Friday, February 24, 2017

The Re-Expanding Council

We need to talk about the Council of Mallorca. Expansionist tendencies have returned. Munarism, even Armengolism appeared to have been consigned to the empire-building waste bin, but only because of Salomism. And she - Maria Salom - now has to watch on from the national government's delegation building while the Council undertakes its 100% U-turn. Or more than 100%.

The Council president, Miquel Ensenyat, seems like one of those rare political beasts - a decent enough bloke. He has had his moments, such as the row over Extremadura farmers being paid to sit around in bars all day, but for the most part he's gone about his presidential business without courting any major controversy of copping for any great flak. He has also not been shy in attracting publicity. There was the visit to Greece to come to the aid of refugees, there has been the recent business about Saint Valentine's Day, there is the "rescue" of the Soller Tunnel, there was the meeting with the Pope to press the claims of Ramon Llull sainthood, and there is now the re-naming of the airport ... after Ramon Llull.

Taking the lead in calling for a new airport name, and insisting that Aena pays for it, speaks volumes for the way in which the Council has been adopting an agenda-setting profile. One might ask why it is doing so. The answer lies - or does it? - with wishing to promote Llull and an alternative image for Mallorca: alternative to sun and beach, that is. There is a good deal of scoffing at the idea, though it might be recalled that a poll indicated that some three-quarters of respondents thought Llull should be the name, if there is to be a new name at all, which is another matter.

Those three-quarters will have predominantly been Mallorcan. They confirmed what Ensenyat is pressing for, a symbol of Mallorcaness, which is reasonable enough, but such Mallorca-centricity overlooks the wider world which Llull would supposedly be exposed to. The wider world really couldn't care less, and it's worth asking what the now finished year of celebration of Llull has achieved. Is the world more knowledgeable of Llull as a result? Well, is it?

Llull, whether he becomes an airport or not, is thus principally for Mallorcan (and Catalan) consumption. Emblazoning his name across departures would be a deeply significant act of identity, and it would be the Council that promoted it. And the Council is all about embedding this identity - one that is Mallorca. But in order to truly establish this identity, more has to be done than adopting the name of a mediaevalist. There is political identity, and that means government.

Recently, Ensenyat was asked whether he might stand as a Més candidate for the regional parliament (and therefore possibly the regional government) in 2019. His reply was instructive. It sounds, he said, as though there is a division one and a division two, with the regional government the number one. That isn't how he sees things. It would be good, he intimated, if he could secure a second term at the Council, for which he envisages very much greater things. The regional government should be slimmed down. Responsibilities should be transferred to the Council (and to the councils on the other islands). Not just responsibilities, but also officials, buildings - the lot.

Ambitions for the Council as an institution are rooted in the fact that it pre-dated the regional government: the first elections were held four years before those for the government. As an entity it has historical antecedent - the great and general council of the island, which brought together institutions for Palma and the "part forana", was established in 1373. History, as if we didn't know, counts for an awful lot in current-day Mallorca politics, not least when it comes to assertions of island "nationalism".

Ensenyat and Més represent one particular take on this nationalism. The alternative, as in having been a centrist-right perspective, was that of the former Unió Mallorquina. Maria Antonia Munar was the UM president of the Council for twelve years, the longest serving president, and during her time the Council grew to a degree that it seemed to all but mirror the government. A consequence of this was the massive amount of duplication and no shortage of debate as to what the purposes of the two institutions were and as to whether one was dispensable.

It was Salom who took the knife to much of this duplication. She got rid, for example, of TV Mallorca, established by the Council under Munar. Ensenyat, acutely aware of the charges of duplication (and therefore additional cost), argues that transferring responsibilities to the Council will be the way to avoid duplications. He may be right, but at the heart of these ambitions is the Council as an expression of nationalism, for which Llull is symbolic.

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