But what would any mediation with the Spanish state achieve for Catalonia, a region that already enjoys broad autonomy? What space is there between independence and the status Catalonia already has?
Peter Ceretti, an analyst for Spain and Portugal at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told me it’s highly unlikely there will be any talks between the two sides soon in the first place. “Mariano Rajoy, up to this point, has ceded nothing and has been unwilling to negotiate with the nationalist camp,” he said, adding that, in his view, any dialogue is likely only after the next Spanish election (scheduled for 2020) or after the realignment of of political forces at the national level.
“If there were eventually to be a negotiation with the central government … I think what the Catalans would be angling for would be some of the things that were written into their regional statute in 2006 that were then modified by the Constitutional Court,” he said.
Ceretti was referring to a decision in 2010 by the country’s Constitutional Court, which, among other things, struck down attempts in 2006 to place the Catalan language above Spanish in Catalonia, and diluted references to “Catalonia as a nation.” Catalonia has previously also called for some sort of fiscal arrangement with Madrid, of the kind enjoyed by the Basque country and Navarre. Both these regions collect their own revenue and give a negotiated share to the central government, unlike Catalonia, where Madrid controls tax revenue. Catalan leaders also want some sort of binding referendum that the government in Madrid agrees to—like the one the one conducted by Scotland in 2014 with London’s blessing. Madrid does not recognize Catalonia’s recent referendum, which the Spanish Constitutional Court declared invalid before it was held.
But, Ceretti pointed out: “All of these things are very difficult to sell at this point. What they [the Catalans] are most likely to get, if negotiation does ensue at some point in the near future, is a better fiscal settlement and perhaps some flexibility on linguistic privileges, and the recognition of the Catalan nation, but a binding referendum is a hard sell.”
But none of these steps are provided for in the Spanish constitution, so any such compromise would have to be accompanied by constitutional amendments. This means, Ceretti said, that “there would have to be a very broad consensus on these things among parties at the national level. And that just doesn’t seem to be there.”
Spain has left open the door to a compromise, however, saying it might be open to adopting the kinds of fiscal reforms—of the kind enjoyed by the Basque country and Navarre—that it rejected in 2012, as the country was trying to recover from the global financial crisis.
“Catalonia already has a great deal of autonomy, but we could talk about a reform of the funding system and other issues,” Luis de Guindos, Spain’s economy minister, told the Financial Times. He added: “In 2012 it was in the middle of the crisis and our focus was on avoiding a bailout of Spain … but now the situation has changed, we have more fiscal space, we have a recovery, and that opens new opportunities for discussion.”