One of the major countries of Europe, Spain has been bracing protests since the independence referendum in Catalonia catapulted the region on a succession path. A population of 7.5 million have been polarised and continue rivalling the many pro-independence rallies that Barcelona has been experiencing. Speculations surface around Catalonia’s announcement of independence. Under the Catalan law, the regional parliament can issue the requisite formal declaration of independence to Catalonia within 2 days of announcement of the referendum results. However, this law is not recognized by Spain.
On October 1, the results from the referendum in the north-eastern region suggested that around 90% of the 2.3 million people supported independence with their votes. With a 43% turn-out, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan leader is expected to take these results to the Parliament and deliver a speech that would be more of a “symbolic statement” instead of a unilateral independence declaration, as disclosed to BBC. It is anticipated that the Catalan parliament could nevertheless choose to vote for independence.
Catalonia enjoys autonomy, but Section 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution allows Madrid to either enforce direct rules in crisis situations or call for new regional elections. The second option could delay the independence drive for some time at least. Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister deployed an additional 4000 national police force to Catalonia much ahead of the referendum to stay on till the crisis continues. Bitterness soared as police lashed out at ordinary citizens, hitting them and pulling them away from polling booths. Though the sordid demonstrations damaged Spain’s international image, one on hand it enhanced support in favour of the Catalan independence movement and on the other, concurrently reflected Madrid’s determination to stand in solidarity against liberation of Catalonia.
The Foreign Affairs Minister of Catalonia told the BBC that parliamentary debate would ensue as planned despite a ruling issued by the Constitutional Court that suspended the session. He deliberated that the possibility of resolving the crisis would be through political means rather than with judicial ones. The Guardian reported that “Madrid’s Constitutional Court had warned that any Catalonian parliamentary session convened in defiance of its order would be regarded as null and that the political leaders could face criminal charges. It’s not the first time that the Catalan government has ignored the Constitutional Court’s rulings, not least its order to suspend the referendum itself.”
CNN reported that Catalonia’s autonomous police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, has neither been able to ensure protection to the Spanish national police from the protestors nor prevented the referendum from going ahead.
The government said that Articles 1 and 2 of the Spanish Constitution preserves principles of national sovereignty and resides among all Spanish nationals and that an alleged right of self-determination by a part of the territory is not indorsed in their Constitution. The authority added that, “in recent weeks, the secessionist defiance promoted by certain institutions in Catalonia has escalated in a way that underscores its authoritarian, arbitrary and antidemocratic nature and its intention to openly contravene the prevailing legal framework.”
What options would Madrid have as Catalonia pushes for independence?
So far Spain has tried maintaining a firm stand by refusing to recognize the votes and negating the referendum as illegal. With support from European leaders, Puigdemont called for mediation with Spain over talks of independence. The Prime Minister of Belgium also tweeted, “Violence can never be the answer!” However, media has been covering the wide-spread brutality that could lead to some contemplation. The Independent reported, “MEPs have already signalled that they won’t intervene in an internal Spanish affair, leaving the ball in Rajoy’s court.”
Some Constitutional Options that could possibly be considered
It is understood that most of the options could be dicey, posing much risk. As reported by the Financial Times news, several analysts foresee that, “Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence could force Madrid to invoke Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which would suspend the autonomy of Catalonia.” Albert Rivera, spoke to the Spanish media and clarified that the clause could be invoked only temporarily to call fresh regional elections, which would enable all the Catalans to vote and not a few of them to represent. The other option includes arresting Catalan politicians. While police already arrested quite a few officials, Spain’s Chief Prosecutor said that more people could be put behind bars on charges of abuse of office, misuse of public funds and civil disobedience.
Choosing greater autonomy could be another option. The Atlantic reported that the independence referendum was caused by the Constitutional Court ruling issues in 2010. During that time the court had declined Barcelona’s attempts to prioritize Catalan language above Spanish predominantly being used in the region. Some flexibility could probably be beneficial in ending the long drawn tension by restoring sovereignty.
Succession: Expected to be one of the most ambitious yet effective options, it would be for Rajoy to grant the demand of Catalans by declaring Catalonia an independent state with immediate effect. However, Catalonia’s hefty public debts do raise questions on whether and how it will survive on its own. As presented by the BBC, the Catalan government owes €77bn which is about 35% of GDP, including €52bn in debt to Madrid. However, the pro-independence politicians of Catalonia have sworn to carry on their struggle till further consolidated measures are taken by the government to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.
Article by Rochita.