Catalans Determined to Vote in Referendum Declared Illegal

Spain considers an independence referendum illegal, but the Catalans are determined to vote anyway.

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010 (SBA73)
  • Spain claims control of Catalonia’s public finances and police force in an attempt to prevent the region from voting on independence.
  • According to regional president Carles Puigdemont, Spain has “crossed a red line.”
  • Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has urged Catalans to step back from the brink but also vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to prevent them from voting in an illegal referendum.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 9 Sep 20172:03 AM

Rajoy vows to do “whatever is necessary” to prevent referendum key

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy delivers a news conference in Madrid, September 7
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy delivers a news conference in Madrid, September 7 (La Moncloa)
  • Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to prevent the Catalan referendum from happening.
  • His government challenged the legality of the referendum to the Constitutional Court, which promptly suspended the law while it considers arguments.
  • Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against senior Catalan officials, including the regional president and speaker of parliament.
  • Law enforcement agencies in Catalonia have been instructed to seize ballot boxes.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 9 Sep 20172:04 AM

Separatists have bungled independence process key

I still feel Spanish intransigence is ultimately to blame for this crisis. A refusal to hear out Catalan demands, must less recognize their right to self-determination, has radicalized the independence movement.

Spain accuses the Catalans of breaking the law by holding their referendum, but it has refused to allow them one. What were they supposed to do?

That said, the separatists have bungled this process.

They enacted the referendum law with the smallest-possible majority: 72 out of 135 deputies. Those 72 deputies were elected in 2015 by 48 percent of voters. That’s not a strong mandate.

The law itself has many shortcomings:

  • It claims to be binding, but there is no provision for this in Catalan or Spanish law.
  • It has no minimum turnout requirement.
  • It sets the referendum for October 1, giving both proponents and opponents little time to mount a campaign.
  • The regional government is campaigning for independence, but no public funds are being made available for the “no” side.
  • In case the separatists prevail, the plan is to declare independence from Spain within two days. What’s the rush?
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 9 Sep 20173:40 PM

Don’t force Catalans to choose between independence and the status quo key

Sign demanding a vote for Catalan independence in Girona, Spain, September 22, 2014
Sign demanding a vote for Catalan independence in Girona, Spain, September 22, 2014 (Keith Roper)

In a column for the Diplomatic Courier, I point out that support for independence is currently about 40 percent — when Catalans are given only two options. When becoming a federal state inside Spain is added as an alternative, only one in three would still vote to secede and, crucially, half the non-separatists would go with the federal option as well.

Whatever their views on independence, 80 percent of Catalans do want a referendum.

Altogether, these numbers point to a solution: A new autonomy statute that gives the regional government more power, put to Catalan voters in a referendum. That way, secession is taken off the table but the Catalans get to have their say.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 9 Sep 201710:49 PM

Most mayors defy Madrid, Barcelona’s undecided

674 of Catalonia’s 948 municipalities have so far defied instructions from Madrid not to allow city spaces to be used for the independence vote, according to the Municipal Association for Independence.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, is undecided. She has asked the regional government for assurances that officials would be protected from prosecution.

“We support the right to participate and protest completely, but we will repeat what we have said many times before: we will not put at risk institutions or civil servants,” Deputy Mayor Gerardo Pisarello said on Friday.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 10 Sep 20172:25 PM

400,000 have registered to attend pro-independence rally

Organizers say some 400,000 Catalans have registered to attend a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona on Monday, the National Day of Catalonia.

Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, activists wearing yellow shirts are planning to form a human cross along the Carrer d’Aragó and La Rambla, stretching a dozen city blocks in either direction.

The National Day of Catalonia, which commemorates the fall of Barcelona to Spanish forces in 1714, has become a lightning rod for the independence movement. Since 2012, more than a million Catalans (from a population of 7.5 million) have taken to the streets each year to demand self-determination.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Sep 20171:51 PM

What makes Catalans support independence key

Politico has some interesting figures about pro-independence voters. They reveal that age and employment are a poor predictor of support for separatist parties. Education has some relation to it. Supporters of the separatist Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) and Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) are more likely to have a college degree than other voters.

But the factors that matter the most are language, identity and the place of parents’ birth. Catalans who speak Catalan more often than Spanish, who call themselves “only” or “mostly” Catalan and whose parents were born in the region are much more likely to want their own state.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Sep 20172:43 PM

Where is the “silent majority”?

El País wonders why we hear so little from the “silent majority” of Catalans who oppose independence. Some of their answers:

  • The separatists can be intimidating. Fanatics regard opposition to independence as close to treason.
  • Pro-independence Catalans tend to be better educated and are therefore overrepresented in the region’s cultural elite.
  • The anti-independence side is divided. Some do support Catalan self-determination, others want more autonomy, others yet are happy with the status quo.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Sep 20172:53 PM

Barcelona mayor says will “ignore threats” from Madrid

The left-wing mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, has said she will do everything she can to allow residents to vote in the referendum on October 1. “I will ignore the threats” from Madrid, she said.

However, Colau also took the regional government to task for being in such a “rush” that they have forgotten about the other half of Catalonia.

Barcelona is among the least separatist municipalities in the region. Many of its citizens were born elsewhere in Spain — or the world.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Sep 20174:05 PM

Pictures from the independence rally

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Sep 20177:28 PM

Size of independence march in dispute

Catalan and Spanish sources can’t even agree on the size of the crowds. Local police say around one million people attended today’s rally for independence. The delegation of the Spanish government in Catalonia maintains only 350.000 showed up.

Given turnout in previous years, I suspect one million is closer to the truth. But that’s still far from a record. The 2014 National Day march for independence attracted some 1.8 million Catalans.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Sep 201711:13 AM

Most Catalans still favor negotiation

A Metroscopia poll for El País has found that proponents of negotiation edge out supporters of a unilateral referendum by nearly 20 points.

56 percent of Catalans feel the referendum is neither legal nor valid, given the controversial way in which it was enacted.

The problem is that Mariano Rajoy’s government in Madrid has for years been unwilling to negotiate or allow a referendum.

82 percent of Catalans told Metroscopia that Rajoy’s attitude has only reinforced separatist sentiment in the region, which is exactly what I argued here in May.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Sep 201712:36 PM

The Val d’Aran: The minority within the minority key

A pedestrian area in Vielha, the largest town in the Aran region of Catalonia, Spain, September 21, 2015
A pedestrian area in Vielha, the largest town in the Aran region of Catalonia, Spain, September 21, 2015 (Joan Grífols)

The one area of Catalonia where there is remarkably less enthusiasm for independence lies in its northwest: the Val d’Aran, the only comarca north of the Pyrenees.

Its population of less than 10,000 speaks Aranese, a form of Gascon, itself a variety grouped (though not without controversy) under the rubric of Occitan, a Romance language once spoken in the south of France.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Sep 20174:20 PM

Catalan TV told not to facilitate referendum

TV3, the oldest and largest Catalan-language television station, has received a request from the Constitutional Court, via the Catalan High Court, to abstain from reporting on any “agreements or actions” that could lead to an independence vote on October 1.

No word from TV3 yet if they will comply.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Sep 20174:29 PM

Police ordered to seize ballot boxes

Prosecutors have ordered the three police agencies in Catalonia — the regional Mossos d’Esquadra, the National Police and the Guardia Civil (gendarmerie) — to seize any material that could be used to organize a referendum on October 1, including ballot boxes, ballot papers and voting manuals.

La Vanguardia reports that only the Civil Guards have taken action so far, raiding a printing press in the town of Constantí.

The National Police have said they will comply with the instructions. The Mossos d’Esquadra, the local Catalan police force, haven’t made a public statement yet.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 13 Sep 20172:34 PM

Constitution will prevail: king

King Felipe VI has waded into the Catalan referendum debate, assuring Spaniards that the constitution will prevail over those who have placed themselves outside the legal framework.

“Democratic coexistence” is only possible “if citizens and institutions comply with and fulfill the laws which regulate and organize it,” the monarch warned in an otherwise unrelated speech.

The royal family is less popular in Catalonia than in most other parts of Spain. Left-wing separatists see the king as a symbol of Spanish oppression.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 13 Sep 20172:43 PM

Three out of four Catalan municipalities defy Madrid

By far most Catalan municipalities (three out of four) are defying orders from Madrid and cooperating with regional authorities to organize the referendum, but half the Catalan population lives in municipalities that have either yet to clarify their position or said they will listen to Spain, La Vanguardia reports.

The biggest question mark is still Barcelona, home to a fifth of the Catalan population.

Mayor Ada Colau has said she will do “everything possible” to facilitate the democratic process and that she is ignoring “threats” from Madrid. But her administration has also asked the regional government for assurances that civil servants will not be held criminally liable for making the vote happen.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 13 Sep 20173:26 PM

The arguments for and against Catalan independence

Statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona, Spain, March 29, 2016
Statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona, Spain, March 29, 2016 (Lutz)

Most of the arguments for independence are cultural or emotional. Opponents are more likely to point to the concrete economic and security risks of seceding from Spain.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 13 Sep 20176:30 PM

Referendum website taken offline

The official website for the referendum,, has been taken offline. Members of the Guardia Civil showed up today at the company which hosts the site with a court order to shut it down.

Copied have popped up at and Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan regional president, writes on Twitter, “We continue!”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Sep 20172:19 PM

Catalans stop sharing spending updates with Madrid

Catalan authorities have stopped sending weekly finance reports to Madrid, where the central government had conditioned access to credit on such updates.

Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Republican Left, argued this “political control” from Madrid “had nothing to do with budgetary stability,” but was rather a means to check the Catalans weren’t spending money on organizing a referendum.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Sep 20172:25 PM

Mayors charged with disobedience, embezzlement

Prosecutors have filed charges of disobedience and embezzlement against the mayors of Premià de Mar and Vilanova i la Geltrú, two suburbs of Barcelona. Both lead associations of pro-independence mayors.

Prosecutors have also asked the court to order that the websites of these groups be taken down, because they lend an “appearance of legality and normality to the separatist referendum.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Sep 20173:07 PM

The EU’s double standard

Georgi Gotev accuses the EU of a double standard in EurActiv. Officials have been (mildly) encouraging of Scottish secession post Brexit, he writes, but show little love for Catalonia:

Can the EU encourage Scotland to break away and tell the Catalans to forget about it? Of course, it makes no sense, but this is how things are.

Actually, it does make some sense — and Gotev explains why: If Scotland left the United Kingdom around the same time the rest of Britain exited the EU, it could perhaps claim “successor status” and inherit British membership. (Experts disagree and no officials have publicly endorsed this pathway yet.)

No such legal trick is available to Catalonia, which — as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated on Wednesday — would need to (re)apply for EU membership if it seceded from Spain, just like any other country.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Sep 20175:00 PM

Residents of Barcelona will be able to vote: mayor

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, has announced on Twitter that residents of Catalonia’s largest city will be able to vote in the referendum on October 1:

We are fulfilling our commitment: In Barcelona, you will be able to participate on 1oct without putting our institutions and civil servants at risk.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, has said the regional government would make locations available for voting in municipalities that worried about the legal threats from Madrid.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Sep 20177:22 PM

Far left takes Rajoy to task for Catalan “repression”

Spanish Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias gives a speech in Vitoria-Gasteiz, June 21, 2016
Spanish Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias gives a speech in Vitoria-Gasteiz, June 21, 2016 (Podemos)

Pablo Iglesias, the head of Spain’s far-left Podemos movement, has criticized Rajoy for his handling of the Catalan separatist challenge.

In a series of tweets, Iglesias takes Rajoy and his government to task for their “fear of democracy”.

Defending Spain requires providing political solutions to historical problems. Prison and repression will only compound the problems.

Iglesias accuses Rajoy of aggravating support for independence by refusing to negotiate with the Catalans and argues that the only way out of the crisis is to let them vote.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Sep 20177:23 PM

Businesses tired of uncertainty

Businesses in Catalonia are growing tired of the uncertainty the referendum is creating, Bloomberg reports. A few have already moved to Madrid. Others have made plans to withdraw from Catalonia overnight if it secedes.

Investors remain sanguine, however. The interest charged on Spanish bonds — a proxy for markets’ confidence in the country’s political stability — hasn’t gone up dramatically.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 15 Sep 201712:48 PM

Spain gives Catalans ultimatum

Spain has threatened to take over paying for essential public services in Catalonia unless the region gives full transparency of its spending accounts within two days.

The goal, of course, is to prevent the regional government from spending money on the referendum.

Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Republican Left, said on Thursday that he would stop sharing weekly finance updates with Madrid, calling them a form of “political control” that “had nothing to do with budgetary stability”.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 15 Sep 201712:52 PM

Catalan leaders appeal to king

Catalan leaders have asked King Felipe VI in a letter to lead an “open dialogue, without conditions” to find a way out of the crisis.

“Spain has gone on the offensive with unprecedented repression,” the Catalan president, vice president, speaker of parliament and mayor of Barcelona write.

The four ask the monarch to help “make possible that which in a democracy is never a problem, much less a crime: listening to the voice of the people.”

On Wednesday, King Felipe waded into the referendum debate, saying the Constitution would prevail.

By far most Catalans still favor negotiation.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 15 Sep 20173:14 PM

Civil Guards raid printing presses

Agents of the Guardia Civil (gendarmerie) have raised printing presses in l’Hospitalet and Sant Feliu de Llobregat in search of referendum posters.

La Vanguardia reports that some 150 people are protesting the police action in Sant Feliu.

The Civil Guards earlier searched a printer in Constantí and shut down the official referendum website,

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 15 Sep 20179:08 PM

Ominous words from Rajoy

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has warned the Catalan government that it is forcing him to do “what we do not want,” words that were interpreted in the region as a threat to suspend Catalan autonomy.

In a speech in Barcelona, the Spanish leader betrayed no willingness to negotiate. Catalan separatists “underestimate the strength of Spanish democracy,” he said.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 15 Sep 20179:17 PM

Spain has declared state of emergency by stealth: Puigdemont

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has accused Rajoy of declaring a state of emergency by stealth:

They don’t seem to be primary concerned about terrorism or security, but about ballot boxes and ballot papers.

He compared the state’s actions — raiding printing presses, shutting down pro-independence websites — to the heavy-handedness of Spain’s first post-Francoist interior minister, Manuel Fraga.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 16 Sep 20172:47 PM

Catalan mayors gather in show of force

Some 700 of Catalonia’s 948 mayors have gathered in Barcelona to make clear they will not bow to Spanish pressure.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, speaking at the event, said, “Do not underestimate the force of the Catalan people,” alluding to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s warning the other day not to “underestimate the force of Spanish democracy.”

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, said:

We are here to condemn that more than 700 mayors in our country, just because they are committed to helping Catalonia decide its future, with Catalans being able to vote, just because of this they have been intimidated, they have been summoned by Spain’s attorney general and they have been threatened with arrest.

Most mayors have defied instructions from Madrid not to allow an “illegal” referendum to be held on municipal premises. The mayors of l’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Lleida and Tarragona, three of the region’s larger cities, have said they will obey the Spanish government.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 17 Sep 20171:51 PM

Partisan divide in German views on referendum

A bird sits on top of one of the spires of the German Reichstag building in Berlin, December 31, 2005
A bird sits on top of one of the spires of the German Reichstag building in Berlin, December 31, 2005 (Max Braun)

German views on Catalonia’s independence bid break down along partisan lines. Left-wing commentators sympathize with Catalan pleas for self-determination and blame Spain for the impasse. Conservatives focus on the illegality of the planned October 1 vote.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 18 Sep 201712:21 PM

More posters confiscated, more websites down

The Civil Guards have seized 1.4 million referendum-related leaflets and posters this weekend, including at a warehouse in the Barcelona suburb of Sabadell.

Separatists are encouraging Catalans to print their own posters. People are sharing theirs on Twitter using the hashtag empaperem, which means wallpaper.

An online petition for independence by Catalan scholars was taken offline earlier today following a massive series of false registrations. The text is back up, but signatures are still closed.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 18 Sep 20172:41 PM

Socialist leader calls for constitutional reform

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of Spain’s opposition Socialist Party, has sided with Rajoy in rejecting the Catalan referendum as unlawful.

But unlike the conservative leader, Sánchez did argue for constitutional reform and Catalan self-rule at an event in Barcelona this weekend.

By far most Catalans favor negotiation over unilateral secession. A plurality would support a Spanish federation over Catalan independence or the status quo.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 18 Sep 20177:15 PM

Catalan economy could shrink 30 percent: minister

Spanish economy minister Luis de Guindos has warned that Catalan gross domestic product could shrink 30 percent if the region left Spain.

His arguments:

  • Independence would mean ejection from the EU, as a result of which 75 percent of Catalan production would be subject to export tariffs.
  • Catalan banks could relocate their headquarters to Spain.
  • A Catalan currency would be worth 30 to 50 percent less than the euro.

Separatists counter that Catalonia would be better off in the long term, given its higher GDP per capita, higher startup investment, modern infrastructure and robust tourism industry.

Click here to read all the arguments for and against independence.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 19 Sep 201712:55 PM

Spain makes good on threat

Spain has made good on its threat to seize control of Catalan finances in order to avoid money being spent on the referendum.

Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left, maintains that the region can still meet its obligations. He is appealing the central government’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 19 Sep 201710:55 PM

Civil Guards confiscate voting cards

The Civil Guards have confiscated voting cards in the city of Terrassa in what the BBC describes as “the most significant election material” seized to date.

Some 200 protesters gathered outside the delivery company where the voting cards were found and tried to prevent a local judiciary official from entering the building. Catalan police intervened to let the official through.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Sep 20171:11 PM

Spanish raids, arrests cross “red line”: Puigdemont key

Oriol Junqueras and Carles Puigdemont, the leaders of the Catalan ruling party, deliver a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, March 1
Oriol Junqueras and Carles Puigdemont, the leaders of the Catalan ruling party, deliver a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, March 1 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Rubén Moreno)

Spain has “crossed a red line,” Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said after gendarmerie raided offices of his regional government in Barcelona and arrested a dozen civil servants.

“On October 1, we are called to defend democracy from a repressive and intimidating regime,” Puigdemont told Catalans in a televised speech.

He argued that the actions of the Spanish state, which considers a planned independence vote illegal, are “totalitarian” and amount to the suspension of Catalan home rule.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Sep 20175:20 PM

Pictures from today’s protests

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Sep 20178:07 PM

Rajoy calls on Catalans to “avoid greater evil”

Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, has urged the Catalan government in a televised speech to stop their preparations for a referendum and “avoid greater evil”.

He said the central government will respond “firmly, but proportionally” to continued attempts to hold an independence vote that has “no legitimacy, no judicial or international support and, importantly, is not supported by the majority of Catalans.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Sep 20179:26 PM

Barcelona protests continue into night

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Sep 201711:07 PM

“You have to take a side!”

Antón Costas, an economics professor at the University of Barcelona, writes in La Vanguardia that it takes more courage to be a moderate in Catalonia nowadays than a radical.

On the one hand there are separatists who consider opposition to independence close to treason. On the other are Spanish nationalists who dismiss the whole concept of Catalan self-rule.

“You have to take a side,” they say. As if defending moderation and resisting intransigent rhetoric isn’t!

Polls suggest most Catalans are still in the middle: in favor of negotiation, in favor of a legal referendum and against independence.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Sep 201711:13 PM

Spanish riot police arrive in Barcelona

Spanish riot police vans have arrived in Barcelona, the local port authority tweets.

ACN reports that three large ships have been sent by the Spanish government to Barcelona and Tarragona to house police reinforcements.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Sep 201712:03 PM

La Vanguardia calls for calm

The Catalan newspaper blames both the separatists for going ahead with only minority support and Rajoy’s right-wing government for making the situation worse:

We believe the People’s Party has become addicted to a dangerous drug: the Catalan tension. The Catalan tension helps it unite its voters and, taken to the extreme, disrupt its principal adversary, the Socialist Party.

Now is not a time to be carried away, La Vanguardia warns. “Now is not a time to leave politics to the emotional demands of the street.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Sep 201712:10 PM

El Periódico urges political solution

Catalonia’s other newspaper is harder on the regional government and warns that the dynamic unleashed by the standoff with Madrid puts the autonomy of all Catalans at risk:

Speaking for a large majority of Catalans, we call on both governments to stop this escalation and negotiate a political solution that preserves our fraternity and coexistence.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Sep 201712:15 PM

El País takes hard line

In an editorial that is available in English, the Spanish newspaper obsesses about the illegality of the planned independence vote:

Democratic legality is above politics, opinions and emotions. Promoting or supporting a rebellion against a democratic state in twenty-first-century Europe is an offense against citizen liberties, against their social harmony and against their most inalienable rights.

El País compares the Catalan challenge to the failed 1981 putsch, which seems a little over the top.

It calls on the central government to “act firmly and use all legal means to defend the Constitution, democracy and the rights and freedoms of all Spaniards.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Sep 20174:47 PM

Demonstrations outside High Court

Thousands more Catalans are demonstrating today, this time outside the High Court (which is not a Catalan but a Spanish institution), near Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. They are protesting yesterday’s arrest of top civil servants.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Sep 20175:01 PM

Spain promises talks on fiscal economy if Catalonia stops referendum key

Spanish economy minister Luis de Guindos has told the Financial Times his government is willing to discuss more fiscal autonomy for Catalonia if the region drops its independence bid:

Catalonia already has a great deal of autonomy, but we could talk about a reform of the funding system and other issues.

When Spain’s Constitutional Court overturned part of Catalonia’s autonomy statute in 2010, it took out articles which gave the region control over its own finances. Similar provisions remain in effect for the Basque Country and Navarre.

Polls suggest that a majority of Catalans would be content with more autonomy.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Sep 201710:42 PM

Catalan referendum animates Flemish, leaves Dutch cold

View of Antwerp, Belgium, March 28, 2014
View of Antwerp, Belgium, March 28, 2014 (Visit Flanders)

The Dutch aren’t sure what to make of Catalonia’s independence bid. Only in the last few days have their news media started paying attention to what’s happening in the region.

Flemish media are more interested. Maybe because they have pragmatically managed their differences with the French-speaking Walloons for decades and are wondering why the Catalans and Spanish can’t do the same?

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Sep 201711:28 PM

Spaniards reject Catalan right to secession

Politico reports that the Center for Sociological Research found barely 10 percent of Spaniards in favor of allowing Catalonia to break away.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 201711:37 AM

Authoritarian instincts rule in Madrid: Puigdemont

Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont accuses Spain of laying “siege” to his region in an op-ed for The Washington Post. He calls on “democrats around the world” to support the cause of Catalan freedom.

In most parts of the developed world, police protect ballot boxes, polling stations and voters. In Catalonia today, the situation is the opposite.

Puigdemont points out that Spain has taking control of Catalan public finances, shut down pro-independence websites, blocked proxy servers and discouraged the professional news media from reporting on the planned October 1 referendum (Puigdemont exaggerated when he writes the government has “prohibited” reporting).

Four decades after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, we still find that authoritarian instincts rule at the heart of the Madrid government.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 201711:43 AM

Attitudes in Basque Country mirror those in Catalonia key

Flag of the Basque Country in Getaria, Spain, April 20, 2011
Flag of the Basque Country in Getaria, Spain, April 20, 2011 (Barbara Dieu)

Attitudes in Spain’s Basque Country have mirrored Catalonia’s surge in separatism.

When the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Spain’s Constitutional Court had been correct in declaring a Basque independence referendum illegal, the region accepted it.

But when the same Constitutional Court threw out part of Catalonia’s autonomy statute that same year, it galvanized the separatist movement.

The Catalans are now determined to vote on independence. Opponents fear a domino effect. They worry that, if the Catalans are successful, the Basque Country may push for independence next.

That seems unlikely.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 201711:53 AM

Times calls for referendum to go ahead

The Times of London calls on Mariano Rajoy’s government to allow the Catalan referendum to go ahead, warning that its “strong-arm tactics” are likely to backfire.

Madrid can win this argument without the use of force or disproportionate threat, counting on the common sense of the Catalans who by and large understand the benefits of being an integral part of Spain.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 20172:02 PM

Civil servants released on charges of disobedience

All fifteen officials who were arrested on Wednesday have by now been released, but they are charged with disobedience, breach of their official duties and misappropriation public funds.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 20172:03 PM

Ciudadanos leader calls for end to “madness”

Albert Rivera, the leader of Catalonia’s second largest party, the Ciudadanos, has called on Puigdemont to “stop this madness” and call snap elections:

Catalonia does not deserve confrontations and a breach of social peace.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 20173:37 PM

Students have occupied University of Barcelona

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 20174:18 PM

.cat domains blocked

Civil Guards raided the offices of the .cat Foundation earlier this week, which manages the register of Catalan domain names, and forced it to block websites with information about the October 1 independence vote.

“It is a disaster,” Eduard Martin Lineros, head of the foundation, told Politico:

We have been forced — for first time in the history of Internet in Spain — to block four .cat domains related to the referendum.

While it is not unusual for companies to be instructed to take specific websites offline, Peter Van Roste, the general manager of the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries, argues registrars shouldn’t be forced to scan or monitor all domains under their purview:

Suddenly, you’re forced, as a technical operator, to play the part of law enforcement.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Sep 201710:12 PM

Rajoy has shown disturbing indifference: Guardian

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper argues Spain has badly mishandled a deliberately provocative referendum:

Rajoy’s legalistic approach rests on clear court decisions, but he has shown a disturbing indifference to the demands of a large number of his citizens.

If nothing is done to find a compromise, The Guardian warns that a political train wreck threatens in the EU’s largest southern member state.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Sep 20172:26 PM

Spain takes command of Catalan police key

Spain has taken command of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, after criticizing it for not doing enough to disrupt preparations for the October 1 referendum.

The decision was sharply criticized in Catalonia and is bound to aggravate tensions.

Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn called the step “unacceptable” and said it “bypasses all the institutions that the current legal framework already has in place to guarantee the security of Catalonia.”

All three police forces in Catalonia — the Guardia Civil, the Mossos and the National Police — are now controlled from the Ministry of the Interior in Madrid.

Spain claims the consolidation was necessary to “prevent crime and keep public order”.

Police units have been arriving in Catalonia from elsewhere in Spain to help suppress the independence vote.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Sep 20172:30 PM

Sánchez distances himself from Rajoy

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish Socialist Party leader, has distanced himself from the hard line of Mariano Rajoy, saying, “Puigdemont [the Catalan president] wants to vote without dialogue, Rajoy wants dialogue without a vote.”

Sánchez remains adamant that the planned independence vote on October 1 is illegal. But he also sees the need for talks:

What is the point of a government that delegates all its responsibilities to the courts?

Sánchez has previously raised the possibility of constitutional reform.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Sep 20175:29 PM

Mixed views from France

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, November 11, 2015
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, November 11, 2015 (Jean-Maël Cordier)

French coverage of the Catalan independence referendum has something of the left-right split we saw in Germany, but most of the media are united in calling on Catalan and Spanish leaders to meet each other in the middle.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Sep 20176:05 PM

Putting the Mossos under Spanish command is a bad idea key

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont inaugurates a memorial at the headquarters of the Mossos d'Esquadra, the regional police force, in Sabadell, Spain, October 14, 2016
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont inaugurates a memorial at the headquarters of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the regional police force, in Sabadell, Spain, October 14, 2016 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Jordi Bedmar)

Unlike the Guardia Civil (gendarmerie), who have raided printing presses, Internet companies and government offices to seize ballot papers, shut down referendum websites and arrest civil servants, the Mossos are seen as “one of us” here.

When protesters blocked the entrance to the Catalan Finance Ministry earlier this week, it were the Mossos who convinced the crowd to disperse after midnight to allow the Guardia to exit the building.

Suspending the troopers’ autonomy and putting them under Spanish command dilutes their trustworthiness in the eyes of separatist hardliners. That could make it harder for them to keep a lid on passions at demonstrations between now and October 1.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Sep 20179:27 PM

Catalan police chief resists being placed under Spanish command

The head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Josep Lluís Trapero, has said that while his troopers will continue to work with Spanish prosecutors, they do not take orders from the Interior Ministry in Madrid.

Spain argues that a consolidation of the various police agencies operating in Catalonia under a single command is necessary to preserve public order.

The Catalan police union and regional government disagree.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 24 Sep 20171:53 PM

Catalan crisis a “colossal failure” of Spanish democracy key

The European Council on Foreign Relations’ Francisco de Borja Lasheras writes that the present crisis represents a colossal failure of Spanish democracy:

Our leaders have proved unable to craft a way out of the current impasse, unlike at other critical periods of the country’s constitutional history where statesmanship was present.

Having grown up in the Basque Country, Lasheras sees unsettling similarities in today’s hate speech, stigmatization of dissent and the shaping of two polarized political blocs.

During the economic crisis, “Spain” provided a convenient scapegoat for the ruling Catalan nationalists, he argues.

Anyone who stands in the way of independence, including judges and police officers following the law, are branded “enemies of the people” by separatist fanatics.

The crisis has divided the country into two. On one side are the proponents of “popular democracy” (Catalan separatists, Podemos and others on the far left), who emphasize street politics and “the will of the people”. On the other are the defenders of the rule of law (the mainstream Spanish parties, Ciudadanos and Catalans who favor a legal referendum), who stress constitutional order and institutions.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 24 Sep 20177:49 PM

Spanish left sympathizes with Catalans, but few signs of support

Spanish support for Catalan self-determination is found mostly on the left, The Guardian newspaper reports:

Many left-wing Spaniards are frustrated at seeing the standoff over the October vote painted as a simple showdown between democrats and authoritarians and point out that the men at the heart of the current standoff both lead right-wing parties.

The far-left Podemos, Spain’s third largest party, has criticized the central government for its handling of the situation. The leader of the mainstream Socialists, the second largest party, also distanced himself from Rajoy this weekend without granting a Catalan right to break away.

But The Guardian reports that visible signs of support for the Catalans are few and far between:

There are no Catalan flags, no posters for or against the referendum, no appeals to Catalans from their fellow citizens. There is certainly nothing like the unofficial “Let’s Stay Together” campaign launched ahead of Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Sep 201712:12 AM

More protests, more Spanish repression

Protests continue in Barcelona coinciding with celebrations of La Mercè, an annual Catholic holiday and folk festival.

Students are still occupying the University of Barcelona, although crowds outside the building are now small enough to allow traffic along the Gran Via again, one of the city’s central thoroughfares.

Meanwhile, Spanish attempts to suppress the vote continue.

More policemen- and women arrive in Barcelona from other parts of Spain every day.

The Spanish prosecutor has ordered the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to identify and question polling agents. It is unclear if they will comply. The head of the Mossos, Josep Lluís Trapero, did not attend a meeting with his Spanish counterparts in Barcelona on Monday, sending a deputy instead.

Trapero is resisting Spanish attempts to put his troopers under the command of the Interior Ministry in Madrid.

Also on Monday, the website of the Catalan National Assembly, one of the two big civil-society groups advocating independence, was taken offline. They have put up a new version at

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Sep 20176:38 PM

Mossos ordered to seal polling places

Spanish prosecutors have ordered the Catalan police to seal off all known polling places for the October 1 referendum.

As reported by El Nacional, the order comes with specific instructions:

  1. Not to let anyone open the polling places on referendum day;
  2. Evict anyone who tries;
  3. Confiscate all materials inside; and
  4. Prevent alternative polling places from being set up outside.

It is still unclear if the Mossos d’Esquadra will follow orders from Madrid. The police force’s chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, and the Catalan interior minister have rejected Spain’s power grab.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Sep 20177:23 PM

Spain should remain united: Trump

American president Donald Trump, asked about Catalonia’s independence referendum during a press conference with Mariano Rajoy in Washington, said, “Spain is a great country and it should remain united.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Sep 20171:40 PM

Rajoy has exhausted Spanish media’s patience

Even mainstream Spanish media, which strongly oppose Catalan independence and the way the region is going about achieving it, recognize that Rajoy’s strategy of delegating repression to prosecutors and the courts is inadequate.

El País calls the government’s silence disconcerting, insufficient and borderline irresponsible:

Does the government really have nothing to say to its citizens, to those who live inside Catalonia and those who live outside? Is it not necessary to explain the coercive measures that have been put in place by the justice system? Does the government not feel obliged to take responsibility for these measures? Is there not a project to defend, a plan to explain, a policy to implement?

Suspicions now abound that there isn’t — and Rajoy has no idea how to solve this problem.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 28 Sep 201712:09 PM

Declaration of independence unlikely

The palace of the Catalan regional government in Barcelona, Spain, September 26, 2012
The palace of the Catalan regional government in Barcelona, Spain, September 26, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons/Andriy Sadivskyy)

Catalonia is unlikely to declare its independence from Spain even if a majority votes to break away on Sunday.

The law that made the referendum possible calls for a declaration of independence within two days of a “yes” vote.

But Carles Puigdemont, the regional president and separatist leader, has told French television he wants to open up a transitional period of talks after the plebiscite.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 28 Sep 20177:18 PM

Mossos may not close polling stations

Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn has said the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, will only follow court orders to seal off polling places if it doesn’t inflame social tensions.

“It is important to comply with the law and judicial decisions, but there is a superior good to preserve: citizen coexistence,” he said.

Spain’s undersecretary of security, José Antonio Nieto, met with Forn and other Catalan leaders in Barcelona today, where he was told the region will not cancel Sunday’s vote.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 29 Sep 20172:19 PM

Logistics of the day unveiled

The regional government has unveiled some of the logistics for Sunday:

  • 5.3 million Catalans will be eligible to vote.
  • There will be 2,315 polling stations, many of them in schools and other public buildings.
  • From 50,000 volunteers, 7,200 have been selected to serve as supervisors.
  • Some 6,000 plastic containers will be used as ballot boxes.

It has not been announced yet who will serve on the Election Board. The previous members stepped down after being threatened with daily fines of €12,000 by Spanish courts. The Catalan government has called on academics and foreigners to take their place.

The Guardia Civil continues to try to disrupt the logistics of the referendum. On Thursday, the gendarmerie seized 2.5 million ballot papers at a warehouse an hour’s drive west of Barcelona.

Agents have also been removing posters and leaflets from Catalan cities and towns. The guards claim to have confiscated 1.5 million.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 29 Sep 20172:23 PM

Big rally tonight

There is going to be a big independence rally tonight in front of the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, starting at 8 PM. Separatist party leaders Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras are both due to attend.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 29 Sep 20179:16 PM

British struggle to understand Spain’s reaction

View of the Thames in London, England at dawn
View of the Thames in London, England at dawn (Uncoated)

The British struggle to understand why, if they could manage two referendums in three years, Spain is so desperate to prevent the Catalans from voting on Sunday.

Calls on Mariano Rajoy’s government to allow the referendum to go forward span the political spectrum.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Oct 201712:56 PM

Voting day blog

We are running a separate live blog on voting day, October 1. Click here to read our latest analysis.

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