Showdown in Catalonia is rapidly approaching

Today’s national holiday in Catalonia marks the showdown in the ongoing struggle for “Independéncia”. While it is anticipated that hundreds of thousands of Catalans will take to the streets to demonstrate for more autonomy, the Spanish central government and the Catalan executive oppose each other as entrenched fronts. While the president of the regional government, Puigdemont, continues to print ballot papers in breach of the Constitution, Prime Minister Rajoy is making use of the full power of the judiciary. This has not been entirely without success just recently, for the threatened prosecution of civil servants who support the referendum has caused the first cracks to appear in the so far unwavering front formed by Catalan politicians. The mayors of some Catalan cities, including Barcelona, will be refusing to make any premises available for the vote unless the integrity of their local civil servants is guaranteed.

Three weeks before its planned date it is thus still extremely uncertain whether the unconstitutional referendum will in fact take place. Should a vote take place, a majority for separation is conceivable, as many opponents of independence are likely to abstain. If the “yes” camp wins, therefore, this could lead to chaos in Catalonia, while also causing economic and fiscal upheaval in Spain as a whole. If the secessionist region were then to declare sovereignty as planned, certain questions relating to functioning of government and membership of the EU and the Monetary Union are completely undecided. Brussels is not likely to be particularly pleased about yet another trouble spot in the EU, as the renationalisation efforts of some members are already rattling the foundation of the Community enough. A unilateral declaration of independence is certainly the worst case for all participants. In order to resolve the historical conflict both parties would need to sit down at the negotiating table. A potential negotiating compromise could be autonomous status for Catalonia with tax sovereignty based on the model of the Basque region. In return the region would then pay a share of these revenues to the central government for the latter’s services, for example defence. But somebody has to make the first move.

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