While London and Edinburgh signed an agreement on Monday (15 October) allowing Scotland to hold a referendum on independence within the next two years, Barcelona said it might look for international help in order to convince Madrid to allow Catalonia to hold their own referendum on independence.
A month ago, Barcelona faced the biggest independence rally ever with one and a half million people on the streets calling for independence from Spain. The following week, talks on a new fiscal agreement between the Mediterranean region and the conservative government in Madrid broke down, leading to the President of Catalonia, Artur Mas, to call for early election on November 25th.
The Catalan parliament then agreed to hold a consultation on independence within the next four years if the majority of lawmakers in the new parliament, following the election, is also in favour of such a consultation. The latest polls show that Mas’ party is set to win with a comfortable majority.
But the response from Madrid has been anything but affectionate on the idea of a consultation on independence, let alone, the potential break-off of the north-eastern region of Spain – one of the most economically productive regions in the country but also heavily indebted at the moment.
According to the Spanish Constitution it is illegal for the autonomous regions to hold a referendum on independence. That is why Mas wants to hold a ‘consultation’ asking something in line of whether the Catalans wants “Catalonia to become a new state within the European Union.”
Spanish President Mariano Rajoy has no intention of authorising such a consultation on independence in Catalonia. The government “will use all the legal instruments at hand to prevent any illegal action,” said Rajoy’s ‘right hand’ in the governing Partido Popular, María Dolores de Cospedal on Monday.
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón went further and warned Mas that he could be committing a crime if he calls for a separatist referendum. “If a person commits an unlawful act … then that person will be held responsible”, he said on Spanish television.
Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo asserted on Tuesday (16 October) that the planned referendum in Scotland cannot be applied to Catalonia. “In Spain it goes against, not only, Spanish law, but also against the European by virtue of the treaty of the European Union,” he said according to Europa Press.
“We have to internationalise the conflict,” Mas said about Madrid’s warnings. If the central government denies Catalonia to hold a consultation on its own future, it would be “a very big problem of democratic legitimacy,” he added.
“We will have to go to Brussels to explain that they don’t even let us consult with the people,” he stated. Mas insists that the Catalan people have the right to decide on their own future.
Brussels, on the other hand, has refused to get involved in the “conflict” that has become increasingly tense in Spain, with every TV show, radio programme and coffee break mentioning the latest comments made on the issue of Catalan independence.
“It is indeed not the role of the Commission to express a position on questions of internal organisation related to constitutional arrangements in the member states,” said Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen on Monday, when asked about the Commission’s view on the possible independence of a region in the European Union.
She added that “the Commission would express its opinion on the legal consequences under EU law” only if, for example, Spain asks the European executive to do so.
One Catalan compared the relation between Madrid and Barcelona of that of a father and his teenage son: The more authoritarian the father becomes, the faster his son packs his bags and leaves home, no matter the cost. The more compassionate the father is, the happier the son is to stay living in the parental home.
But the fact is, that the issue of Catalan independence – or ‘further interdependence with the European Union and also with Spain, but with the instruments of a state on its own’ as President Mas likes to put it – is taking a lot of attention away from the core issue of the Spanish economy in crisis. Attention away from the severe cuts Catalonia and Spain as a whole will be facing in the coming months, especially if the Troika arrives in Madrid.