Charles Puigdemont has been released under conditions of imprisonment and now lives here in Berlin. His spectacular arrest and the course of the trial so far have put Catalonia back on the agenda of European politics.
The conflict is complex and has been fought over for decades between Barcelona and Madrid. The core is autonomy and connectedness. How autonomous can a region that is part of a nation state be? Due to the conflict and the way the conflict leaders have acted in recent years, more and more radical positions have had to be taken. It is no longer about autonomy, but the complete independence of Catalonia from Spain. A process that worries many in Europe. Catalonia is not the only region in Europe that has problems with its central government. Many fear that a precedent could be created with Catalonia, which would have a huge disintegrative effect in Europe. In this situation, the EU and the other states in Europe have tried to keep them self out of the heat as good as possible. The easiest way to do that was to argue that it was a domestic matter that was to be resolved within the Spanish legal and constitutional order.
But now the voices call for a European or German mediation. Elmar Brok explicitly suggests a mediation procedure. But Puigdemont must forego his demand for independence in advance. The degree of autonomy within the national state of Spain can then be mediated. Puigdemont signals in Berlin that he could get involved. In fact, here is a problem for Madrid. If President Mariano Rajoy agrees to a mediation procedure, this can be understood as a partial success of Puigdemont.
However, there will be no way around it that both sides have to talk to each other – to avoid further escalation of the conflict. The violence to which it would surely come then, makes an understanding even more difficult. So there is no way around the dialogue.
So that this becomes possible, the parties to the conflict must first agree that they want to go this way of dialogue mediated by a mediator. In my opinion, Europe can provide valuable assistance in making this agreement on the procedure. The goal here must be that no side can lose face and raised head can come to mediation.
Having this procedure carried out by the EU or Germany is certainly an idea that should be carefully considered. Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, rightly points out that Europe does not want to play the role of mediating in such conflicts between regions and their nation states. But that need not mean that Europe has to stay completely out of this conflict: Europe should limit itself to leading the conflict partners on the path of mediation. If this succeeds, then the question still remains open: who should mediate?
An interesting answer comes from the Green Party Chairman Habeck. He proposes a region of Europe. Preferably, the one in which he is a minister. According to Habeck, Schleswig-Holstein has an expertise on how to live peacefully together in a region because of the Danish-German relationship. Habeck now offers this service to Catalonia and Spain. What makes the proposal so interesting is that Habeck obviously thinks he already knows what the Catalans and the Madrid have to do to sort out their conflict: come to him to explain it to them?
From the mediation of international and subcultural conflicts, we know that in addition to deciding on a mediation process, the process of selecting mediators is also crucial to the success of mediation and the quality of the solution created. In this specific case, the EU could accompany the parties in deciding for mediation. Then the conflict partners would have to appoint a mediator or mediator team. For very pragmatic reasons, it would be of tremendous benefit if the mediators were familiar with the Catalan and Spanish culture and language. For example, it could be done by the Madrid government appointing a mediator from Catalonia and the Barcelona side a mediator from Madrid, who will then mediate together. That would also be a challenge for the collaboration of the mediators itself. The better they work together as a team, the better it models the opportunities for mediation overall. Of course, this is just one option. Collaboration with private sponsors and foundations has proven to be equally beneficial in international conflicts, as has cooperation with non-governmental organizations. It is essential that the process of deciding on the procedure and the decision for the mediators be professionally accompanied and considered separately from the actual mediation process.
But could mediation in this case succeed. We know from other international negotiations that it helps the process, if the mediation is conducted without major interruptions in time. At the same time, and this will be particularly challenging in this case, a certain amount of confidentiality must be maintained for the duration of the mediation.
The main obstacle at the moment, however, is: how does one succeed in leading both sides to a decision for the mediation procedure, without having one side already having the feeling that it has given in to the other side? Here, the EU now has a role in which it can mediate. If she succeeds in moving the two parties to a decision on the question of how to deal with the conflict, much would have been gained. The “what” then remains to be regulated by the parties themselves in the following mediation procedure.
Whether this can succeed? Yes for sure. But for that it requires from all sides a certain mental effort