(Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, image courtesty of Wikimedia Commons.)
After Catalan President Carles Puigdemont confusingly equivocated on Catalonia’s independence, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy requested clarification. Rajoy demanded the Catalan government make it clear whether it will declare independence or back down within the next 5 days.
If Puigdemont’s government declares independence, then the Spanish government will try to seize control of Catalonia and maybe even try Puigdemont for rebellion. To do this the Spanish government will need to enforce article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which could take a few weeks – according to analysis at Bloomberg. Then Rajoy and his government will have to contend with the Catalans themselves.
Puigdemont’s Catalan government is not in a much better position, according to analysis by Jack Salmon. Puigdemont successfully held a referendum on Catalan independence in spite of the Spanish government trying to shut it down. The vote came out 90 percent in favor of independence — according to Catalan leaders — with a turnout of half the province’s eligible voters.
Still, not everyone in Catalonia wants independence –- as indicated by large anti-independence protests in the region. Even if the whole province did, it would be tough to fight against the Spanish government. Right now, both the left and the right in Spain are unified against Catalan independence and International allies are few.
Instead of declaring independence outright, Puigdemont and Catalonia’s government wrote a charter of independence, but chose to delay implementing it. Puigdemont wants more time to generate international pressure to force a negotiation between Catalonia and Spain. Spain refuses any such negotiations. Prime Minister Rajoy has repeatedly stressed that Catalonia’s action in holding a referendum was unconstitutional and therefore unlawful. Rajoy’s straightforward approach is that Catalan independence is illegal and out of the question.
Rajoy is in the stronger position and may push Puigdemont and Catalonia’s pro-independence political wing into a corner with the deadline. In some ways Spain’s response gets ahead of the crisis before it can escalate internationally. The Spanish government may also be hoping to stem Catalonia’s desires for independence to avoid the violence seen in the Basque province. A Basque separatist group called the ETA waged a violent campaign for independence until 2011. While coming down on Catalonia might stop independence in the short term, it might hurt the country in the long term.
By declaring the referendum illegal, the Spanish government forbade Catalonia to even ask for independence. During the referendum vote, violence between Spanish police and Catalan voters broke out. Catalans feels discontent, making the region ripe for riot. If Puigdemont does declare independence and Rajoy takes control of the region, there could be serious civil strife. Even if Rajoy and Spain win in the short term, the regional frustrations they feed might not be worth it.