In the middle of an economic crisis with 5 million unemployed and with little hope of things getting better, the Spanish government decided to open up another disagreement with Catalonia, this time placing the dispute in the sensitive area of the Catalan language and creating an enormous political convulsion.
The projected educational reform, known as the LOMCE, put forward by the Spanish Minister for Education, Culture and Sport José Ignacio Wert, according to the Generalitat, relegated the Catalan language to a position below Castilian Spanish and foreign languages within the Catalan school system and opened up a battle for jurisdiction over the autonomic education system.
The Catalan government warned that it had no intention of applying a law that infringed the Statute of Autonomy and Catalan legislation and threatened the harmonious Catalan society by imposing linguistic apartheid. The refusal to apply the reform counted on the support of 107 of the 135 members of the Parliament of Catalonia.
The Generalitat denounced what it considered a full out "political offensive" on the Catalan language by the Spanish government, which had no "democratic precedent". Government spokesperson, Francesc Homs warned "We won't spare any energy, effort or institutional power in order to stand against this attack by the PP government and we will defend the linguistic rights of the citizens of our country, which are protected by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and in Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution."
Simultaneously, all the parties that had voted in favour of the Catalan Education Law, CiU, PSC, Esquerra Republicana and Iniciativa, declared a Catalan "common front" against the Spanish government's proposals. As in cases of national emergency, President Mas held a meeting with party leaders Pere Navarro, Oriol Junqueras and Joan Herrera and with the Consell Escolar de Catalunya, School Council of Catalonia, in order to "give an institutional reply corresponding to the attack by the Spanish government".
In a survey in La Vanguardia, 80% of voters were against the Wert Law and Twitter and Facebook were full of comments against Wert's desire to "españolizar", or make Spanish, Catalan schoolchildren.
The government proposals obviously had a political dimension as the draft was different from the one previously shown to Autonomous Communities and the Council of State. The toughening of linguistic criteria even brought complaints from Education Ministers in Valencia and the Balearic Islands, which are both ruled by the PP, as well from the Basque Country.
The moment chosen for the attack wasn't by chance. In Catalonia, the government of the Generalitat hadn't taken office yet and Convergència i Unió was still licking its wounds following the electoral setback. In Euskadi, the socialist term of office was about to end and the government led by Iñigo Urkullu was waiting for the investiture of the next lehendekari. Furthermore, unemployment figures had been released on the same day with an increase of 74.2% more unemployed and 250,000 fewer affiliates of social security.
The idea that Mariano Rajoy had ordered his barons to decrease the atmosphere of tension with CiU went out the window and Josep Anton Duran i Lleida's theory that bridges had to be built between Catalonia and the PP and central government was made to look pretty ridiculous.
Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, walked out on Wert in the middle of the meeting with other education ministers of Autonomous Communities. The PSOE education ministers from Andalucía, the Basque Country and Asturias, who had also spoken out against the reform, were ordered to stay and under no circumstances form a common front with Catalonia.
In its meeting, the executive committee of Convergència i Unió decided to review the remaining agreements it had with PP in the Diputació de Barcelona and various other municipalities. The Spanish government's attack and the probable creation of a pro-independence majority in the Parliament of Catalonia, whose priority would be the calling of a referendum made it clear that the period of confrontation had only just begun.
The Education Minister said "the language is not negotiable" and added "I cannot see myself as a member of government applying this law, I'm just acting minister, but if they ask me I will fight until the last. It is so offensive that I'm convinced that its non-application will receive unanimous support."
Minister Wert said that "it is totally false that this is an attack on Catalan schools". In the same vein, Catalan PP spokesman Enric Millo described Irene Rigau's attitude as "incendiary" and accused her of lying. In his opinion, Rigau was "trying to create a conflict out of nothing because the text is a draft that doesn't say what the minister says it does." Millo admitted that the government had consulted the Catalan PP and that he was happy to present amendments in Congress if necessary.