist party.   Continue reading Who is Carles Puigdemont? Catalonia’s new regional president.

What’s at stake in this weekend’s Catalan regional elections

27-s elections

If September 2014 was the month when Scottish independence made global headlines, it might be September 2015 when Catalan independence has its breakthrough — at least if regional president Artur Mas has his way. cataloniaSpain_Flag_Icon

Barely 10 months after Catalonia’s regional government held a non-binding referendum on independence, and just three months before the Spanish general election, Catalan voters will elect a new regional parliament in a campaign that Mas has been waging for months as a de facto referendum on the region’s future status within — or outside of — Spain.

Mas, the presidential candidate of the cross-ideological Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition, argues that a victory for the pro-independence forces will give him the leverage he needs to demand negotiations with Spain’s central government. Spain’s conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy, however, has steadfastly refused to discuss autonomy with Mas, let alone an independence referendum. Rajoy contends that any independence process is illegal, and Spain’s constitutional court ruled that last year’s November referendum was illegal. Though Mas backed down and canceled the vote, he nevertheless provoked Madrid by holding a non-binding plebiscite to flex the muscles of the Catalan independence movement. In turn, Rajoy’s refusal to discuss the matter or even permit an in-out referendum has alienated Catalan voters who might not otherwise be enthusiastic about independence.

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RELATED: Can Felipe VI do for federalism
what Juan Carlos did for democracy?

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At face value, Catalans are merely going to the polls on September 27 to elect the 135 members of the regional parliament. But after the Greek eurozone showdown earlier the summer threatened the eurozone’s stability and split Europe’s north and south, and even as the ongoing refugee crisis is threatening the integrity of the borders-free Schengen zone, splitting Europe’s west and east, the cause of Catalan independence could become the European Union’s next fashionable crisis.

Mas promises that if the Catalan electorate gives Junts pel Sí a majority in the Catalan parliament, however narrow, it will be sufficient to launch an 18-month process that will result in the region’s independence and promulgate a new Catalan constitution.

So what exactly is happening in Catalonia? And what should we expect the day after regional elections? Continue reading What’s at stake in this weekend’s Catalan regional elections

Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

diadaPhoto credit to Diario de Navarra.

If you thought that the Scottish independence referendum was a  divisive matter, just wait another three weeks.Spain_Flag_Iconcatalonia

Even though Catalunya’s regional president Artur Mas officially cancelled a scheduled referendum on Catalan independence originally scheduled for November 9, diffusing a constitutional crisis with the national Spanish government, Mas announced that Catalans will instead have the option to participate in a non-binding ‘consultation.’

From referendum to ‘consultation’


In substance, the informal ‘consultation’ isn’t incredibly different than the formal vote that Mas (pictured above) and the Catalan regional parliament initially scheduled, given that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy denounced the vote and questioned the ability of Mas or a majority of the Catalan parliament to call a referendum legally. Spain’s constitutional court ruled the referendum unconstitutional at the end of September, and Mas originally declared that the vote would go forward.

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RELATED: In refusing Catalan vote,
Rajoy risks isolating himself and Spain’s future

RELATED: Can Felipe VI do for federalism what
Juan Carlos did for democracy?

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Mas’s admission this week that the vote will be informal and non-binding reduces many of the tensions with Madrid, though the original vote wasn’t entirely binding, either. But his announcement may dampen his credibility with pro-independence Catalans (critics took to Twitter to declare it was ‘game over’ for Mas) and force the third regional election in four years.

Nevertheless, the referendum will still ask Catalan voters the same two questions as before:

Do you want Catalonia to be a state?

If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?

No matter what happened on November 9, no one believed that the issue of Catalan sovereignty would be definitively settled anytime soon.  Continue reading Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

Is Belgium destined for breakup after another inconclusive vote?


You’d be forgiven if you forgot that, on the same day as Europeans elect the European Parliament and Ukrainians elect a president, Belgium, too, will elect a new national government — and the northern, Dutch/Flemish-speaking Flanders and the southern, French-speaking Wallonia will both elect regional governments. Belgium Flag

It’s the first parliamentary elections in Belgium since June 2010, which were so fractured and inconclusive that it took 541 days for a coalition government to form under the premiership of Walloon socialist Elio di Rupo (pictured above).

Polls this time around show that most Belgian parties will win roughly the same amount of support in 2014 as they did in 2010, which means that Belgium could be in for another wrenching year or more of coalition negotiations. Due to the linguistic and regional differences between Flemish and Walloon voters, two completely different sets of parties compete for Flemish and Walloon votes, respectively.

Even though the Scottish and Catalan independence votes later this autumn have attracted wider attention, there’s an equally strong chance that Belgium could cease to exist in everything but name if two consecutive elections fail to give the country a stable government. 

Initially, in the decades after Belgian independence in 1830, the French-speaking Walloon region was traditionally wealthier. After World War II, however, Flanders increasingly dominated Belgian economic output, and Flemish leaders have correspondingly demanded greater policymaking autonomy from Belgium’s national government.

Beginning in the 1960, chiefly at Flemish initiative, increasing amount of power have already been devolved to regional government, where regional parliaments were formed in 1981 and their members have been directly elected since 1995.

With a national population of around 10.75 million, there are just over 6 million people in Flanders and just over 4 million people in Wallonia. Within Belgium, each of Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels now have a regional parliament, and there’s now a parliament for German-speaking Belgians. Moreover, the country is split into three regions for administration purposes: Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels, the country’s capital, which is located just within Flanders but which has a French-speaking majority.


Though just a small minority of Flemish voters want independence, many leading Flemish parties have successfully pushed for greater regional autonomy. Another inconclusive election could lead to reforms that give the two regions almost complete autonomy in a confederal arrangement that would leave a shell of a national government that administers foreign policy and controls little domestic policy. 

But who will emerge in the regional governments after Sunday’s elections? After all, even under the current state of Belgian federalism, the Flemish and Walloon governments matter just as much, if not more, than the national government.

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In Flanders, the contest is largely between the Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V, Christian Democratic and Flemish), the traditional Flemish center-right party, which favors greater autonomy for Flanders as a way of avoiding Belgian separation, and the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA, New Flemish Alliance), a pro-secession party that hopes to win increasing autonomy for Flanders for the express purpose of hastening independence. Continue reading Is Belgium destined for breakup after another inconclusive vote?

Remembering the legacy of former Belgian PM Wilfried Martens


Wilfried Martens, a longtime Belgian and European statesman, died last Wednesday night at the age of 77, and though it’s still been a few days, it’s worth pausing to consider his legacy to his country and his continent. Belgium FlagEuropean_Union

While European Commission president Jacques Delors, French president François Mitterrand and German chancellor Helmut Kohl all receive much of the credit for bringing about the modern-day version of the European Union and the single currency, Martens played a crucial role in boosting ever closer union, appropriately for someone who grew up in the aftermath of World War II in poverty in Ghent.

Between 1990 and 2013, Martens served as the leader of the chief center-right grouping in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party.

Belgium today seems to be virtually ungovernable amid splits between the Dutch/Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north and the French-speaking Wallonia in the south — the country famously went 589 days without a government between 2009 and 2011.  Martens’s death draws a bright line against an era when Belgium, as a unitary state, was still governable, if something less than stable.  The always-nimble Martens himself led nine different coalition governments of varying regional and ideological tilt between 1979 and 1992, becoming Belgium’s longest-serving postwar prime minister:

The crisis [that brought Martens to power] was the result of fundamental divisions between the coalition government’s Socialist and Christian Democrat parties over how to tackle economic problems, a burgeoning welfare deficit and the long-term decline of Belgium’s traditional heavy industries. This, together with growing tensions over the country’s regional and linguistic divide between Flemish and French speakers, formed long-running threads in his premiership and resulted in the sequence of shifting coalition allegiances over which Martens presided, as he came to be seen as the indispensable leader, the only man capable of holding factional governments together.

He achieved this balancing act with skill – not least in the face of opposition from some more senior ex-prime ministers – though King Baudouin must have become used to his regular trips to the palace to offer his resignation.

Economic crisis forced Belgium into undertaking many of the structural economic reforms that Germany and Sweden endured in the 1990s (under varying circumstances) and that much of Mediterranean Europe seems destined to enact at even more painful costs today.  Though Martens came to power as a Flemish nationalist, he governed as a Belgian federalist — he helped craft a new constitutional arrangement that made Belgium a much more federal state, in which many powers are devolved to either the Flemish or Walloon regional governments.

If you’re paying attention in Madrid and London (and Barcelona and Edinburgh), the lesson of Martens-era Belgium is that even when Spain and the United Kingdom manage to return to healthier economic conditions, the Catalan and Scottish independence issues won’t necessarily retract. Continue reading Remembering the legacy of former Belgian PM Wilfried Martens

Newly-formed third party CAQ rises in Québec

A new poll out in Québec Friday from Leger Marketing shows an increasingly three-way race in advance of the snap September 4 election.

The two longstanding parties in Québec are essentially tied.  The sovereigntist (and more leftist) Parti québécois (PQ) wins 32% of Québécois voters, while the federalist (and more centrist) Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) of premier Jean Charest wins 31%.  Charest, who has led Québec since 2003, is seeking his fourth consecutive mandate.

But the real surprise is the newly-formed Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), which got 27% — although the CAQ led polls briefly when it was formed in January 2012, it had steadily lost support.

And, perhaps, for good reason — it’s a relatively aimless group that has been vague about its position on key issues, such as a proposed hike in student tuition fees.  It’s been just as cagey on more fundamental stands: whether its economic program is right or left, or whether it is more sovereigntist or federalist.

Founded by François Legault (pictured above, left), a longtime minister in the PQ governments of the 1990s and a leader of the pro-independence movement in the 1995 sovereignty referendum, the CAQ incorporates some other PQ stragglers and much of the old Action démocratique du Québec, the party led by Mario Dumont that made significant gains in the 2007 Québec election (only to watch those gains evaporate in the subsequent 2008 election).

Yet there’s precedent from recent Québécois elections to indicate that voters are weary of both the Liberals and the PQ:

  • As noted, in 2007, Mario Dumont’s ADQ won 41 seats to Québec’s 125-seat Assemblée nationale, leaving Charest’s Liberals with a 48-seat minority government and pushing the PQ (with just 36 seats) out as the official opposition.
  • In the 2011 general election, the progressive New Democratic Party won 59 of Québec’s 75 ridings for seats in the House of Commons.  The NDP, led by the late Jack Layton, had previously not been a factor in Québec’s federal elections; in 2011, it reduced the PQ’s federal counterpart, the Bloc québécois to just four seats, despite its domination of Québec’s federal delegation since 1993.

Like the ADQ in 2007, the CAQ is leading polls in and around Québec City.  But also like in 2007, anglophone Quebeckers are still overwhelmingly in favor of the Liberals, the PQ has a steady lead among francophone voters, and the CAQ lags behind both parties in and around Montréal.  That result would lead to three-way deadlock that favors a minority Liberal government — unless the CAQ can somehow break through to the core supporters of either the PQ or the Liberals.

Two recent developments indicate that the CAQ could pull off that kind of upset.

Legault has emphasized the recruitment of high-profile candidates, which paid off last week when popular anti-corruption figure and former Montréal police chief Jacques Duchesneau (pictured above, right) announced last week that he would stand as a candidate for the CAQ.  That put Charest on the defensive — his government is under investigation for corruption charges related to tying government construction contracts to political cash.  Meanwhile, prominent anglophone Quebecker Robert Libman gave his support to the CAQ and trashed Charest for using scare tactics against the CAQ.

But the election remains three weeks away and it’s unclear if the CAQ may be surging too soon — to say nothing of whether voters trust Legault and his slippery platform enough to make him premier.

Continue reading Newly-formed third party CAQ rises in Québec

Charest makes it official: Québec goes to the polls September 4

Jean Charest, Québec’s premier since 2003 (pictured above), has dissolved his province’s Assemblée nationale and called a snap election for September 4 — just 33 days away.

His Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) will be seeking its fourth consecutive mandate and Charest will be leading the PLQ for the fifth consecutive time since 1998, when he first left Canadian federal politics for Québecois provincial politics.  He’s been a decade-long fixture of the province’s government, and he starts out the race with even odds at best.

His main opposition is the sovereigntist (and leftist) Parti québécois (PQ), who leader, Pauline Marois, makes Charest look like a star campaigner.

But further to the right is former PQ minister François Legault, whose Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a new center-right party formed only earlier this year, will attempt to pull votes from both the PQ and the PLQ.  Further to the left, Québec solidaire will also attempt to pull seats from the PQ and, to a lesser extent, the PLQ.

So what are the starting positions for the parties? Continue reading Charest makes it official: Québec goes to the polls September 4