Whilst the national councils of the main Catalan political parties met, on Saturday December 15th a statue of Winston Churchill was unveiled in Barcelona. One of Churchill's many quotations seemed appropriate. "Time in politics is even more important than it is in grammar."
This Churchillian philosophy is what acting President of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, decided to apply in the face of ERC's demands to set a date for the consultation on self-government. The CiU leader decided to "take all the time in the world" to persuade Oriol Junqueras that some of the tax measures that ERC want to apply were either counter-productive or inapplicable and setting a date for the consultation was showing your hand to your opponent "who we already know will take full advantage".
The differences on the economic measures to be applied and there were even differences over how the Catalan Treasury should be set up. This is a shared objective but CiU consider the methods proposed by ERC to be frivolous and doomed to failure.
After the meeting held on Friday December 14th, Mas seeing the
atmosphere of despondency amongst his collaborators, called for calm and
explained his position. The CiU leader believe it was more risky to
announce a date for the consultation than to start governing without
having reached an agreement with ERC. Mas was willing to delay his
investiture in order to guarantee political stability but if the
agreement involves setting a date for the consultation and deficit
measures that would put the government's credibility in doubt, the term
of office would begin in minority. Mas had until January 4th so Mas and
Junqueras wouldn't meet until after the constitution of parliament set
for the following day.
As far as Mas was concerned, nobody was more committed to holding the consultation during the 10th legislature. As the most ambitious act in 300 years, its progress would be full of obstacles and it would be Mas's last act as a politician so he didn't want to make a mistake. Attempts would have to be made to hold talks with the Spanish Government first so that if the two sides were unable to reach an agreement, Catalonia would have the moral and democratic authority to appeal to the international community.
Mas insisted that a time for the consultation had to be chosen carefully "in order to win it" and at that time both the Spanish and international political situations were full of complications, which would both determine the contect in which the consultation would be held and the chances of winning it. For example, it wouldn't be the same if Spain asked for a bailout, if the EU changed political direction regarding austerity or if Greece was forced to leave the Euro.
Another factor was the demolition campaign against and the CiU strategists were convinced that the Spanish government would continue legally blocking any initiative by the Catalan government. "If we decide on the date, they are even capable of calling general elections on the same day so that the PP could win an absolute majority," said a high-ranking CDC politician.
Mas had been surprised by Junqueras' attitude in the meeting the previous Friday as he had been convinced that the ERC led by Junqueras and Marta Rovira was very different from that of the Tripartit in 2003 and 2006. He said to his collegues that if the legislature got into difficulties, it would be bette to work on a day to day basis without "losing their heads".
The CiU leaders were irritated because "ERC doesn't want to enter in government, doesn't want to commit itself but on the other hand wants to set conditions as if it was already in." The lack of confidence between CiU and ERC had opened a division that hadn't been expected. CiU strategists were worried that setting a date put party interests above independence. "Setting a date is like fixing a limit to the legislature. If the consultation is held, the legislature finishes and if, for any reason, it is not held, ERC will bring about the fall of he government."
Paradoxically, in the National Council of ERC, everyone was optimistic about signing an agreement with CiU in the next few days. The same happened with Unió Democràtica, where Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida defended an agreement with ERC.
Mas decided to take his time as over the previous few days everything had become more complicated than he had hoped.