Overview of the Catalan Political Crisis

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By: Meghan Howard

There was a referendum held in Catalonia on October 1st over whether its territory, including Barcelona, should become independent from Spain. Ever since Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, wherein partial sovereignty was handed back to Catalonia, the degree to which the region should maintain autonomy has been debated. In a referendum on the issue, voter turnout came to be around 40%, with just under 90% in support of independence. The voters were met by military and police staff in a shockingly violent effort to stop the vote from occurring. Over 900 people were injured. The cultural and political divide that Spain and Catalonia have been faced with came to its peak, blurring the future and outlook of the region.

Immediately after the referendum, Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, stated that he would “ask parliament to suspend the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the coming weeks we can undertake a dialogue.” Confusion remained after this speech, however, considering this “declaration of independence” was not necessarily formal, nor legitimate. Nevertheless, without much dialogue between the two governments, divisions worsened following the regional parliament’s sudden vote to officially declare independence from Spain on Friday, October 27th. Less than an hour later, the Spanish National Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, allowing for direct rule over Catalonia; they have called for regional elections in December.

The Catalan argument can be outlined by two main ideas; the first of which being the financial weight the region feels it is bearing without adequate returns. The region is an economic powerhouse, as it encompasses about 16% of the population of Spain, yet generates nearly 20% of the country’s GDP. The region produces one third of Spain’s exports and attracts nearly one third of investment. These facts pertain to the notion that Catalonia may be better off as their own independent nation. However, this is not necessarily the case considering that in order to rejoin the European Union, Catalonia must receive a unanimous “yes” from all EU members, including Spain and its allies. If an independent Catalonia were to be denied entrance, the Catalan economy would face major costs, as the EU accounts for roughly 65.8 percent of Catalan exports.

The second argument feeding the secessionist mindset is the idea that “Catalonia is not Spain”. This is not the first sighting of nationalist sentiments in the region. While many nations have moved steadily toward globalization with shared economic and political interests, there is a shift occurring. There are indications of nationalism threatening post-war security and unity efforts. Doubts regarding the EU have always been present, but they emerged at an increasing rate as the European Debt Crisis showed that the union is not invincible. “In spite of high expectations, the euro does not appear to have been a major factor in building a common European identity over the last 15 years” claims Franz Buscha, Professor of Economics at Westminster Business School.

In spite of these recent trends, many have been backing Madrid’s cause, hoping to prevent potentially major instability. Immediately after the vote for independence, European Council President Donald Tusk, tweeted: “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force.”

There has been an abundance of back-and-forth legal action taken, only working to spiral the situation into further turmoil. There is no doubt that the Catalan leadership acted illegitimately in conducting the independence referendum, or that Spain’s handling of the initial referendum was nearly catastrophic as Madrid turned a blind eye to instances of police brutality during the vote. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hopes that elections in December will calm the “separatist havoc” in the country’s north-eastern region. Hope for a united Europe seems to be an idea continuously threatened by an ever-changing and divided climate. An independent Catalonia, however, seems very unlikely considering how recent events have played out. Results of the elections planned for this upcoming month will hopefully shed some light on what looks to be, thus far, a very uncertain future for both Spain and Catalonia.

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