Spain & Catalonia 2017

Written by  //  June 5, 2018  //  Government & Governance, Spain  //  1 Comment

Mariano Rajoy to step down as leader of People’s party
Announcement comes days after he was ousted as Spain’s PM by a vote of no-confidence
The party’s executive committee is due to meet in the next few days to call a conference to elect his successor and begin what Rajoy termed “a new phase”. He will remain in position until his replacement is chosen.
1 June
Sanchez takes charge in Spain as tarnished Rajoy departs
MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish socialist Pedro Sanchez was catapulted to power on Friday, taking over as prime minister from veteran conservative Mariano Rajoy, who lost a no-confidence vote in the wake of a corruption scandal.
Lawmakers stood and cheered in parliament as the untested 46-year-old – a pro-European lawmaker who has never been in government – became the country’s seventh head of state since its return to democracy in the late 1970s.
Rajoy’s departure after six years in office may lead to a spell of political uncertainty in the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, just as the third-largest – Italy – pulls back from early elections.
5 takeaways from the overthrow of Mariano Rajoy
The new prime minister will have an even weaker minority government than his predecessor, but won’t be in a hurry to call elections.
The fall of Rajoy: how Gürtel affair defeated Spain’s great survivor
Deposed PM took his own advice and stayed strong – but in the end he was powerless

2017

21 December
Catalan pro-independence parties keep their majority in snap poll
Result a severe blow to the Spanish government which had hoped the vote would halt the push for secession
Catalonia secessionist parties declare victory in regional elections
(The Guardian) Between them, the three [pro-independence] parties will have enough seats to reassemble the parliamentary majority that put them into office after the 2015 elections if they can agree a new coalition. … The vote …attracted a record turnout of more than 80%, dispelling fears that holding the election on a weekday rather than the usual Sunday would hit turnout.

7-8 November
Catalan leader’s farmhouse pact to make last stand in Brussels
(Reuters) – Twenty-four hours after Spain removed him from power, Catalonia’s leader had resolved to leave the country and take his independence campaign to the heart of the European Union, but first he needed to tie off an important loose end.
Carles Puigdemont’s secessionist alliance was threatening to unravel, with the region’s biggest grass-roots independence organization unhappy about his plan. So he called a meeting of political allies on the eve of his departure for Brussels, according to three sources with first-hand knowledge of the events.
Catalonia: None of Europe’s business
Intervening in Spanish politics undermines foundations of European democracy.
(Politico Europe) …granting more autonomy (or not) to a region — be it Catalonia or the Basque region or any of the other 15 autonomous entities in Spain — should be a decision taken by Spanish voters and their elected representatives.
At its heart, devolution is about the right to raise and keep a portion of taxes. Unlike the Basque region, Catalonia does not raise its own taxes; the central fiscal authority does it and then refunds part of the revenue to Barcelona. The Basque region does the opposite; it raises taxes and then sends a small portion of the revenue back to Madrid. This is clearly a model that could be applied to Catalonia — if the majority of Spanish people wish.
The move would have important fiscal and political implications for Spain. Madrid would have to either break from its austerity budget — a key element of its bargain with the rest of the EU — or increase tax revenues from other parts of Spain. The only two regions that could take on this extra burden are Madrid and Andalusia. The former is Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular stronghold, while the latter is the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party’s (PSOE). To make such a concession to Catalonia, the country’s two main political forces would have to go against their strongest constituencies, a year before the general election. Politically, this would be a stretch.

6 November
Catalonia’s ousted president turned himself over to Belgian authorities.Carles Puigdemont and four former ministers were granted conditional freedom within the country, where they fled after Spain issued an arrest warrant against them. They could face extradition back to Spain to face charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

3 November
European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont
Spanish judge’s move comes day after former members of Catalan cabinet remanded in custody over independence push
(The Guardian) A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s ousted president a day after she jailed eight members of the region’s separatist government pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence.
In the latest twist in Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades, a national court judge on Friday issued a European arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont in response to a request from state prosecutors.
Puigdemont flew to Brussels earlier this week with a handful of his deposed ministers after Spanish authorities removed him and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with the declaration despite repeated warnings that it was illegal.

31 October
Ousted Catalan leader agrees to election, summoned to Madrid court
(Reuters) – Catalonia’s ousted leader Carles Puigdemont agreed on Tuesday to a snap election called by Spain’s central government when it took control of the region to stop it breaking away, but he said the fight for independence would go on.

30 October
How cities succeed while regions try to secede
The interests of cities are never synonymous with the interests of regions and recognizing those differences is critical to long-term economic sustainability and prosperity.
(Brookings) Barcelona is the latest European city to find itself at the epicenter of multiple political fervors and fevers: nationalism, secessionism, and populism.
As this story unfolds, it is important to differentiate the stakes of Barcelona from the broader region of Catalonia.
The city is literally built for global integration and connectivity. Within an area of 3.1 square miles, it boasts an international airport, a sophisticated port, trade fair facilities, the Zona Franca free trade zone and a major logistics platform. The city hosted around 51 million air passengers in 2014, ranking 34th among 123 global cities. It consistently ranks high on key metrics of global competitiveness, including foreign direct investment, higher education attainment, and knowledge intensive employment.
Barcelona, in short, is driving Catalonia and is one of Spain’s greatest assets. But history tells us that even a flirtation with regional secession can have real costs.

27-29 October
Cleo Paskal: Catalan crisis tests EU’s limits
(Sunday Guardian) Response from the EU has been subdued. President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk tweeted: “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force.”
However, the EU has quietly pointed out that if Catalonia goes independent, it will no longer be a member of the EU. But it hasn’t explicitly said what this means. It hasn’t said Catalonia will have to put in hard borders on its frontiers with Spain, Andorra and France. That the port of Barcelona will need an entirely new set of security procedures and will be outside the customs union. That Catalonia will have to assume some of the Spanish debt and due to the EU. That Catalans will need visas to visit their neighbours. That they will have to get their own currency. That they won’t even have WTO tariffs to fall back on for trade, because they aren’t members of the WTO. …
An independent Catalonia will have to negotiate from scratch membership in the World Bank, WTO, United Nations, Interpol, etc. All while dealing with a resentful Spain on the other side of the negotiating table. Meanwhile, many other states will also have to play hardball in dealing with Catalonia because of concerns a Catalan success will spur separatist movements in other parts of the EU (Flanders, Lombardy, Basques, etc.) and further afield (Quebec, New Caledonia, Bougainville, even Kashmir).
The Catalan Martyr vs. the Spanish Strongman
The big loser is the people of Spain, including the majority of Catalans, who throughout this ordeal have consistently called for the one thing that neither martyrs nor strongmen are particularly good at: dialogue and compromise.
By Omar G. Encarnación
(NYT Op-ed) The drama between the Spanish government in Madrid and the pro-independence government in Catalonia, which reached a new stage of tension Friday when the separatist government in Barcelona declared independence, has featured two characters familiar to students of Spanish politics: the martyr and the strongman.
Carles Puigdemont, who was until Friday the Catalan government’s president, has suggestively cast himself in the role of the martyr. In the weeks since the Oct. 1 referendum, in which some 90 percent of voters chose independence, Mr. Puigdemont has portrayed himself as the victim of a villainous Madrid administration. Never mind that the referendum was unconstitutional and that only 41.5 percent of those eligible to vote bothered to do so.
For his part, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is acting as the keeper of the rule of law and the protector of the homeland, a role reminiscent of a long line of autocratic figures (the so-called Caudillos) in Spanish history, most notably Franco himself, who ruled with an iron fist from 1939 until his death in 1975.
What makes Catalonia so different from Spain? A lot.
(Quartz) After scenes of jubilation on the streets of the Catalan capital Barcelona yesterday, the stage is now set for major tensions as Madrid starts to take back control of the region. Catalonia’s fiercely independent people won’t be ready to give in easily—their struggle for independence is centuries old, and complex. (The BBC has a handy timeline, dating back to the 9th century)
But what makes Catalonia so different from Spain anyway? We’ve taken a look at a few of the aspects of the region that make it unique, from its language, to its pioneering achievements in art, architecture, gastronomy—and human towers.
Catalan leaders removed, Spain asserts control over breakaway region
(WaPost) Spain on Saturday began to assert control over Catalonia, sacking the region’s president, ministers, diplomats, police chiefs and transferring all authority to the central government in Madrid.
But it was an open question as to who was really in charge of the breakaway “Republic of Catalonia” in the hours after a divided Catalan Parliament declared independence.

26 October
Catalan independence declaration tips Spain deeper into crisis
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy takes direct control of region, dissolves assembly and calls election.
By Diego Torres
(POLITICO eu) — Spain descended into to a full-scale constitutional crisis on Friday after the Catalan parliament declared independence and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by dissolving the region’s assembly, firing its Cabinet and calling an election there for December 21.
With major nations coming out quickly in support of Madrid and Rajoy getting ready to take control of the northeastern region, the newly-declared Catalan republic looked set to be extremely shortlived, yet its proclamation presented Spain’s democracy with its gravest challenge of the past four decades.

25 October
Catalan VP says Spain ‘gives us no option’ but to secede
By Aritz Parra |
(AP via WaPost) Spanish authorities are leaving separatists in Catalonia with “no other option” but to push ahead with declaring independence for the wealthy northeastern region, its vice president said Wednesday.
Spain has announced plans to fire Catalonia’s government and directly manage its affairs after it held an independence vote that was declared illegal by the country’s constitutional court.
He said he was speaking only on behalf of his Republican Left party and not for the regional government. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is to address regional lawmakers in parliament Thursday evening.

24 October
On Paper, Spain Is Ready for Showdown With Catalonia
The constitution allows the government to act when a region goes rogue. The question is whether the fallout can be contained.
(Bloomberg) Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is playing with fire. Over the weekend, he announced he would invoke a never-used provision of the Spanish constitution to remove the elected leaders of Catalonia from office because of their support for Catalan independence.

18 October
Catalonia: Spain’s top court rules referendum illegal as Catalan leaders double down
Spain’s top court has officially ruled that Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum was illegal because a regional law that backed it was against the country’s constitution.
Key points:
Spain’s Constitutional Court said the referendum was unconstitutional
Catalan leaders have been given until Thursday to renounce independence
A spokesman said leaders will not be “giving in” to Spain
In its ruling on Tuesday, the court said the law was against national sovereignty and the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation” — the court said the parliamentary session that approved the law also violated the country’s constitution.
Catalan leaders also refused on Tuesday to bow to the Spanish Government’s demand that it renounce a symbolic declaration of independence, setting it on a political collision course with Madrid later this week.

11 October
Catalonia baulks at formal independence declaration to allow talks
(Reuters) – Catalonia’s leader balked at making a formal declaration of independence from Spain on Tuesday, calling for talks with Madrid over the region’s future in a gesture that eased fears of immediate unrest in the heart of the euro zone.

8 October
Mariano Rajoy: Spain won’t rule out ‘drastic solutions’ on Catalonia
Catalonian independence ‘will not happen,’ prime minister says.
(Politico eu) The Spanish government will do everything in its power to prevent Catalonia from seceding from Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told El País in an interview published late on Saturday.
“We are going to prevent independence from occurring … I can tell you with absolute frankness that it will not happen,” Rajoy said.
Catalonia: hundreds of thousands join anti-independence rally in Barcelona
Police say 350,000 have protested against regional government’s separatist course, but organisers say 930,000 joined in
The march, whose slogan is “Let’s recover our common sense”, was intended to call for a new phase of dialogue with the rest of Spain and featured such luminaries as the Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and Josep Borrell, former president of the European parliament.
Societat Civil Catalana said more than 1 million people had taken part, but Barcelona police put the turnout at 350,000.
Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is under growing pressure to stop short of declaring independence. The political uncertainty has already led some businesses – including Spain’s third-largest bank – to move their bases from Catalonia.

6 October
An uncertain future for an independent Catalonia
With an independence declaration looking likely, Lucía Benavides reports from Barcelona on the long history of Catalan repression, what’s at stake for the region and why Europe has been mostly quiet on the issue.
(Open Canada) Much to the Spanish government’s disapproval, 2.4 million people turned out to vote in last Sunday’s referendum — 43 percent of eligible voters. According to Catalan officials the “Yes” won with an overwhelming 90 percent, despite attempts by Spanish police to shut down polling stations and block the vote.
Sunday night, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy went on national television to announce that the referendum had not taken place.
Hours later, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont also appeared on television, speaking in both Catalan and Spanish, and announced that Catalans had won the right to independence. He is scheduled to make an official announcement on Oct. 9, when the Catalan government is expected to declare independence. (Despite a Spanish court order Thursday for a temporary suspension of the meeting, the regional government said Friday the session will still be held.)
But the fight for independence goes back much further than events this week — further, even, than the last few years of heightened separatist sentiments within the region. And the implications of the separation, if it goes ahead, could be felt around the world.

Madrid’s violent tactics will only push Catalans towards independence
In Spain national unity is elevated in an almost spiritual way. The slightest concession is treated as a betrayal
By
(The Spectator) Last Sunday’s violence will push Catalans towards independence. Public opinion in the rest of Spain, as much as the letter of the law, won’t allow Madrid to move. What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Catalonia issues a UDI; Madrid imposes direct rule and cuts off the Generalitat’s funding; the Generalitat rushes to put a tax system in place; the stock exchange collapses and the euro crisis is back with a vengeance. Brexit may soon be the least of the EU’s problems.

5 October

It is not too late to stop the break-up of Spain
To avoid calamity, ask Catalans what they really want
(The Economist print edition Oct 7) If [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy thought that cracking heads would put a stop to secessionism, he could not have been more wrong. He has only created a stand-off that has energised his enemies and shocked his friends (see article). On October 3rd Catalonia, one of Spain’s richest regions, was paralysed by a protest strike. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have marched to express their outrage.
Secession would be a disaster for Spain. The country would lose its second city and risk the further loss of the Basque region. Secession would also hurt Catalans, which is why a majority of them probably oppose it. And Catalan independence might stir up separatism elsewhere in Europe—in Scotland again, no doubt, but also in northern Italy, in Corsica, perhaps even in Bavaria. To prevent the crisis deepening, both sides need to seek a new constitutional settlement. Instead, they are digging in and Catalonia is on the brink of unilaterally—and illegally—declaring independence.
… the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, does not have a strong case for independence. Nor can he claim a real mandate. He rammed the laws authorising the referendum through the Catalan parliament with a narrow majority and without proper debate. Those laws have no formal legal standing. Before his referendum, opinion polls suggested that only 40-45% of Catalans wanted to break away. The 90% vote to leave was 90% of an unregistered turnout of well under half, because Catalonia’s Remainers mostly declined to take part. As with populists elsewhere, Mr Puigdemont has offered a simplistic vision, without explaining the costs of independence or how it might come about.
But that is not the end of the story. Democracy rests on the consent of the governed. Even some who disagree with Mr Puigdemont’s methods believe Catalonia has a case for nationhood. It could survive economically. A lot of its people think it constitutes a nation. Under autonomy, Catalan leaders have promoted their language and their nationalist creed.
Only a negotiation can restore calm and it should start immediately. Even now most Catalans can probably still be won over with the offer of greater autonomy, including the power to raise and keep more of their own taxes, more protection for the Catalan language and some kind of recognition of the Catalans as a “nation”. Mr Rajoy might even take up the opposition Socialists’ idea of turning Spain into a federal state.
Any settlement, though, must include the option of a referendum on independence. Separation would be a wrenching change for Catalonia and the rest of Spain, so should not be done lightly. A majority of Catalans eligible to vote should be the minimum threshold for independence. A follow-up vote on the terms of a separation might be wise, too.

4 October
Spanish king’s authority at stake in Catalonia
(AFP) It was a king’s speech that left many Catalans dismayed — no mention of those hurt in police violence when they tried to vote in a banned weekend independence referendum, no mention of dialogue.
Instead, Spain’s King Felipe VI sided squarely with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government on Tuesday evening as he addressed the nation over an escalating crisis between Catalan separatist leaders and Madrid.
And with his camp clearly chosen, analysts said the head of state paved the way for Madrid to apply drastic measures to slow down Catalonia’s independence drive — risking his very monarchy in the process.
Felipe VI came down hard on Catalan authorities, which organised Sunday’s referendum on independence even after they had been told by Madrid they could not go ahead with a vote deemed unconstitutional.
Accusing them of “disloyalty” and being “completely on the margins of law and democracy“, the king said that state had to “ensure constitutional order”.

2 October
Commentary: Spain’s missteps supercharge the Catalonia crisis
(Reuters) If Spanish authorities hoped strong-arm tactics against the referendum independence for Catalonia would nip nationalist feeling in the bud, they will almost certainly be proved badly wrong. Sunday’s footage of violent police action against unarmed demonstrators may prove just the catalyst pro-independence groups wanted, handing Europe yet another crisis when it needed it least.
Ironically, the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would have done better to simply ignore the non-binding referendum. It was always likely to produce a vote for independence, if only because those who favored it were far more likely to vote. Broader opinion polls conducted before the weekend ballot never showed majority support for independence, and most estimates suggest it has been ebbing steadily since 2013 to around 40 percent.
The scale of the violence this weekend and the brutality of the national police attempts to stop the ballot – almost 900 injured, according to local authorities – has changed everything. While the referendum was expected to be a polarizing event, the Spanish authorities have now effectively guaranteed it will be seen as a defining moment not just for Catalonia but the country at large. It would be astounding if it did not yield a substantial spike in separatist feeling. In a single day, the Rajoy government may have taken what should have been a manageable issue and escalated it into an existential challenge for Spain.
Brussels says Catalan referendum was ‘not legal’
The EU repeats its position that Catalan independence is ‘an internal matter.’
(Politico eu) Sunday’s Catalan independence referendum was “not legal,” European Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Monday.
Schinas also repeated the EU’s line that if Catalonia does become independent, it will be “outside the European Union.”
Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont appealed directly to the EU last night after the results of the disputed referendum, which were overwhelmingly in favor of independence.

29 September
The referendum in Catalonia, explained
Catalonia’s vote is not part of the global wave of populist authoritarianism. But, the rise of populism and the rise of separatism are symptoms of the same problems. States are struggling to manage diversity and internal economic disparity. This seems to be true even in rich, well-consolidated democracies. Indeed, Catalonia is a rich region in a democratic country.
(Brookings) On Sunday, Catalonia will try to stage an illegal referendum on independence from Spain. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has insisted that regional officials will do their best to hold the vote, but Madrid has cracked down on the efforts. No matter what happens on Sunday, the upshot of the referendum campaign is serious damage to the relationship between Spain’s central government and its Catalan citizens.
Catalonia’s referendum is highly irregular. The same can be said for Spain’s response to it. The situation reflects broader trends that are undermining democratic states and hampering their ability to channel and absorb contention.
Purely symbolic referendums are a persistent feature of a series of frozen conflicts, from Transneistria in Moldova to Abkhazia in Georgia to Somaliland in Somalia. Referendums on independence held by territories with de facto but not de jure sovereignty are aspirational and do little to change the status quo. Similarly, non-binding, unofficial votes can be held in territories with secessionist aspirations. Catalonia conducted an unofficial referendum on independence in 2014.
Other votes on sovereign status, such as in Puerto Rico this spring, are advisory. The results do not take effect but are taken into consideration in policy process or negotiation. Again, those votes do not, in and of themselves, alter facts on the ground. The best-case scenario for advisory votes is to move policy negotiations forward in specific ways. This was the goal of the Iraqi Kurds’ non-binding referendum on independence held last week.
Holding a referendum and using its results as a pretense to declare independence without the support of the central state is rare and dangerous.

Business over Tapas Editorial:
The Catalonian referendum on independence, illegal or not, will (or perhaps won’t) be held on Sunday. The results may or may not give Carles Puigdemont the support to go ahead with his independence from Spain. They probably won’t be very conclusive, as the Spanish authorities are doing their utmost to put an oar in the proceedings and furthermore, not everyone who has an opinion will necessarily wish to vote in what is generally thought to be an illegal plebiscite.  Difficulties are mounting, with, for example, ten million voting papers located by the Guardia Civil and confiscated. However, if Puigdemont considers his plans sufficiently thwarted, he may call for a unilateral declaration of independence.
Then again, he may be arrested in the next few days, becoming either a political prisoner or a secessionist traitor (depending on who you ask).
His police are now under the orders of the Guardia Civil (a military force nominally under the Ministry of Defence but in reality directed by the Ministry of the Interior). Many of the Catalonian Mossos d’ Escuadra are unwilling to take orders from their new bosses.
Odd things are happening: apparently, Catalonian farmers will be leaving their tractors parked outside the voting stadia from Friday – to stop other large vehicles from parking there… although the Senior Prosecutor’s Office in Catalonia has ordered the Mossos to close down all of the voting stations by Saturday… Many of the national police – anything up to 10,000 of them have been transferred from the rest of Spain – are staying on three Looney Tunes cruise ships until at least October 3rd: while the local stevedores refuse to supply the ships, and the owners, Warner Bros., insist on Tweetie Pie being covered with a canvas.  The lowly panaderos meanwhile are said to be the secret distributors of the dreaded cardboard ballot boxes…  as the Supreme Court bans the use of public buildings across Catalonia this Sunday.
The rest of Spain is generally enthusiastic about quelling these troubles which could easily escalate, not only in Catalonia, but also in the Basque Country. And for some one-sided propaganda on the issue, try El País in English here.
We should have a clearer picture in a few days time, but we have to say that, like Pablo Iglesias, we expect the weekend to end in riots, rubber bullets and tears….

26 September
Catalonia’s Independence Referendum: What’s at Stake?
(NYT) The unity of the country is at stake, as is the political survival of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He has stepped up pressure in the region, which has seen arrests and the confiscation of campaign materials. Some Catalan leaders have suggested that Mr. Rajoy is taking the country back to the dark days of dictatorship, although he has resisted hard-liners’ calls for him to seize complete administrative control of Catalonia.

23 September
The view from Madrid: anger and sadness as Catalans prepare for vote
Beyond Catalonia, there are calls for Spanish unity and bitterness about claims that the northern region is footing the bill for the rest of the country

11 September
Konrad Yakabuski: Catalonia’s referendum plan pushes Spain to the brink
(The Globe and Mail) Catalonia’s current President, Carles Puigdemont, insists there will be no turning back this time. Most people seem to believe him.
The standoff between [Catalonia’s President] Mr. Puigdemont and [Spanish Prime Minister] Mr. Rajoy threatens to take Spain down a dangerous path, one with unpredictable consequences. The crisis is made all the more intractable by the fact that each leader depends on a political base that rejects all compromise – Mr. Rajoy is backed by conservative Spaniards who see separatists as fanatics, Mr. Puigdemont by a coalition of Catalan-speaking voters on the right and left united in their visceral desire to throw off Madrid’s yoke.

One Comment on "Spain & Catalonia 2017"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson August 19, 2017 at 7:41 pm · Reply

    Prescient message from friends in Spain
    “It was a bit surreal seeing the “Presidents” of Spain and Catalonia standing side by side at a media conference speaking about solidarity and unity, and more or less agreeing on their respective lines. The Catalan independence “referendum” if it is allowed to proceed, is less than six weeks off, so this collaborative spirit may not last long. Barcelona seems to be almost back o normal, albeit with more armed police in evidence than is normal, to judge by TV coverage.” (19/08)

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