Catalan Separatist Movement: Will Parties Join Together to Pull Away from Spain?
November 28, 2012
By: Katherine Keally | Printer Friendly
On November 25, the Spanish region of Catalonia held parliamentary elections after Catalan President Artur Mas dissolved the region’s parliament in hopes of holding a referendum on Catalan independence. After Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected Mas’s proposal to decrease Catalonia’s tax burden, 1.5 million people protested on September 11, motivating Mas to call elections two years early. Although Catalonia is the country’s wealthiest region, contributing to one fifth of Spain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), many Catalans believe they are paying a disproportionate share of taxes, as their debt has amounted to $54.4 billion USD (out of the $181 billion USD assigned to Spain’s regions) in the wake of the Spanish debt crisis, according to AP.
Catalan’s separatist parties won a clear majority in the election, with a total of 87 of 135 seats going to four parties supporting the referendum. However, the largest Catalan nationalist party, Convergence and Union (CiU), lost 12 seats and will need to form a coalition with another party in order to control the parliament since it does not hold a majority, reported Reuters. The CiU’s decrease from 62 to 50 seats is considered a signal of malcontent with its leader, Mas, who “ask[ed] for an ‘exceptional majority’” in the election to serve as a mandate on the referendum, according to AFP. According to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, Mas interpreted the results of the election as victorious for the independence movement and emphasized that the burden of the Spain’s debt had to be shared: “Others have to be made jointly responsible (...) for the country project and to manage the day to day. It all has to be taken into account: the day to day, the harshness of the situation, and also to give strength to this idea of country.”
The left wing independent and separatist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party doubled its number of seats from 10 to 21 to be the second largest party in parliament, according to Voice of America. The largest party in opposition to the referendum, the Socialist party (PSC), lost eight seats. Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP) and the Catalan Ciutadans, both pro-unity parties, jointly increased their share of seats from 21 to 28, with the PP claiming 19 of those seats. Three other parties took the remaining 25 seats, with two of those parties favoring independence. Ferran Requejo, a professor of political science at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, suggested in an interview with Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that the ERC would be the most likely coalition partner of the CiU, with the two parties likely to uphold the objective of a holding a referendum within four years. Contrary to Requejo’s analysis, Alfred Bosch, a deputy in the national parliament with the ERC, has stated that the ERC would not enter into coalition with the CiU, reported Reuters.
Although separatist parties could form a coalition to hold the majority needed in parliament to support a referendum on independence, to do so would be unconstitutional. According to Requejo, there are three possible ways for a secessionist referendum to be held in Catalonia. First, the Catalan parliament could ask permission from the central government to hold the referendum, a move that would most likely be denied by the prime minister on the grounds that it would be unconstitutional. Second, the Catalan parliament could introduce a new law allowing for the referendum to take place; however, the central government would probably then appeal to the Constitutional Court, which would also reject the law as unconstitutional. The third, and most plausible, way for the referendum to be held would be for the Catalan government to appeal to the international community, in the form of the European Union (EU) or United Nations (UN), under the grounds that Spain is denying the people of Catalan the legal means necessary to hold a referendum despite their peaceful, democratic, and pro-EU nature. Requejo pointed out that although Mas’s power was weakened through the election, the strength of the pro-independence parties has increased to a clear majority. “Probably, this issue will be permanent and with more intensive tension in the years to come,” Requejo predicted.
The Catalan region is composed of 7.5 million people, with its own language and an identity “distinct from the rest of Spain,” according to Aljazeera. Spain’s 1978 constitution created 17 autonomous regions, giving Catalonia a great deal of autonomy after the end of the Francisco Franco dictatorship. The recent outbreak of pro-independence sentiment in Catalonia is relatively extreme, reported Reuters, even when considering Catalonia’s history of pressing for greater autonomy over tax decisions. Catalonia has asked for $6.5 billion USD from central government this year for debt assistance, and the region believes that there is a $21 billion USD gap between what it pays in taxes and what it receives. Although economic reasons may be the root cause of the secessionist movement, independence for Catalonia may be especially costly should it mean leaving the EU, not to mention that forming a new government is extremely costly in and of itself.
AFP - Catalonia nationhood battle flounders after vote
Aljazeera – Catalonia polls favour nationalist parties
AP – Spain’s Catalonia Punishes Pro-referendum leader
El Comercio - Separatistas ganaron elecciones en Cataluña, según conteo oficial
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty – Explainer: What Do Catalonia's Elections Mean For Independence?
Reuters – UPDATE 2-Separatist parties win Catalonia election in Spain
Voice of America – Nationalists Win Parliamentary Election in Spain's Catalonia