On the night of January 10, 2016, history was made here in Catalonia. The regional parliament elected Carles Puigdemont as First Minister of the government. Puigdemont has the goal of separating Catalonia from Spain and establishing a new Republic. As he put it: "Visca Catalunya lliure!" (Long live free Catalonia!) Interesting times for us here in Girona!
Catalonia has long had a strong urge to separate from Spain, and the independence movement has grown in recent years to become a huge political force. There is a long history of Catalonia enjoying and losing its autonomy, and the memory is very strong here. This blog post isn’t the place to recount all the history, but during the Franco era (1936-1975), Catalonia was treated very badly in retaliation for its fervent anti-Franco stance during the Civil War. For example, you could be punished for speaking Catalan (the native language of the region) in public. The current conservative central government in Madrid appears to have similar views. Although it has not taken such draconian steps as outlawing the language, it has been eroding the primacy of Catalan in schools and refused to negotiate any changes in the tax status.
In the September 27 regional Catalan election, the vote went in favor of separation, with one party, the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) winning a plurality and the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) taking a number of seats. Junts pel Sí wanted to negotiate a separation from Spain over the coming year and CUP wants out NOW! Working together, they would form a majority in the regional parliament.
In November the Catalan parliament passed a declaration of intent to become Independent, which the central government promptly declared null and void.
After an extended battle between Junts pel Sí and CUP over who would be First Minister, they got together on January 10 and elected Carles Puigdemont, the current mayor of Girona, who promptly set the wheels in motion to carry out the provisions of the November declaration.
Here is a bullet list (from my perspective) of issues that may play into the coming battles:
- Catalonia generates between 20% and 25% of the GNP of Spain. Without the revenue from Catalonia it appears likely that Spain would follow the way of Greece into bankruptcy, creating another failed state for the European Union to deal with.
- Each of the present EU members has the right to veto any new EU members. Spain might veto Catalonia’s application for membership if the new state would not automatically have membership.
- The present national government has refused to talk with Catalonia about any of its pressing concerns, much less negotiate or discuss separation.
- The Spanish national government is in a state of disarray following the recent elections, which stripped the ruling party (the PP) of its majority and generated a situation where a new election may need to be called. The interim government is currently led by Mariano Rajoy, who was the previous president, and who is intransigent in his dealings with Catalonia. Last year, he declared it illegal for Catalans to hold an opinion poll re independence.
- It appears to me that declaring the acts of the present Catalan Parliament null and void does nothing to stop them from continuing to act. Bringing in troops to arrest the government leaders of Catalonia would generate a fire storm of opposition in the region and beyond. These are, after all, duly elected representatives of the people who voted for them, and they stated their positions in favor of independence quite clearly.
- The Basque region has long wanted out of Spain and might follow Catalonia, leaving Spain in even more difficulty and effectively cutting it off from the rest of Europe.
As I said at the beginning: interesting times! Expect follow-ups from time to time.