To work tirelessly for the Catalan Republic and the Constitution. This is the commitment made this Saturday by the candidate to the presidency of Catalonia, Quim Torra, at the opening of the parliamentary session to decide on his investiture. Torra, the fourth candidate that the JxCat (Together for Catalonia) group has presented for the leadership of the Catalan government, gave a speech lasting three-quarters of a hour in which he stressed the provisional nature of the government that he must head and the exceptional nature of the current moment.
"I shouldn't have to be here today. Today, here and now, it is the legitimate president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, who should be here, and with him should be all the political prisoners and exiles who can't be here either", he declared, as the opening words of his speech.
It was a highly politically-charged speech, even if shorter than usual, with Torra omitting the usual itemised listing of proposals and concentrating the thread of his argument on the political exceptionality of the moment and in the commitment to build the Catalan republic.
To illustrate the need to get past the current political situation, Torra quoted Valencian writer Joan Fuster - “all political action that we don't take will be taken against us” - and advised that today, democracy in Catalonia is being called into question by the existence of prisoners and exiles, because teachers, comedians and journalists are under investigation, because the right to self-determination is pursued and threatened.
"Nothing will be normal in our land until we restore our institutions and democracy", he warned.
Asserting that nobody feels as "distressed" as he does that matters have reached the point of this investiture session, Torra went through the four previous attempts to invest a Catalan president in order to show the extent to which “rights have been breached and trampled on”. He recalled the initial attempt to vote Carles Puigdemont as president, the two attempts to invest Jordi Sànchez and the session to invest Jordi Turull. “Can anyone imagine that, in a European country, in the middle of a parliamentary debate, the presidential candidate is put in prison?", he asked.
In Parliament's public gallery, relatives of those who are in prison followed the speech. Former Catalan president Artur Mas was also there, along with former speakers Ernest Maragall and Núria de Gispert, as well as the family of Quim Torra himself.
The candidate gave assurances that JxCat will not shift from its policy of investing Puigdemont. "We will persist, we will insist and we will invest [him]. This is one of the central ideas", he declared, explaining that it was because of the provisional circumstances that he had agreed to be invested as president and to establish the strong government required to take on the transition process.
The plan for a government that Torra then proceeded to set out before the Catalan chamber is based on translating the results of the independence referendum of 1st October and the Catalan election on 21st December into action: "constructing an independent state in the form of a republic" as soon as Spanish direct rule, under article 155, is withdrawn. "We will have no excuses", he asserted.
"We'll build the Republic"
This would be the central axis of the government's plan. "What will we do? We'll build the Republic", he reiterated. The candidate outlined a vision of republicanism: a society with equality and freedom as the central axes of its politics and in which "the nation becomes a plebiscite".
"We will set in motion a constituent process, with public participation, and we want it to become a great civic debate on the future of our country", he explained, saying that from the result of this process the Constitution of Catalonia would emerge. "Who could be afraid of constructing our country on the most radical basis possible?" he asked.
He reiterated on different occasions that the new government will be subject to the provisional nature of the current situation, and that its structure will be based on two bodies: the Assembly of Elected Officeholders within Catalonia and on the Council of the Republic based in Brussels.
In this regard, he recalled that in the coming months, the trials of the imprisoned pro-independence leaders will take place. "We will all have to rise to the challenge. We will have to ensure that the sacrifices so many are making are not in vain", he stated.
The "second great moment" will be the municipal elections due in 2019, said Torra. These will need to reinforce the process and make it possible for the municipalities to play their part in the building of the republic.
In this plan, the candidate highlighted that the first priority will undoubtedly be the restoration of the Catalan institutions. "It is urgent to rectify, to repair and to restore, after months in which we have watched speechless before the erosion of the rights of all kinds of individuals and groups," he regretted.
Torra underlined the need to combat the cutbacks made to Catalan competences, the Spanish government's intervention in its finances and the suffocation of self-government through inefficient funding and a structural deficit in investment.
In the line of restoring the legality and repairing the damage caused to the Catalan public, he spoke of the nomination of the previously-announced commissioner for article 155, who will be responsible to the Catalan presidency, as well as the withdrawal of the Catalan government's complaint, made on its behalf under article 155, against the instigators of the unofficial 2014 independence poll. On this point, the candidate offered recognition to ex-president Artur Mas and the former ministers facing charges, a move which generated applause from the pro-independence seats in parliament for Mas, following the debate in the public gallery.
Call to Spain and the EU to begin dialogue
However, Torra also made a call to the Spanish state and the EU to open dialogue, and he did so in Spanish and English. He appealed directly to Spanish king Felipe VI, reminding him of his own words to the Catalan Parliament on 21st April 1999 - "Catalonia will be what Catalans want it to be" - to which Torra then commented: "No, Your Majesty, this isn't the way".
To the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, he issued a call to sit down at a table and negotiate. "We are willing to talk tomorrow, we urgently need to change the direction of policy. We don't renounce anything, even speaking," he declared.
The third appeal Torra made was to the president of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, recalling that "the Catalan people expect European politics to mediate", given the gravity of the situation, with political and social leaders facing 30 prison sentences.