by Christopher Jones
The Spanish region of Catalonia has long demanded its independence. After decades of chafing with the Spanish parliament, a proposal for a referendum on Catalonian independence was finally approved by the regional government in September and took place on October 1st. With a turnout of 42% (2.26 million), the vote leaned almost entirely in favour of independence, with 91% of voters voting ‘Si’.
The Spanish government however, has deemed the referendum void after citing the Spanish Constitution, which rules any vote on independence by a Spanish state without the government’s consent, illegal. No permission was given and the result was mass voter suppression on the day of the referendum.
After the Mossos d’Esquadra – Catalonia’s autonomous police force – failed to shut down polling stations, the National Police Corps intervened; 839 civilians and 431 officers were injured in the resulting violence. The Mossos d’Esquadra are being investigated by the Spanish government for disobedience, while Spain itself is being urged by the UN to investigate the acts of violence that occurred on the day of the vote. European Council president Donald Tusk urged the Spanish government to avoid any further violence.
In Barcelona, the region’s capital and political centre, 15,000 protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the city’s police force chanting “Independence”. Several of Barcelona’s labour unions support the strike, urging its members to continue protesting. Several schools and universities have shut down in protest, as has FC Barcelona, which said it would close its headquarters and cease training of its professional and youth teams.
Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont has said the region will officially declare its independence 48 hours after the referendum result. This statement was made despite King Felipe VI’s declaration that Catalonian voters acted “outside the law”. He also stressed the importance of Spanish unity.
French president Emmanuel Macron has reportedly offered his support to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. According to a Presidential source, Macron underlined his belief in “Spain’s constitutional unity.” At the time of writing, the EU has yet to make an official statement regarding the referendum. This silence will be broken on October 4th however, when it plans to debate the validity of the vote. Catalonian officials have made clear their desire to remain a part of the EU if they are granted independence.
If Catalonian independence does occur, it will be a major blow to Spain’s economic standing. Catalonia may cover only 6.3% of Spanish territory, but its importance is disproportionate to its size. Accounting for 16% of Spain’s population, more than one fifth of its GDP, over a quarter of its exports, and attracting more than one quarter of foreign investment, Catalonia is an economically powerful region whose £191bn economy is larger than most countries in the EU.
The Spanish government has ruled out any form of negotiation. Assuming Catalonia doesn’t concede, Article 155 will likely come into play. The article, never used before, allows the government to take control of an autonomous region. If this happens, more violence is almost a guarantee.