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Unabhängigkeitsbestrebungen in Katalonien
Image: Reuters/A.Gea

Catalonian muscle-flexing

Carlos Delgado / ng
September 27, 2014

The decision to hold a referendum that, at the moment, is unconstitutional, paves the way for an unpredictable and superfluous Catalan adventure spearheaded by provincial leader Artur Mas, writes DW's Carlos Delgado.


In Scotland, nothing has changed but nothing will stay the way it is. Those in favor of independence have lost the battle, but it wasn't in vain, as Westminster has pledged more powers for Holyrood - similar to those Catalonia has already benefited from for several years now.

In fact, the autonomous Spanish province enjoys far more powers than Scotland - Catalonia has its own police force, sets its own education and health policies, and it is the region that receives more funds from Madrid than any other, thanks to a financing model that was agreed on in 2009.

But for those waving the flag of Catalonian separatism, all that still isn't good enough. They argue Catalonia is not part of Spain and never has been, pointing to the difference in language and culture and a long history of repression that they say has tainted relations with Spain for three centuries.

This ideological mindset fuels Catalans' emotions, and there are now more of them than ever before willing to embark on an adventure with a highly unpredictable outcome.

Now it's up to the judges

In Scotland, common sense won over emotions. But Catalonia is not Scotland, much as many are trying to draw lessons from the vote there. While the Scottish referendum was held with London's and Edinburgh's approval, the Spanish constitution does not allow a similar vote in Catalonia.

Carlos Delgado
Carlos Delgado works for DW's Latin America television serviceImage: Privat

It is the main focus of Mariano Rajoy's argument against the vote and the reason for its stubbornness on this issue. Now that Catalonia's regional president, Artur Mas, has passed a decree to call a referendum on November 9, a move approved by the Catalan parliament, which has recently passed the so-called "consultation law," it's time for the judiciary to act.

Rajoy will challenge the law, and the constitutional court will have to decide - but that may not be the end of it.

Mas is no fool

If the judges rule the bill unconstitutional, Mas could decide to call for civil disobedience and hold the referendum illegally - something that hasn't happened in recent Spanish history.

If Mas decides to go through with it, he could even employ Catalonia's very own police force during the vote - against the security forces of the Spanish state. But before this admittedly unlikely and unimaginable scenario kicks in, Mas has one last trick up his sleeve - snap elections in Catalonia!

Fresh elections could strengthen the independence camp and thus place Catalonia in a better negotiating position. But, before that, it looks like Mas is getting out all his torture tools, as he still has a bone to pick with Rajoy.

Fiscal pact the trigger

Two years ago, Rajoy had the chance to take the wind out of the independence camp's sails. At the height of the financial crisis, the Catalan government requested talks about a fiscal pact designed to allow the region to set its own taxes.

But Rajoy's rejection of the plan could not have been more clear. So, Mas was forced to abandon the plan and started to push for independence instead.

There is no doubt that the crisis in Catalonia needs a strong response from Madrid. The Socialist opposition has called on Rajoy to be brave, show leadership and, most importantly, snap out of a state of paralysis.

While November 9 is getting closer, Rajoy only sees one alternative - constitution or chaos. But there is the possibility to negotiate an agreement that would grant Catalonia fiscal sovereignty without having to change the constitution. This is precisely what Catalonian companies, who fear the consequences of independence and a possible exit from the EU, have suggested.

The consequences of separation are unpredictable, not just for Catalonia and Spain, but also for the EU. What didn't happen in Scotland, could happen in Catalonia and other regions.

But the last thing a crisis-stricken Europe needs - as it possibly even faces the next economic downturn - is the fragmentation of its territory.

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