A referendum on greater autonomy for Catalonia – that is what the new Prime Minister of Spain Sánchez wants. Since taking up office in June, the socialist Prime Minister has tried to improve relations with Barcelona and signalled willingness to compromise. Now he proposes that the Catalans vote by referendum on an extended autonomy status to be negotiated with Madrid. Sánchez is thus reaching out to Catalonia and attempting to inject fresh stimulus into the deadlocked conflict with the breakaway region. However, his offer should not be confused with a vote on independence from the Spanish central state, which is constitutionally impossible in any case.
Nevertheless, any jubilation over an early solution to the conflict between Madrid and Barcelona is likely to remain in bounds – the wounds inflicted in the political clashes of recent years are too deep. The Catalan Prime Minister Torra has already announced that he will continue to push for „independéncia“. He is also calling for the release of the Catalan politicians to be held legally responsible for the unilateral declaration of independence in October last year – demands that do not lie within the sphere of influence of the Spanish executive in a functioning constitutional state. Even so, Sánchez’s proposal could attract a more sympathetic response from the Catalan people. Surveys show a majority of Catalans to be in favour of greater self-determination first and foremost and not necessarily greater sovereignty.
Sánchez’s offer is certainly a big step in the right direction to bring both parties back to the negotiating table. A possible compromise for negotiations could be to give Catalonia an autonomous status with its own fiscal sovereignty along the lines of the Basque country. In return, the region would then pay part of this revenue to the central government for its services, e.g. defence. Let’s hope that the symbolic national holiday in Catalonia „Diada“, which is due to take place in a week’s time, will not fuel the conflict again.