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Wednesday, the head of Catalonia’s separatist movement, Carles Puigdemont, reiterated his stance that Catalonia was on the verge of seceding from Spain. In a televised speech, he rejected the fierce criticism made by Spain’s king King Felipe VI the day before, when he decried the independence referendum as illegal, anti-democratic, and as undermining the unity of Catalonians and Spain generally. Puigdemont criticized the monarch for backing the central government and rejecting compromise, and maintained that Catalonia was on track to declaring independence. The parliament’s earlier bill stipulated that it would withdraw from Spain within 48 hours of getting final referendum results approving the split. The Financial Times indicated yesterday that the expected timetable was for an official declaration this week or early next week. Member of Catalonia’s parliament indicate that it would take place shortly after a vote this Monday.
Spain’s constitutional court reaffirmed its position that any moves towards secession were illegal by pre-emptively suspending the Monday parliamentary session in Catalonia. From the Guardian:
Spain’s constitutional court has moved to stop the Catalan government making a unilateral declaration of independence by suspending the regional parliament session in which the results of Sunday’s referendum were due to be discussed.
On Thursday, the court upheld a challenge by Catalonia’s Socialist party – which opposes secession from Spain – ruling that allowing the Catalan parliament to meet on Monday and potentially declare independence would violate the rights of the party’s MPs.
The court warned that any session carried out in defiance of its ban would be “null”, and added that the parliament’s leaders could face criminal action if they ignored the court order.
This ruling gives Rajoy’s government the leeway to bar Catalonia’s parliament from convening Monday and arresting separatist leaders then. Reader Sue had thought earlier that the procedural mechanism for authorizing the crackdown on the separatists would be via having the Spanish Senate invoke Section 155 of Spanish Constitution, where Rajoy’s Popular Party has the votes to pass the measure via the support of Ciudadanos and perhaps the PSOE but I am no longer certain that nicety is necessary.
If the separatists do not back down (and they have signaled they won’t), on Monday, the central government will at some point apply Section 155 to take over the Catalonia government. It will also, either using the Constitutional Court ruling or Section 155, arrest the leaders of the independence movement, declare the secessionist parties to be illegal, and crack down on protestors. The ones who try to interfere in arrests and try to allow passage of legislators to the parliament building will be roughed up the most.
Readers who know the surrounding area in Barcelona are encouraged to pipe up. Supporters are certain to be massed outside the parliament as the vote is set to take place on Monday. It seems likely as before that the local police will stand aside. The Guardia Civil does not seem to believe in finesse. Even so, the number of people who can mass in the square and streets outside the parliament building can’t possibly be as many as wound up clashing with the Guardia Civil during the referendum. In other words, the total number of people injured (and there are guaranteed to be injuries) is likely to be in the dozens, not hundreds. The flip side is that if anyone dies or is very badly hurt, that will push more Catalonians who have been fence-sitting or only weak supporters of independence into a more radical stance.
Major businesses are getting edgy. As reader Frenchguy pointed out on Wednesday, pharmaceutical company Oryzon Genomics SA announced it was leaving Catalonia and would move to Madrid as a result of the referendum. Its share spiked 33% as a result of the announcement before giving up some of its gains.
Seeking to apply more pressure, the Spanish government will announce today that it is relaxing rules allowing companies to move headquarters. From Reuters:
Spain’s government will issue a decree on Friday making it easier for firms to transfer their legal base out of Catalonia, two sources said, in a move that could deal a serious blow to the region’s finances as it considers declaring independence.
The decree is tailor-made for Spanish lender Caixabank, sources familiar with the matter said, as it would make it possible for the bank to transfer its legal and tax base to another location without having to hold a shareholders’ meeting as stated in its statutes.
As reader Sue commented yesterday afternoon:
Huge mistake by PP [Popular Party] Spanish Government! By getting ready to pass/issue a decreto ministerial (law without Congressional approval) to allow Caixabank to bypass a Shareholders Meeting and have directly the Board of Directors to decide on relocating Caixabank’s headquarters from Catalunya to somewhere else in Spain. Catalans are furious: is the PP Government promoting the relocation of corporate headquarters, all staff, all these good jobs( including high management positions) while very soon will be taking over the Catalan Government (applying sect. 155)?
Readers in Catalonia may differ on how much support for independence has increased as a result of Rajoy’s thuggish suppression of the referendum. The solidly neoliberal Financial Times claims a “silent majority” in Catalonia rejects the secessionist movement:
Amid the political drama of the past few days, it is easy to overlook that a clear majority of Catalans did not endorse secession from Spain on Sunday. Of the 2.26m votes cast, 2.02m were in favour of independence, or less than 40 per cent of the Catalan electorate. Neither can the pro-secession camp claim that it is winning converts at the ballot box: the number of people voting — and voting for independence — has been broadly stable since 2014.
“About 3.5m Catalans are not in favour of independence, or at least not in the current way,” says Miquel Iceta, leader of the Catalan Socialist party, which opposes secession. “To get to independence you have to at least get the majority of votes. And the pro-independence parties haven’t got a majority of votes. So why are they trying to impose independence on a majority that doesn’t want it?”
This is clearly overegging the pudding, but a broader point remains true: the results of the referendum don’t provide support for the idea that a majority of citizens supports it. Yes, the Spanish government made getting a true count impossible. But the separatists’ claims of the number of votes they got in favor of an exit don’t stand up either. The voting was chaotic, and none of the measure to prevent duplicate votes were in place.
Even more important, for a secessionist effort to succeed in the face of central government opposition, you need both the support of a solid majority of a public that recognizes and accepts that they will suffer considerable hardship in the process, and considerable preparation. Those critical elements aren’t remotely in place. And as we described in detail in an earlier post, Spain holds trump cards not just via its ability to muster greater physical force, but via being able to shut down much if not all of the payments system in Catalonia if it so chooses.
So Catalonia is about to have what autonomy it has stripped away, apparently to poke a stick in Rajoy’s eye. This may feel good, but it does a great disservice to the bulk of the population. Even though I have no love for Rajoy’s heavy-handed, austerity-lovin’ rule, it’s hard to have any respect for the amateurism of the separatist leaders.
As PlutoniumKunm pointed out in comments:
Historically (in Europe anyway) countries have managed to become independent from a larger state either when the larger State either doesn’t object strongly (e.g. when the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia collapsed, or when Czechoslovakia divided), or then the new nation had a big friend who was able to ease the transition and prevent hostile acts from the ‘parent’ State – for example Ireland, which almost certainly could only have gained independence due to the powerful Irish lobby in the US which prevented London from taking the sort of ruthless approach that could have crushed its emergence.
Due to the constitutional make-up of the EU, which is strongly predicated on the absolute right of the member nation States to veto acts they disapprove of, it is almost impossible for a region within the EU to declare independence without the co-operation of the parent State. This is not of course impossible – it could have happened if Scotland had voted for independence.
But in current circumstances Spain has an effective veto on Catalonian independence, unless the Catalonian people are willing to withstand a complete collapse of their economy. The only possibility is if Spain agrees to independence, or if Spain is forced by external forces to not interfere with a newly emerging Catalonian State. Neither seems very likely.
While I have no time for Rajoy or the Madrid establishment in general, it must also be said that the Catalonian government has simply not done the groundwork to allow for independence. I think Slovenia is a good example of how a new nation can form – in their case by slowly building external friends and internal administrative structures, and taking their opportunity when it arose.
Even though Rajoy’s crackdown will probably hurt him in the long run, if nothing else due to damage to the Spanish economy, it is the Catalonians who are likely to suffer even more. And no one seems predisposed to pull out of a lose-lose situation.