A new regional government was formed in Spain's Catalonia region, ending 7 months of direct rule by the central government in Madrid. After months of tension with the central government, a new cabinet led by separatist Quim Torra was sworn in on 02 June 2018. It came as Spain's new prime minister took office the same day. Socialist Pedro Sanchez replaced Mariano Rajoy, who had been ousted following a corruption scandal. Torra called on Sanchez to hold talks. He said they needed to negotiate "government to government." Rajoy was noted for his hardline views on Catalonia, while Sanchez had been more conciliatory.
Catalonia's ousted president Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Germany 25 March 2018 while crossing the border from Denmark, German police said. Puigdemont's lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas, confirmed the arrest on Twitter, adding that Puigdemont was traveling to Belgium, where he initially fled after an arrest warrant was issued against him for his role in an independence referendum in October. The arrest followed a Spanish Supreme Court decision 23 March 2018 to charge 13 Catalan separatist leaders with rebellion and other crimes for their attempt to declare independence from Spain in 2017. The latest regional presidential candidate, Jordi Turull, was placed in custody over his role in the attempted breakaway from Spain, marking the third time Catalonia's parliament had been unable to nominate a new president.
Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to jail terms of up to 13 years 14 October 2019 for their part in a 2017 independence bid. A warrant was then issued for the arrest of former leader Carles Puigdemont. The jail terms were lower than demanded by the prosecution, which had requested up to 25 years behind bars for the former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras. All the defendants were acquitted of the most serious charge of rebellion.
A coalition of secessionist parties won an absolute majority in the Catalan regional parliament. The single party with the most seats, however, was the pro-Madrid Citizens party. Catalonia held regional elections Thursday 21 December 2017, two months after separatist campaigners declared independence from Madrid following a disputed referendum. Turnout hit a record high, with Catalans streaming from work to the polling stations. The regional government election results showed that just under 82 percent of eligible voters, some 3.7 million people, had cast their ballots — 7 percent more than the record turnout in 2015, when some 75 percent of the electorate cast a ballot.
Ousted regional President Carles Puigdemont is set to regain power in Catalonia after his Together for Catalonia (Junts per Catalonia) party captured 34 seats in Thursday's election. Together with the 36 seats of the two other pro-independence parties, the separatists are headed for an absolute majority in the 135-seat regional parliament. Puigdemont's bloc had fared slightly better in the last regional elections in 2015, however, when the pro-independence parties earned 72 seats. The secessionist parties garnered only 48 percent of the popular vote.
Prime Minister Rajoy had hoped the election would put an end to the drive to secede. But the pro-Madrid Citizens party won the most seats outright with 37, but would not be able to form as substantial a coalition as the secessionists.
The main political parties in favor of seceding from Spain are:
- Republican Left of Catalonia (Catalan: Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya - ERC), whose leader Oriol Junqueras was detained in the course of an investigation into the October 2017 referendum
- left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), which advocates unilateral secession
- Together for Catalonia (Junts per Catalonia), which advocates secession without a timeline
The main political parties in favor of unity with Spain:
- conservative Popular Party (PP) of Prime Minister Rajoy
- center-left Catalan Socialist Party (PSC)
- Citizens party (Ciudadanos or C's), a progressive group which describes itself as post-nationalist
The anti-austerity Catalonia in Common (Catalunya En Comu-Podem) party, an alliance that has suffered internal divisions, could be a wildcard in a possible future regional coalition.
The vote took place against a backdrop of political uncertainty after Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament, deposed regional leader Carles Puigdemont and imposed direct rule on the region in October 2017. Four Catalan officials, including former vice president Oriol Junqueras, remained jailed on charges including sedition while Puigdemont and four former cabinet members remained in exile in Belgium.
With so many Catalonian leaders out of the way, new figures emerged during the campaign, with Marta Rovira, 40, of the pro-independence Republican Left party and Inés Arrimadas García, 36, of the anti-secession Citizens Party the favorites to succeed Puigdemont as regional president.
Catalonia is Spain’s Scotland. Catalonia regularly provides more revenue to the central government than it receives in services. The current separatist movement in Catalonia has its foundations in injustices perpetrated during the 1939-75 dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The dictator stripped the region of the powers it had been granted during Spain's 1931-36 Second Republic, and even banned public use of the Catalan language. After Franco's death in 1975, Catalonia was granted wide self-governance in areas such as health and education. However, in recent years, the push for independence has been given added impetus by Spain's lackluster economy.
The Estatut (Statute) governing relations between Catalonia and Madrid was approved via referendum in 2006. The Estatut granted increased powers to the Generalitat, including its own police force. It was, however, immediately challenged by the conservative Popular Party in the Constitutional Tribunal (TC), Spain's highest constitutional authority. In 2010 the Counrt accepted some of the charter, but rejeted parts of the statute that broadened the Catalan government's powers. The Court also said Catalonia cannot be defined as a "nation," and the Catalan language cannot be legally preferable.
Spain is in no position to service her national debt unless, on leaving, Catalonia takes over a portion. Key countries face a heavy exposure to that national debt. A Spanish default and exit from the euro would threaten the very survival of the EU's common currency.
While the vast majority of Catalans do not want independence, they do want respect from the rest of Spain. They want recognition of the importance of the region in the Spanish context - that they pay more into the system than they get out of it, that they are, at least in their own minds, the hardest working, most productive, and most efficient. They want acceptance of Catalonia as a people with a different "story", much like the Basques or the Galicians, that make them unique in Spain.
Barcelona braced 26 October 2019 for a weekend of fresh protest, with large rallies by independence supporters and a counter-demonstration by Catalan "remainers" as the backlash over Spain's jailing of separatist leaders rumbled on. Catalonia has been gripped by unrest since the controversial Supreme Court verdict on October 14 which unleashed a week of huge demonstrations that quickly turned violent, with angry protesters clashing with riot police. The violence eased off the previous week although the protests continued, with thousands of students marching peacefully through the city, waving flags and chanting "The streets will always be ours".
A mass rally was called by the ANC and Omnium Cultural, the region's two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups that have organised some of the largest separatist protests in recent years. Then a counter-demonstration has been planned by activists from Catalan Civil Society (SCC), a group representing those who want the region to remain part of Spain, which organised several large protests around the time of the failed independence bid of 2017. Catalans remain sharply divided over the question of separating from Spain, with a September poll showing 44 percent in favor but 48.3 percent against, and the violent protests over the verdict have only deepened that division.
On 14 February 2021, separatist parties in Catalonia secured a total of 74 seats in the regional parliament in Barcelona, with 90% of the votes having already been counted. The three parties have expanded their majority in the 135-seat assembly, having previously won 70 seats in total in 2017. The Socialist PSOE, which governs in Madrid, has improved its standing to 33 seats. The leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya will get 33 seats, while the centre-right Junts will receive 32 seats. Far-left separatist party CUP will receive nine seats. The far-right Vox Party will enter Catalonia's regional parliament for the first time, winning 11 seats. The conservative People's Party is only expected to receive three seats.
The vote across the troubled region of Catalonia was widely seen as a test for the Catalan separatist forces. While the election is unlikely to result in the same political upheaval that led to the region's declaration of independence in 2017, the outcome will likely indicate the appeal and trajectory of the pro-independence movement. Earlier opinion polls had predicted a tight race against parties not in favor of secession.
Nine Catalan separatists who were serving long prison sentences for their role in the failed 2017 independence bid were released from jail on 23 June 2021 a day after being pardoned by Spain. The clemency decision was approved by the Spanish government the day before, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez saying he hoped it would draw a line under past confrontations with Catalonia's separatist-led regional leaders and open the way for talks. The separatists were serving between nine and 13 years in jail. The pardons were roundly denounced by Spain's right-wing opposition as well as by many in the pro-independence camp who wanted a full amnesty that would allow those who fled abroad to return home.
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