The political situation in Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia is set to become significantly more intense over the coming days. On October 1, Catalonia held its referendum on independence. Now that a result has been confirmed, an intense power struggle between Barcelona and Madrid may very well ensue.
The vote itself was fraught with controversy. Many, including Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, called the vote “illegal.”
In places, the police response was overwhelming. Access to polling locations was heavily restricted, and protesters clashed violently with authorities tasked with crippling the referendum process. Just under half of Catalans were able to participate in the vote which resulted in an approximately 90% “yes” answer in favor of independence.
The independence declaration, which Puidgemont signed on Tuesday, has been temporarily suspended, providing for negotiations with the federal government. Speaking to the Catalan parliament on Tuesday, he asserted Catalonia’s right to independence and said that communication would be absolutely necessary in evaluating the prospects for a cooperative future with Madrid.
Prime minister Rajoy has asserted that there is little hope of an external mediation of this conflict being successful as the root of the problem is a fundamental violation of established law and order. He stated on Wednesday that, “It falls to the Catalan leader to restore constitutional normality.”
Puidgemont has until Monday to confirm whether or not he has actually declared independence. If he does confirm this he will then have an additional three days to renounce the declaration. If he does not elect to withdraw it, then things could become far more uncertain for Catalonia.
At that point, the government could proceed along the pathway provided by article 155 of the 1978 Spanish constitution, which reads (in English):
“If a Self-governing Community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the Government, […] may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the Senate, take all measures necessary to compel the Community to meet said obligations, or to protect the abovementioned general interest.”
This means that the Spanish federal government could revoke Catalan autonomy and subject it to direct control. There is no past precedent for the employment article 155, but one can assume that this would not preclude its use.
There are indications, even in the eventuality that Puidgemnont leaves the question of the declaration unanswered, that other separatist parties would then declare independence anyway. Keeping this in mind, let’s say that the outcome of this process is likely to be closer to a decision in favor of independence than the other way around.
There are several ways that the Spanish government could go about handling the precarious situation in Catalonia, which vary greatly by degree of severity. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, the region could eventually be subject to martial law. If a more ambiguous result were to come about, the federal response could also vary from increased efforts at granting further autonomy to increased efforts at reigning Catalonia in.
There is no doubt that many will be watching these next few days with great interest. With a firm declaration of independence on the horizon, Catalonians must certainly be apprehensive about the future.