Despite the claim by the Spanish deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría that “they can announce that they are going to hold this referendum as many times as they like and postpone it as many weeks as they like and organise as many events as they like, but that referendum is not going to take place”, it now looks increasing likely that the local Catalan government will announce an October referendum on independence from Spain. But what will the consequences be for the region if independence is pursued vigorously?
To the outside eye, seeking information on the current situation in Catalonia, one would think that the call for independence from Spain is a large one, but that is not really the case. Recent polls suggest that the region is split down the middle and is in a constant state of swing by a small percentage depending on the response of Madrid. There is no doubt that any form of independence for Catalonia is a major headache for the Spanish government. It is feared that should independence of any form be granted, other areas such as the Basque region will resume their campaign to be independent. There is also the financial mess that would ensue with Catalonia making up almost 19% of Spanish GDP and 16 million taxpayers suddenly leaving the state. Tourism is an enormous factor with one of the most popular travel destinations in Barcelona suddenly becoming the pride of Catalonia and not Spain. And finally, there is also the Barcelona football club not being seen as Spanish anymore. Sporting pride is huge in Spain and the loss of one of the most successful and profitable football clubs in history would be a real embarrassment for Spain’s prestige abroad.
An uncomfortable campaign ahead
Nevertheless, the local Catalan government, led by Carles Puigdemont and his European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), is ignoring all hard lines by the Spanish government and lining up for a referendum in October of this year. The PDeCAT have support from the pro-independence Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition that governs Catalonia and it claims that it has a mandate to instigate an independence “roadmap”. And with the help of the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), the coalition has decided to announce that it will be promising a yes/no vote. Madrid will see this move as completely unconstitutional and will attempt to make life as uncomfortable for the local government as possible, even going as far as to call regional elections in a bid to disrupt the current collation’s make up in Parliament.
Mr. Puigdemont stood on the steps of the regional government palace this week and revealed the referendum question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?” His call is simple, but his ideas on how it will be implement are not so clear. Mr. Puigdemont wants a Scotland style referendum, but Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has so far refused to discuss any terms, describing the plan as “a serious threat to coexistence and constitutional order”.
So unless both sides agree to some kind of talks, it seems to be the case that any referendum will be nothing more than an unofficial show of hands, but that fact remains that this issue will not go away. There has to be some sort of compromise otherwise there is the fear that if pro-independence citizens are continuing to be ignored, there could be an escalation of anti-government sentiment leading to civil disobedience or worse.
Hoping it goes away
Madrid can only bury its head in the sand for so long – the idea of the current Spanish state arrangement is not a guaranteed one, and this has been an arrangement born out of a call for unity after almost 40 years of dictatorship under the Franco regime. It needs to face the fact that if the referendum was legitimate, then there really could be a genuine desire for independence. It seems that there are many who will not voice their opinion, because there is no legal status to it. But if given that status, then we could see a different picture emerge. The call for independence is a deep and complex one and my fellow Europa United writer, Jose A Macedo took a concise look at the reasons behind the emerging modern day Independence calls in Europe which you can read here and it is indeed a subject that will no doubt become a more common issue in Europe as we bend barriers and make it easier for emerging states to function independently. The European Union will also be a deciding factor in the condition of an independent Catalonia and the Catalans must decide on either becoming a member or function as an associated state. There has been no clear decision on the future of emerging Independence states arising out of current EU members and while the official line is that all potential members must follow the same application path, the call for special status of regions in Europe that wish to be independent from current member states cannot be pushed aside or ignored.
But whatever the position of both sides in Spain, the question needs to be answered officially, once and for all.