Robert Harneis –TDO- The government of Catalonia capital Barcelona, has raised tensions within Spain by announcing that if successful in the referendum planned for October 1, independence could be declared in two days.
Carles Puigdemont, President of the Generalitat, the government of Catalonia said that the referendum “would not be a train crash” and that no action of the Spanish state would stop the will of the Catalan people. He made the statement whilst passing the statute that sets up the referendum for October 1.
Not surprisingly the Spanish government does not agree and has stated firmly that the holding of such a referendum is ‘illegal’ and unconstitutional. Section 2 of the Preliminary title of the Spanish constitution begins ‘The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards…’.
This will not be the first such referendum. Whilst it can never be ‘legal’ under the Spanish constitution, it could have a certain legitimacy if there were to be a high percentage turn out. In 2014 80.8% voted for independence but only 37% of the electorate chose to vote.
Catalonia is the richest province in Spain and is economically dynamic. Much of the pressure for independence comes from complaints about the province’s taxes being transferred to poorer areas of Spain. There is also resentment at the insistence of the Central government that children be taught in Spanish not Catalan.
The independence movement gained momentum when in 2015 a unity government with 48% of the vote in favor of independence came to power in Catalonia. The President of Catalonia has admitted that the Spanish government will try to obstruct the holding of the vote but says that he is confident that Spain will not resort to war to prevent secession. It is not just the government he has to worry about. In 2012 a retired army colonel said that such a move would be treason and warned "not to wake up the lion, as it has already given enough proof of its ferocity" adding "This is clearly an act of treason as set out in the Spanish penal code.”
There is a natural link between the independence movement in Catalonia and that in Scotland. Despite pressure from Scottish National Party members for Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon to recognize the referendum, she has to be careful. Spain has only just withdrawn its blanket ban on any idea of a newly independent Scotland joining the EU. If provoked it could reimpose it and any idea of Scottish independence would disappear for the foreseeable future.
France, Catalonia’s northern neighbor, is also treading carefully and President Macron has made it clear that the issue is ‘entirely an internal Spanish matter,’ although it is a secret to no one that the French government does not favor independence. The European Commission has also adopted a low profile pointing out that a newly independent Catalonia would automatically leave the EU
As with Scotland, the best remedy for the demands for independence is to generate a return to economic prosperity across Spain but that is just what is so difficult for countries in the Eurozone as presently constituted. Unemployment is falling but is still very high at 18.4%. In 2013 youth unemployment hit an abysmal all-time record of 56.10%.