Give Me a Crash Course In . . . Catalonia
What is happening in Catalonia?
The nationalist-controlled regional parliament plans to issue a declaration of independence from Spain, possibly as soon as Monday. This follows a referendum on October 1st in which about 90 per cent of participants voted in favour of secession (although the turnout was about 40 per cent). The Spanish government says it will do whatever it takes to prevent the plan going any further.
Why so much fuss about a referendum?
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy deemed the vote illegal, saying the constitution does not allow for any kind of referendum on secession by a region. The constitutional court has backed his position, as has King Felipe.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont says a referendum is legal and a democratic right. In the build-up to the vote Spanish police seized millions of voting slips, arrested Catalan government officials and took control of part of the regional government’s finances. On the day, riot police broke into polling stations wielding batons and dragging voters away.
Why did Catalans want a referendum?
They have the biggest economy of Spain’s 17 regions, but say they pay a great deal more in taxes than they receive in investment. Also, they complain that although they were granted substantial autonomous powers by Spain’s constitution, Madrid is intent on reeling those back in, with the courts regularly reversing laws approved by the Catalan parliament.
Many pro-independence Catalans feel Spain is unsympathetic to their culture and language. Many Catalans, particularly in the region’s heartlands, simply do not feel any emotional attachment to Spain.
Do all Catalans want independence?
No. Polls over recent years have frequently shown that those who want independence are outnumbered by unionists, but the secessionist movement is much more organised and vocal. The referendum result did not represent most of those who oppose independence who stayed at home. However, about 80 per cent of Catalans want their region to stage a negotiated referendum on their future.
Can’t they sit down and talk about it?
The Catalan government says it has repeatedly offered to negotiate but that Rajoy never accepts. The Spanish government has always ruled out holding a referendum and now says it cannot consider negotiations under the threat of a unilateral declaration of independence. The EU appears to have decided not to get involved, at least for the moment. However, other domestic parties are working to convince both sides to sit down. The Catholic Church might mediate.
So what happens next?
The constitutional court has suspended Monday’s scheduled session of the regional parliament, where pro-independence parties had planned to meet, quite possibly to approve an independence motion. The government is also considering triggering Article 155 of the constitution, which would give it the power to suspend Catalonia’s autonomous powers. However, both moves are likely to cause the crisis to escalate. With thousands of Spanish police deployed to the region, there are concerns that Spain’s deepest crisis for decades could turn even uglier.
A woman carries an independence Catalan flag as demonstrators march in Barcelona on Tuesday.