Reading the Elections in Catalonia: Will This Mean the End of Spain?

Separatist parties are in the majority now ...

Catalonia-Vote-Banner.jpgAlbert Gea/Reuters

In Catalonia, the region of Spain that includes Barcelona, parties seeking independence have won a majority of seats in the regional parliament. I spoke about the outcome with Ferran Requejo, a professor of political science at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

What do the regional election results in Catalonia mean in terms of a mandate for a referendum on independence?

The Democracy ReportThe referendum issue was the most important issue that was at stake in this election. The final results show that parties which backed this process to call for a referendum are a stable majority. They have 87 MPs out of 135. That means that 64.4 percent of the Catalan MPs support [the idea] that the government must call for a referendum for a potential Catalan independent state within Europe.

But the loser within this election has been the main Catalan political party, which is called Convergencia i Unio [Convergence and Union]. They have lost 12 seats -- from 62 to 50. And that means that [Catalonian President Artur Mas and] the leadership of this secessionist party has been weakened.

Can the parties which favor an independence referendum put aside their differences on other issues long enough to form a government and call for an independence referendum?

Now the most probable outcome is that the new government must be a coalition government of Convergencia i Unio as the first party plus a second party -- and they can choose between three parties. Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya [Republican Left of Catalonia], which is a leftist and independent party, is the most probable coalition [partner]. That is, a coalition between the first and second political parties. And they probably will maintain the objective to call for a referendum within the next four years.

What are the legal issues in Spain that make it complicated for Catalonia's regional parliament to call a referendum on independence?

To call for a referendum, a secessionist referendum, in Spain is illegal. It is against the constitutional framework. [But] there is a way according to the Spanish rules -- the Catalan parliament and the Catalan government must ask permission from the central power -- the president of the Spanish government [Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy] -- to call for this referendum. But probably the answer will be "No, this is illegal; this is impossible."

A second way is that the Catalan parliament approves a new law calling for a referendum. But if they do that, immediately the central government in Madrid will appeal to the Constitutional Court and the Constitutional Court will say, "No. This is illegal."

Then the way the Catalan government has is to go to the international framework -- mainly to the European Union but also to the United Nations and the Council of Europe -- in order to say, "Look, there is a clear demand of the Catalan population which is peaceful, which is democratic, which is pro-European. And under the Spanish state, the way is completely closed. What should we do to demand and to claim a transnational legal framework with international observers and to implement this referendum in the next four years with this legal international framework?"

Do these legal complications make a referendum on independence less likely for Catalonia?

It is less likely if we look at this issue from the Spanish side. The Spanish side says, "Look, the main political leader who supported this referendum has been weakened because he has lost 12 seats." But looking at the same issue, the Catalan side says: "Look, we have a clear majority to call for this referendum because 64 percent of our representatives are in favor of that. Only 30-something percent is against that." Here there is tension. Probably, this issue will be permanent and with more intensive tension in the years to come.

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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Ron Synovitz is a correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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