The con­flict­ing in­ter­ests of all sides in the Cata­lan ref­er­en­dum could pre­vent them from reach­ing a con­sen­sus in the near fu­ture

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion - HAZAL DU­RAN * * Re­search as­sis­tant at SETA Foun­da­tion, Ph.D. stu­dent in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Bilkent Univer­sity

After Brexit, the EU may be about to face an­other cru­cial change in its bor­ders be­cause of the Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum held on Oct. 1, by which the sepa­ra­tion of the au­ton­o­mous Cata­lan re­gion from Spain was ap­proved by 92.01 per­cent of vot­ers with a turnout of 43.03 per­cent. Pro-sep­a­ratist mem­bers of the Cata­lan par­lia­ment state on Tues­day signed a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence defin­ing Cat­alo­nia as in­de­pen­dent and sov­er­eign, a short time be­fore Cata­lan Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont’s sus­pen­sion of the dec­la­ra­tion. Although the Cata­lan pres­i­dent stressed that there is a need to reach an agreed so­lu­tion, the fu­ture of re­la­tions be­tween the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and Cata­lan par­lia­ment is still full of am­bi­gu­ity. Those in­volved in the process seem not to be go­ing to be able to reach a con­sen­sus in the near fu­ture be­cause of con­flict­ing in­ter­ests. Still, it is cru­cial to ex­am­ine in­ter­ests of var­i­ous ac­tors to un­der­stand what could come next in the process.


As one of the most pro­tracted con­flicts in the world, the ten­sion be­tween Spain and Cat­alo­nia has es­ca­lated and de-es­ca­lated time to time. The con­flict has arisen from not only po­lit­i­cal in­cen­tives, but also eco­nomic in­ter­ests as Cat­alo­nia is one of the wealth­i­est and most highly in­dus­tri­al­ized re­gions in Spain. Even if Cat­alo­nia is an au­ton­o­mous re­gion and has the right to de­ter­mine its poli­cies on health, ed­u­ca­tion and public or­der, the de­mand of full in­de­pen­dence has come to the fore at var­i­ous times. For in­stance, a self-de­ter­mi­na­tion ref­er­en­dum was held in 2014, in which 80.8 per­cent of vot­ers sup­ported full in­de­pen­dence from Spain. Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy had said that any dis­cus­sion or de­bate on Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence was out of the ques­tion. By the re­jec­tion of the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and con­cerns of in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the U.N. and NATO, as well as the EU, the out­comes of this non-bind­ing and il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum were not im­ple­mented.

De­spite not im­ple­ment­ing the out­come of the 2014 ref­er­en­dum, the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment pro­posed to hold a new in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum to the Cata­lan par­lia­ment, which was a stage of the Dec­la­ra­tion of the Ini­ti­a­tion of the Process of In­de­pen­dence of Cat­alo­nia held in 2015. This de­ci­sion es­ca­lated ten­sion be­tween Spain and Cat­alo­nia once again. The Span­ish gov­ern­ment said that any pos­si­ble de­ci­sions taken by the Cata­lan par­lia­ment would be deemed il­le­gal. In re­la­tion to this at­ti­tude, Span­ish po­lice in­ter­vened to stop the ref­er­en­dum. Hun­dreds of peo­ple were in­jured as a re­sult of this in­ter­ven­tion and am­bi­gu­ity in re­la­tions be­tween the two sides arose again.

While Ra­joy re­jected any dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, he also said that they would not close any door to dia­logue. De­spite that the ten­sions had boiled over after the ref­er­en­dum, the pos­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions func­tioned as a mit­i­gat­ing fac­tor. Even Puigde­mont, who said Cat­alo­nia had the right to be­come an in­de­pen­dent state after the ref­er­en­dum, changed his ap­proach in a short time and sus­pended the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence. How­ever, be­cause of chang­ing in­ter­ests within Span­ish and Cata­lan cir­cles, there are dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios re­gard­ing the fu­ture of Spain.


The state­ments from Ra­joy stress­ing the prob­a­bil­ity of tak­ing the mea­sure of sus­pend­ing Cat­alo­nia's au­ton­o­mous sta­tus if the de­mand of in­de­pen­dence es­ca­lates is one of the prob­a­bil­i­ties in fu­ture re­la­tions be­tween Spain and Cat­alo­nia. Even if some mod­er­ate groups within Span­ish and Cata­lan cir­cles be­have dis­creetly to avoid tak­ing ex­treme de­ci­sions, more rad­i­cal groups on both sides de­mand se­ri­ous ac­tions. Al­bert Rivera, the leader of the Cit­i­zens Party in Span­ish par­lia­ment, has been ask­ing for the ap­pli­ca­tion of Ar­ti­cle 155 of the con­sti­tu­tion, which would al­low sus­pen­sion of Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­omy. In Cat­alo­nia, the far-left sep­a­ratist Cata­lan Pop­u­lar Unity Can­di­dacy (CUP) does not ac­cept any com­pro­mise re­gard­ing in­de­pen­dence. Thus, although mod­er­ate groups try to rec­on­cile the Span­ish and Cata­lan sides, more rad­i­cal groups on both sides seem to be both­ered by pos­si­ble rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Ad­di­tion­ally, both the Span­ish and Cata­lan sides try to max­i­mize their in­ter­ests to re­main ahead of the game. Xavier Pala­cios, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst from Barcelona, has pointed to this pol­icy and said: “The Cata­lan pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to sus­pend the dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence signed in the Cata­lan par­lia­ment is about le­git­imiz­ing his po­si­tion re­gard­ing pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tion vis-a-vis the Span­ish gov­ern­ment. It was a direct mes­sage to the Span­ish gov­ern­ment to ne­go­ti­ate a re-ar­range­ment of the sta­tus of Cat­alo­nia in the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion.” As Pala­cious claims, both sides are ready to take fur­ther steps to take ad­van­tage of the on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion. Es­pe­cially on the Span­ish side, some other op­tions, such as send­ing the mil­i­tary to Cat­alo­nia and can­celling Cata­lan elec­tions are broadly be­ing dis­cussed to re­tain au­thor­ity.

It should be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion that the frus­tra­tion of one of these sides may re­sult in col­lec­tive anger and it has the risk of turn­ing into eth­no­cen­trism. How­ever, dif­fer­ent res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nisms may come to the stage to de­crease ten­sions. In­ter­ven­tion of third par­ties or ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship may be helpful to pro­vide peaceful sta­bi­liza­tion be­tween two sides. A third eye in the form of a coun­try, in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion or non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion could take a part to en­hance re­la­tions be­tween Spain and Cat­alo­nia as hap­pened dur­ing peace talks be­tween the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and the Basque re­gion. One of the most cir­cu­lated op­tions for a third party is the Euro­pean Union, of which Spain has been a mem­ber since 1986. The first state­ments com­ing from the EU about the is­sue ad­vise look­ing for a so­lu­tion with­out the use of force and es­tab­lish­ing ne­go­ti­a­tion chan­nels. Maybe, the EU will be the ac­cel­er­a­tor of es­tab­lish­ment of ne­go­ti­a­tion chan­nels for a res­o­lu­tion in the com­ing days.

Peo­ple with Cata­lan flags gather for a rally in Barcelona, Oct. 10.

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