This Saturday Carles Puigdemont, former president of the Generalitat of Catalonia and a fugitive from Spanish justice, has taken his challenge to the French town of Perpignan, which the most expansionist nationalism pompously calls the "Northern Catalonia." The performance has beenattended by tens of thousands of Catalan nationalists taken on buses subsidized by "civil entities" subsidized as well by the Generalitat of Catalonia with money from all Catalans. Beyond the usual dances of figures, which may range between a few tens of thousands and the round and unbelievable 100,000 attendees promised by the convening entities, the big questions are: What do he really want to achieve with this new challenge? And above all, what can be the real consequences of it? Here are some thoughts.
What's he looking for?
Self affirmation. The first and most obvious purpose is a new claim of the image of the escaped leader. Of course, to appear in France a few kilometers away from the Spanish border, moving freely and showing his MEP status is a blow of effect. "Eh Spaniards! I'm in Catalonia and you cannot touch me! Europe is more democratic than you and doesn't share your persecution!" That's the message to be transmitted, even if isn't true (France is not Catalonia and Europe has yet to rule on a possible suspension of the Puigdemont MEP Act that would allow its extradition), but such a challenge will undoubtedly be a hit of catartizing effect, much to the liking of the most radical independence, which needs more than ever new stimuli before the dialogue stance of Republican Esquerra.
Blow to dissent. Another of the objectives of the former fugitive president would be to end the discrepancies within his party with a call to order to the different currents, and especially to those ex-convergents who long for that pactist Catalanism that Esquerra seems to have taken from them and whose return they linked in the image of Artur Mas, whom after expiring his disqualification some saw as the hope of a new leadership further from the confrontation. However, the presence in Perpignan of which launched the 2000 Program of Jordi Pujol (and in doing so ended the convergent training) is a slap for this moderate sector, since all the pactism has already been left to Esquerra, leaving an orphan to the most possible and bussiness-friendly nationalist spectrum, which occupied the center-right and now has literally no one to vote for, forced to choose between a left-wing and anti-system nationalism or a non-nationalist right-wing center that until recently pointed out with the finger and they called "fascist".
Start of campaign. In Catalonia we are constantly campaigning, but this performance would be a badly concealed start in full rule for the next and not yet scheduled Catalan elections.
What can it cause?
Let's analyze the several consequences that this encounter could have on the current political landscape.
Evidence the division of nationalism. As I said before, the meeting has been perceived in the rest of the nationalist parties as a campaign act, which has led to criticism of Esquerra Republicana and the rejection of the CUP, which doesn't even want to appear, although it's among the three nationalist parties the one that with more impetus vindicates the expansionism and annexation of the so-called "Païssos Catalans".
Response from the French government. We can't ignore that the Puigdemont meeting aims to attract European media attention to Perpignan in what is going to be considered a claim from that area of southern France as part of the "Catalan Republic". France is a much less tolerant state to nationalist formations than Spain, so this expansionist challenge is hardly going to be overlooked. The French still remembers the recent damages caused by the cuts in the Jonquera and the clashes of secessionist radicals with the Gendarmerie, and the Macron government already has enough problems at home so that nobody comes to excite possible peripheral nationalisms in territories that already by themselves they are complicated to manage from the distance.
Rejection of the European institutions. Europe considers nationalism one of its main problems. However, until now, European diplomacy has avoided meddling in the Catalan nationalist movement because it is considered "an internal affair of the Spanish government". From the moment that the Catalan nationalist challenge exceeds the Spanish borders to claim a part of another member country, as is the case of France, the problem ceases to become an internal affair of the government of Spain to become a challenge to the cohesion of the member states. This could cause Brussels to finally have an alibi to finally get involved and take the bravado of nationalism seriously. This new climate would facilitate the revocation of the MEP act of Puigdemont, whose expansionist desire already threatens to destabilize two of the oldest states in Europe (or three, if we take seriously their statements about the Italian town of Alghero). In Europe, the fight against Nationalism, Fascism and Racism is already being unified as a combined struggle against the three axes of the same problem (demonstrated by organizations such as United for Intercultural Action www.unitedagainstracism.org). In this sense, Carles Puigdemont's self-indulgent whim could be very expensive for his cause.
Reaction from Perpignan. Perpignan is a small municipality, with just over 100,000 inhabitants, as many as the people who intend to bring Puigdemont by bus. Most of the Perpignan speak French (their only official language) and according to the latest survey, only 2% of the population feels exclusively Catalan, since 11% feel as Catalan as French and 86% completely French. Therefore the claim of Puigdemont on Perpignan has hardly any support in that locality, so almost all the applause that begins his appearance in the "Catalunya Nord" will be from the people who have been brought by bus. Many Perpignan who patiently endure the interference of Catalan nationalism in their area may begin to think that the thing is serious and denounce the situation, as has happened with the mayor of l'Alguer (Italy) who has denounced Omnium Cultural for "colonial practices".
Reactions to the coronavirus threat. It seems a trivial issue but the explosive spread of this pathogen is now the main concern of European citizens. The World Health Organization has recommended limiting travel to a few kilometers and mass meetings to just over 1000 people. It's a very bad time for anyone to try to move 100,000 people from one country to another for hundreds of kilometers and several hours of travel, locked in buses to concentrate on a town whose number of inhabitants barely reaches the amount of people Puigdemont intends to gather . A full-scale "invasion" that not only intends to flood a nationalism with a locality in which support for its cause is a minority, but can also concentrate and spread the Covid-19. Apart from the manifest irresponsibility of not canceling this act out of pure personal pride, the possible consequences of a massive contagion would be regrettable in terms of public health and catastrophic if we talk about the image of the nationalist leader. Headlines such as "The nationalist virus invades France" would obviously be very superficial reading, but also a very powerful subliminal image of the danger that nationalism poses to the cohesion of European states.
Only time will confirm the impact this challenge will have on the political scene.