Catalonia’s Separatist Crisis

Spain revokes Catalonia’s self-government and issues an international arrest warrant for its leader, Carles Puigdemont.

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Girona, October 1, 2014
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Girona, October 1, 2014 (Ariet/Carles Palacio)
  • Spain has dissolved the autonomous Catalan government and taken eight of its thirteen ministers into custody.
  • The five others, including President Carles Puigdemont, are in Belgium. They are wanted by Spanish authorities for organizing an independence referendum and declaring a breakaway republic.
  • Although the separatist parties reject Spain’s suspension of home rule, they are competing in snap elections called by the central government.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Nov 20174:23 PM

Proposals for constitutional reform

El País reports that around a dozen Spanish law professors are calling for an overhaul of the 1978 Constitution, using Austria and Germany as role models.

Among their proposals:

  • Changing the legal status of the autonomy statutes so they only require approval from regional legislatures.
  • Transforming the Senate into something of a Bundesrat, whose members are appointed by the regions. Currently, one in five Spanish senators are appointed by regional parliaments. The rest are elected nationally.
  • Establishing a “singular legal system” for Catalonia and a “bilateral relation” with the Spanish state, as long as other regions agree and only on issues that do not affect Spain as a whole.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Nov 20179:07 PM

Polls vindicate Puigdemont’s decision to form separatist list 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)

Carles Puigdemont appears to have made the right decision forming a new political entity, called Together for Catalonia, as opposed to leading his center-right European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) into next month’s election.

Two recent polls, one published in El Periódico, the other in ABC newspaper, give the deposed president’s list almost 17 percent support.

That puts it neck and neck with the liberal Ciudadanos and mainstream Socialist Party — both of which oppose Catalan independence — for second place.

Together for Catalonia uses PDeCAT’s infrastructure but has drawn candidates from civil society.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 16 Nov 20173:53 PM

Catalan Socialists choose opposition over deal with separatists key

Catalonia's Miquel Iceta addresses a Spanish Socialist Party congress in Alcalá de Henares, November 11
Catalonia’s Miquel Iceta addresses a Spanish Socialist Party congress in Alcalá de Henares, November 11 (PSOE)

Catalonia’s Socialists have taken themselves out of contention for the next coalition government by refusing deals with parties that, in the words of leader Miquel Iceta, have taken the region “to the brink of the abyss.”

Even if the European Democratic Party and the Republican Left, which jointly ruled Catalonia until the regional government was dissolved by Madrid, renounce secession, the Socialists would still not partner with them, Iceta said in a television interview.

He would not commit to a unionist pact with center-right parties either, thus condemning the Socialists to four more years in opposition.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 15 Nov 201710:05 PM

Junqueras suggests Rovira could be president

Writing from the prison where he awaiting trial, Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president of Catalonia and leader of the Republican Left, suggests Marta Rovira, his party’s secretary general, could be a future president of the region: “It is time that a woman is at the head of this country.”

Rovira was vague in her statements after meeting with Carles Puigdemont, the deposed Catalan president, in Brussels on Tuesday, telling reporters, “We will make a political front so that we share our political strategy and it’s coordinated.”

Puigdemont’s plan is to lead a separatist list in next month’s election, but polls put the Republican Left far ahead of his European Democratic Party.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Nov 20179:04 PM

Rajoy walks back promise of constitutional reform key

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain gives a speech in Las Palmas, June 18, 2016
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain gives a speech in Las Palmas, June 18, 2016 (PP)

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has walked back his promise of constitutional reform, saying in a radio interview, “I have never been a supporter of reforming the Constitution. I’m prepared to listen, but not to go against unity or sovereignty.”

Rajoy’s intransigence on this point gives credence to Catalan separatists who argue that Spain will never respect the region’s sense of nationhood — and makes it more likely they will prevail in the election next month.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Nov 20173:33 PM

Don’t exaggerate Russian meddling key

View of the Palau Nacional in Barcelona, Spain, March 17, 2011
View of the Palau Nacional in Barcelona, Spain, March 17, 2011 (Mark Turner)

Russia is a convenient scapegoat. Easier to blame foreign manipulation than examine the root causes of Catalan separatism and the events which led to the current crisis.

That would reveal Spain shares responsibility. It gave the Catalans more autonomy and then took it away again. It brushed Catalan complaints aside. It pooh-poohed Catalan warnings and threats only to overreact when they finally went too far. Russia had nothing to do with that.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 13 Nov 20174:47 PM

We can still compromise: Puigdemont

Carles Puigdemont has told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that there is still a compromise to be had.

“I have worked for thirty years to come up with an alternative solution in which Catalonia is anchored to Spain,” he said.

The separatist leader pointed to the 2006 autonomy statute, parts of which were thrown out by the Constitutional Court in 2010 at the behest of the now-ruling People’s Party.

“The one responsible for the independence push is firstly the People’s Party,” argued the Catalan leader.

Returning fiscal autonomy to Catalonia and recognizing it as a “nation”, with the right to self-determination, would satisfy the majority of Catalans, polls have found.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Nov 20176:50 PM

Catalonia in Common breaks with Socialists in Barcelona

Mayor Ada Colau’s left-wing Catalonia in Common party has ended its alliance with the Socialists in Barcelona’s city council.

Catalonia in Common rejects both independence and the suspension of home rule. The Socialists are divided: the Catalan branch of the party is unhappy with direct rule from Madrid, but the national party supports Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s policy.

Colau is unlikely to lose power. That would require not only the Socialists but the center-right Democratic Party of deposed president Carles Puigdemont to vote against her. The Democrats know they might need Catalonia in Common’s support in the next regional parliament for a separatist majority.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Nov 20171:17 PM

Summary of this weekend’s news

  • According to city police, some 750,000 demonstrated in Barcelona on Saturday for the release of Catalan separatist leaders.
  • Letters from the former ministers who are held in Spanish prisoners were read out by their family members.
  • Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party had asked election authorities to bar regional television — which it accused of “disloyalty” — from broadcasting the demonstrations.
  • Carles Puigdemont, the deposed Catalan president, has urged the rest of Spain to respect the outcome of the December 21 election even if pro-independence parties prevail. “Results must be accepted with all the consequences,” he said. “It’s not for Rajoy to command what happens in our country, nor for the Constitutional Court.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 10 Nov 201712:21 AM

Speaker of Catalan parliament jailed

Carme Forcadell, the speaker of the Catalan regional parliament, has been jailed by the Supreme Court for presiding over a debate in which separatist parties declared the region’s independence from Spain. Her bail has been set at €150,000.

Forcadell’s four deputies have been given a week to pay a bail of €25,000 each or they will also be jailed.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 9 Nov 20179:29 PM

Slovene socialist leader takes Catalonia’s side

Slovenia’s Tanja Fajon, a vice president of the socialist bloc in the European Parliament, has called for the release of Catalonia’s “political prisoners” and criticized the Spanish government for refusing dialogue with the breakaway region.

In an interview with the Catalan News Agency (ACN), Fajon maintained that every nation has a right to self-determination. The Spanish government may have the Constitution on its side, she said, but fundamental rights are “above the Constitution”.

Tony Barber has argued that the Slovenes are the weak link in Europe’s pro-Spanish front:

Slovenes draw parallels between their experience as a small nation, living under what they saw as Serb domination of the Yugoslav federation, and that of the Catalans, chafing under the supremacy of Madrid.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 9 Nov 20173:33 PM

There is still room for compromise

When Catalans are asked to choose between staying in Spain and declaring independence, nearly one in two would now opt to break away.

But, I point out in my latest contribution to the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Geopoliticus blog, when becoming a federal state of Spain is added as a third option, support for independence falls to 40 percent.

The combined share of Catalans who are content with the status quo or want Spain to become a federation is almost 50 percent.

That suggests the promise of more autonomy for the region could convince the majority of Catalans they are better off remaining Spanish after all.

The question is, is this something the People’s Party — which has for years sought to curtail Catalan home rule — will entertain?

Click here to read the rest.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 8 Nov 20175:00 PM

General strike draws little interest

A general strike called by pro-independence trade unions and civil society groups has attracted little interest. Bus service is intermittent here in Barcelona and some stores are closed, but most of the metros are running and there are no large protests.

I get the sense that people are getting tired of the situation and just want it to be over.

Of course, downtown Barcelona is not necessarily representative of the whole of Catalonia. Polls do show support for independence has gone up in the last couple of months.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 7 Nov 20173:32 PM

Pro- and anti-independence parties fail to unite key

Oriol Junqueras, the leader of Catalonia's Republican Left, makes a speech in Barcelona, Spain, July 20, 2015
Oriol Junqueras, the leader of Catalonia’s Republican Left, makes a speech in Barcelona, Spain, July 20, 2015 (CDC)

Catalan parties in favor and opposed to seceding from Spain have failed to unite in time for the election in December.

A unionist list proposed by the liberal Ciudadanos has been rejected by the Socialists and People’s Party.

A separatist alliance fell apart when the Republican Left conditioned it on the participation of other left-wing parties.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 6 Nov 20176:35 PM

Former Northern Ireland negotiator calls for talks

Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff and point man on Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007, writes for The New York Review of Books that the “whole sorry mess” in Catalonia “is an object lesson in how not to handle the demand for self-determination by a nation within a country.”

Rajoy’s “ostrich-like attitude”, going back to his opposition to Catalonia’s 2006 autonomy statute, is in many ways what created the problem in the first place, Powell argues.

The way out, as it was in Northern Ireland, is to talk:

Negotiations do not imply that the government is going to accept independence, any more than the British government accepted a united Ireland in the Good Friday negotiations.

But it is the only alternative to escalation.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 6 Nov 20175:38 PM

Belgians criticize persecution of Catalan leaders

  • Jan Jambon, interior minister and member of the New Flemish Alliance: “Knocking on peaceful people, government members who are jailed… What did they do wrong? They carried out the mandate they received from their voters. I wonder where Europe is in all this. This is happening in a European member states and the silence is deafening.”
  • Elio Di Rupo, former prime minister and leader of the opposition Socialist Party: “Puigdemont has abused his position, but Rajoy has behaved like an authoritarian Francoist. Let’s find the path to a more federal Spain.”
  • Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister and leader of the liberal bloc in the European Parliament: “While we have to respect the right and the obligation of Spanish courts to defend and to protect the rule of law, the question must be asked if this imprisonment is disproportionate. Are there no other ways to secure that these separatist leaders receive a fair trial and a judgement?”
  • Bart De Wever, mayor of Antwerp and leader of the New Flemish Alliance: “Things are happening here which we wouldn’t tolerate in any country of the European Union. You don’t lock people up for practicing their democratic rights.”

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 5 Nov 20174:37 PM

Puigdemont turns himself in

Carles Puigdemont and the four Catalan ministers who are with him in Brussels have surrendered themselves to Belgian authorities.

An investigating judge is due to decide on Monday whether or not the five should be turned over to Spain, which has issued an international arrest warrant for them.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Nov 20178:00 PM

Puigdemont willing to surrender to Belgian justice

Carles Puigdemont is willing to surrender to Belgian authorities but not to Spain’s, which he said are “clearly politicized”.

In an interview with the Belgian news channel RTBF, the deposed Catalan leader accused the Spanish prime minister, Rajoy, of using the justice system for political purposes.

“The will of the Catalan voters has been illegally overturned by Mariano Rajoy’s government,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Spanish High Court has issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his ministers: Antoni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, Lluís Puig and Meritxell Serret. All have been in Brussels for the last few days.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 2 Nov 20179:48 PM

Flemish, Scottish leaders criticize arrests

  • Geert Bourgeois, prime minister of Flanders: “Jailing democratically elected government leaders is more than a bridge too far.”
  • Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland: “The disagreement about Catalonia’s future is political. It should be resolved democratically — not by the jailing of political opponents.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 2 Nov 20179:10 PM

Mixed reactions from other parts of Spain

  • Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos: “I am ashamed that opponents are imprisoned in my country. We don’t want independence for Catalonia, but today we say: freedom for political prisoners.”
  • Andoni Ortuzar, president of the Basque Nationalist Party: “They do not deserve to be going through this.”
  • Óscar Puente, Socialist Party spokesman: It is not the place of politicians to question judicial decisions.
  • Albert Rivera, leader of the Ciudadanos: “Those who broke the law every day and every minute in Catalonia” were warned of the consequences of their actions.
  • Iñigo Urkullu, president of the Basque Country: “Imprisonment without bail is absolutely disproportionate and the worst decision that could have been made.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 2 Nov 20177:55 PM

Catalans dismayed by detentions

  • Mireia Boya Busquets, regional deputy for the CUP: “This is a fascist state.”
  • Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona: “Black day for Catalonia. The democratically elected government is in jail. There is a common front for the release of political prisoners.”
  • Neus Lloveras, Association of Municipalities for Independence: “Very disappointed in Europe and in what is happening in this country.”
  • Marta Pascal, general coordinator of the European Democratic Party: “We ask democrats in Europe and Spain if this is acceptable.”
  • Carles Puigdemont, deposed Catalan president: “The Spanish government has renounced democracy.”
  • Marta Rovira, general secretary of the Republican Left: “The state of law has become a failed state.”
  • Jordi Solé, Josep-Maria Terricabras, Ramon Tremosa, Catalan members of the European Parliament: “The charges launched today are eminently political and have the objective to severely punish and make examples of the leaders of Catalonia’s political and civil society self-determination movement.”
  • Xavier Trias, leader of the European Democratic Party in the Barcelona city council: “A state that jails decent people is an indecent state.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 2 Nov 20176:08 PM

Eight Catalan ministers detained without bail

Oriol Junqueras, the deposed Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left, has been detained without bail together with seven other members of the dissolved regional government.

A Spanish judge argued Junqueras and his former colleagues posed a flight risk, given that five other Catalan officials, including the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, have left the country.

She also said she worried the accused might alter or destroy evidence if they were released on bail.

The other seven ministers remanded in custody are Dolors Bassa, Meritxell Borràs, Joaquim Forn, Carles Mundó, Raül Romeva, Josep Rull and Jordi Turull.

They have all been accused by Spanish prosecutors of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, charges which carry maximum prison sentences of 25, fifteen and eight years, respectively.

The former business secretary, Santi Vila, has been released on bail. He resigned from the Catalan government before it unilaterally declared its independence from Spain.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 2 Nov 20173:29 PM

Prosecutor asks for jail time, arrest warrants

A summary of this morning’s news:

  • The Spanish prosecutor has requested that eight Catalan ministers, including the deposed vice president, Oriol Junqueras, be jailed without bail.
  • The prosecutor has also asked for an international arrest warrant against Carles Puigdemont and the four ministers who are believed to be in Brussels with him.
  • The Barcelona city has voted to reject the suspension of Catalan home rule. A motion to that effect introduced by Junqueras’ Republican Left was supported by the center-right European Democratic Party, the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) and Ada Colau’s ruling Barcelona in Common party. The latter voted against a CUP motion to recognize Catalonia as an independent republic, however.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Nov 20179:41 PM

Catalan crisis divides Podemos

El País reports that the independence crisis has divided the far-left anti-establishment movement Podemos.

Although the Catalan branch of the party, Podem, opposes secession, its deputies voted on the declaration of independence in the regional parliament last week — against it. Other unionist parties walked out in protest.

Some in Podem now argue a Catalan Republic exists, despite their personal opposition to one.

The December 21 snap elections are another sore point.

National party leaders want Podem to join Barcelona mayor Ada Colau’s Catalonia in Common alliance, which would then stand a chance of besting the mainstream Socialists. But not everybody in Podem is sure yet if they consider the elections, which were called by the central government in Madrid, legitimate.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 1 Nov 20179:26 PM

Catalonia will not retreat: Junqueras

Oriol Junqueras, the deposed Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left, writes in The New York Times that Catalonia will not retreat:

No matter what Madrid says, Carles Puigdemont and Carme Forcadell are still the president and the speaker of our parliament, respectively, and will continue to be until the day our citizens decide otherwise in a free election.

Junqueras insists a Catalan Republic now exists, but he is vague on what comes next:

In the coming days, we will have to make decisions and they will not always be easy to understand.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 31 Oct 201710:57 PM

Catalan leaders summoned to appear in Madrid court

Puigdemont and other members of the deposed Catalan government have been summoned to appear in a Madrid court on Thursday.

They have also been ordered to pay €6.2 million, the estimated cost of the October 1 referendum.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer has said the separatist leader will not show up, which could make life difficult for the Belgian government. If Puigdemont remains in Brussels, Spain could request his extradition.

Of the five ministers who traveled to Brussels with Puigdemont, two — Dolors Bassa and Joaquim Forn — have returned to Barcelona, La Vanguardia reports.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 31 Oct 20179:42 PM

Support for independence up, but most still favor compromise key

Catalans celebrate their National Day in Barcelona, Spain, September 13, 2012
Catalans celebrate their National Day in Barcelona, Spain, September 13, 2012 (Fotomovimiento)

Support for Catalan independence has gone up but remains below 50 percent, according to a survey carried out by the regional government every four months.

Given the choice between independence and the status quo, 48.7 percent of Catalans would now opt to break away against 43.6 percent who want to stay in Spain.

Those figures were 41.1 and 49.4 percent in June, respectively.

When becoming a federal state inside Spain and giving up autonomy are added as options, support for independence is still higher: 40 percent, up from 34 percent this summer.

But the combined share of Catalans who are happy with the current regime or want Spain to become a federation is larger: almost 50 percent.

Click here to read more.

András Tóth-Czifra András Tóth-Czifra 31 Oct 20178:51 PM

Support from South Ossetia

An interesting side story of the Catalan separatist crisis involves Dmitri Medoiev, the self-titled foreign minister of South Ossetia, who traveled to Barcelona before the independence declaration and opened a liaison office there. This all happened without the knowledge of the Catalan government.

Medoiev said South Ossetia — a puppet republic whose policies are overseen by Russia — would consider recognizing an independent Catalonia. The official view from Moscow was that this is an internal matter of Spain.

While there is nothing to suggest Russia had been meddling in Spanish politics the same way it has meddled in France and the United States, turmoil in a big EU member state definitively serves its goals. Russia cannot afford to support Catalan independence officially, therefore South Ossetia serves as an outlet of this policy.

It is worth mentioning in this context that “startup policymaking” has become the norm in Russia: often a minor political or business player suggests or starts a project and, in case it wins support in Moscow, they could turn into or — at least influence the appointment of — the policy’s point man. This may also be the case with South Ossetia’s advances in Barcelona.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 31 Oct 20176:25 PM

Unionist parties fail to unite

The liberal Ciudadanos have called for a pact of parties that want to remain in Spain.

“If we are able to add our strengths together, constitutionalism can beat nationalism,” Inés Arrimadas, the regional party leader, has said.

But so far the Socialists and People’s Party have rebuffed her overtures.

Polls put support for the unionists at 40 percent. The separatist European Democratic Party, Republican Left and Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) would get around 45 percent with the balance going to left-wing parties that support Catalan self-determination but not independence. The composition of the next regional parliament could be virtually unchanged, in which case the far left would hold the key to independence.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 31 Oct 20172:09 PM

Puigdemont denies seeking asylum

Deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has denied seeking political asylum in Belgium, telling reporters he is there rather “to make clear the politicization of Spanish justice.”

“I’m not asking for anything from Belgian politics,” he said.

Speaking alongside five other Catalan ministers who have been removed from power, Puigdemont promised to return home as soon as Spain could guarantee him a fair and independent trial.

He also confirmed his European Democratic Party would run in the elections called by the Spanish government — “It’s a challenge we are going to accept” — and urged Prime Minister Rajoy to accept the outcome if separatist parties once again win a majority of the seats.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 30 Oct 20176:46 PM

Could Puigdemont seek asylum in Belgium?

The purpose of Puigdemont’s trip to Brussels is still unclear. There is speculation that he might seek political asylum in Belgium.

Earlier this week, Theo Francken, the Belgian undersecretary for asylum affairs and a member of the ruling Flemish nationalist party, said it would not be “unrealistic” for Belgium to give Catalan officials sanctuary. “The question is to what extent he would get a fair trial.”

Francken’s boss, Justice Minister Koen Geens, and Prime Minister Charles Michel immediately walked back those statements.

Belgium is the only country in the EU that allows for the possibility of granting political asylum to European citizens, although doing so would aggravate relations with Spain. The government in Madrid was already outraged when Michel merely called for a negotiated solution to the separatist crisis.

Puigdemont is not alone. Five of his ministers have traveled with him: Dolors Bassa, Meritxell Borràs, Antoni Comín, Joaquim Forn and Meritxell Serret.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 30 Oct 20176:34 PM

CUP calls for disobedience

The far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), which has supported Puigdemont’s separatist government, calls on local governments and workers to bring the “maximum amount of disobedience possible” to bear against the imposition of direct rule from Madrid.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 30 Oct 20171:21 PM

No resistance to rule from Madrid yet

There has been no organized attempt to defy the suspension of home rule. Catalonia’s regional parliament has canceled a session planned for Tuesday and the two ruling parties — Puigdemont’s European Democratic Party and the Republican Left — have both decided to run in the elections called by Rajoy, thus implicitly accepting his authority.

However, Puigdemont is reportedly in Brussels today, perhaps in a last-minute bid for EU support, while Forcadel, the speaker of parliament, and Josep Rull, the sacked minister for territorial affairs, both showed up for work this morning.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 30 Oct 20171:11 PM

Catalan officials accused of rebellion

Spanish prosecutors have announced they are investigating Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet for crimes of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds. They risk prison sentences of six to thirty years.

The speaker of parliament, Carme Forcadel, and her deputies are also under investigation.

The last time public figures were charged with rebellion was in 1981, when officers of the military and Guardia Civil attempted a coup.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 29 Oct 20172:18 PM

Weak links in EU’s pro-Spanish front

Tony Barber reports for the Financial Times that the EU’s united front on Catalonia disguises a weak link or two:

  • Slovenes draw parallels between their experience as a small nation, living under what they saw as Serb domination of the Yugoslav federation, and that of the Catalans, chafing under the supremacy of Madrid.”
  • Barber doesn’t mention Flanders, but there is considerable sympathy for the Catalan cause there as well. Like the Catalans, the Flemish like to think of themselves as more industrious than their compatriots and they complain that they pay more into the central government than they get out.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 29 Oct 20172:10 PM

Majority is no longer silent

Some 300,000 Catalans demonstrated against independence in Barcelona today, according to city police.

It was the second large unity rally this month.

It used to be that Catalans opposed to independence were a “silent majority”, but they have become more vocal and more visible in recent weeks.

In addition to the protests, I’ve noticed more Spanish flags going up. The Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia has published more editorials and op-eds critical of the regional government.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 28 Oct 20173:30 PM

Madrid to assume control of Catalan government key

Here are the measures the Spanish government is taking:

  • The regional government will be removed. Mariano Rajoy’s deputy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria, is supposed to take over President Carles Puigdemont’s duties.
  • Ministries in Madrid will take control of their counterparts in Barcelona.
  • Regional government delegations abroad and the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia will be closed.
  • The heads of the regional Mossos d’Esquadra police force, Pere Soler and Josep Lluís Trapero, will be sacked.
  • In all, some 140 Catalan officials are expected to be fired.

Trapero has already stepped down and urged his agents to obey his successor.

Puigdemont hasn’t said yet if he will comply, but he did call on Catalans on Saturday to resist Madrid’s takeover “democratically” and “without violence or insults”.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20179:39 PM

Catalan officials to be charged with rebellion

Spanish prosecutors are preparing charges against members of the Catalan government and the speaker of parliament for allowing Friday’s vote on independence to take place.

The charges could be brought as early as Monday.

The leaders of two civil-society groups supporting independence have already been charged with sedition for organizing an anti-Spanish protest.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20178:30 PM

Foreign observers worry

  • Bloomberg View: “If Madrid chooses to settle this argument by any means necessary, Spain will lose in the end, because its reputation will suffer and secessionist sentiment will not be quelled.”
  • Fran Burwell, Atlantic Council: “It is one thing to take over finances, even another thing to take over public media, but to replace the local police and bring them under control is likely to be a very real challenge and create a serious possibility of violence.”
  • Steffen Lüdke, Der Spiegel: “For Rajoy’s conservative government, Article 155 is a way to inflict permanent damage on the independence movement.”
  • Gideon Rachman, Financial Times: “A very heavy-handed response from Madrid could easily backfire and create the clear majority for Catalan independence that currently does not exist.”
  • Simon Tisdall, The Guardian: “Any perceived overreaction by Madrid could inflame the situation: increasing international criticism and pushing politically undecided Catalans into the hands of the secessionists.”
  • Grayson Quay, The American Conservative: “Rajoy has promised to hold new elections in Catalonia within six months, but even after their new government has been sworn in, it is absurd to think that pro-secession Catalans will feel any ties of kinship with the Madrid government that beat them with clubs and jailed their leaders.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20176:40 PM

Rajoy dissolves Catalan parliament, calls elections

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has ordered Carles Puigdemont and his government to resign, dissolved the Catalan parliament and called regional elections for December 21.

In a statement, Rajoy said he never wanted to reach this point:

This is not about suspending self-government but returning it to normality as soon as possible, a normality that starts with the law and returning the law to the Catalans.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20175:33 PM

Spanish media condemn independence declaration

  • El País: “Just as Donald Trump made it into the White House with an isolationist message, and Brexit triumphed on the back of supremacist arguments, nationalism has imposed itself in Catalonia, causing irreparable damage to the region.”
  • El Mundo: “It is necessary to root out in Catalonia the values of discord and exclusion that foster separatism.”
  • La Razón: “Separatism has entered a dead end. It must not drag the whole of Catalonia down with it.”
  • Roberto L. Blanco Valdés, La Voz de Galicia: “Whatever the rebels decide, there is no room for compromise.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20174:44 PM

Allies back Spain key

  • Emmanuel Macron, president of France: “There is a rule of law in Spain with constitutional rules. [Rajoy] wants to make sure they are respected and he has my full support.”
  • Charles Michel, prime minister of Belgium: “We call for a peaceful solution with respect for national and international order.”
  • Donald Tusk, president of the European Council: “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favors force of argument, not argument of force.”
  • Germany: “The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Spain are inviolable.”
  • United Kingdom: “The UK does not and will not recognize the unilateral declaration of independence made by the Catalan regional parliament. It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts.”
  • United States State Department: “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain and US supports Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain united.”
  • NATO: “The Catalonia issue is a domestic matter which should be resolved within Spain’s constitutional order.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20173:18 PM

Rajoy could struggle to implement direct rule key

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy makes a speech in parliament in Madrid, October 11
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy makes a speech in parliament in Madrid, October 11 (La Moncloa)

Mariano Rajoy’s government is expected to:

  • Order the Catalan government to step down;
  • Curtail the powers of the Catalan parliament;
  • Put Catalan public media under Spanish supervision; and
  • Call regional elections within six months.

The question is if and how he will be able to enforce this.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20173:15 PM

Domestic reactions

  • Mariano Rajoy, prime minister: “I ask calm from all Spaniards. The rule of law will be restored in Catalonia.”
  • Oriol Junqueras, Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left: “We have gained the freedom to build a new country.”
  • Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona: “The majority, in both Catalonia and Spain, want the wheels to stop turning and impose dialogue, reason and an agreed solution. … Neither 155 nor the declaration of independence.”
  • Pedro Sánchez, leader of the Socialist Party: “There is no left-wing flag in the secessionist cause. … The left is with the Constitution, in its defense and in its reform.”
  • Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos: “We are against repression and for a legal referendum, but the declaration of independence is illegitimate and favors the strategy of the People’s Party’s.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 20172:15 PM

Catalan parliament declares independence

That didn’t take as long as I expected. While I was out for lunch, the Catalan parliament declared this an independent country.

Seventy out of 135 deputies voted for independence, presumably all the members of the ruling Together for Yes parties and their allies in the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).

Only ten lawmakers voted against the proclamation. The rest of the opposition walked out in protest.

Rajoy has called an emergency meeting of his cabinet tonight to discuss the situation.

The Spanish Senate has voted to approve the implementation of Article 155 of the Constitution. The prime minister argues this gives him the power to remove the regional government and call elections.

You wouldn’t know it walking the streets of Barcelona. It feels like life as usual here.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 27 Oct 201712:19 PM

Strong words from Catalan opposition parties

  • Carlos Carrizosa, Ciudadanos: “You say Article 155 has caused this. That is a lie. … You, President [Puigdemont], have been pro-independence your whole life.”
  • Eva Granados, Socialist Party: “With the unilateral declaration of independence you will destroy everything.”
  • Marta Ribas, Catalunya Sí que es Pot: “What we want is for all citizens to be able to decide via a real referendum.”
  • Alejandro Fernández, People’s Party: “Your whole project is textbook populism, full of magical thoughts. You are willing to sacrifice everything out of pure fanaticism.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Oct 201711:25 PM

Independence tests ruling coalition key

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaks with his predecessor, Artur Mas, in Barcelona, Spain, February 12, 2016
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaks with his predecessor, Artur Mas, in Barcelona, Spain, February 12, 2016 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Jordi Bedmar)

The prospect of breaking away from Spain has divided the ruling coalition in Catalonia.

Late on Thursday, Business Secretary Santi Vila, a member of President Carles Puigdemont’s center-right European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), stepped down from the government.

La Vanguardia reports that Vila was dismayed by his colleagues’ determination to secede from Spain after telling companies for weeks they had nothing to worry about.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Oct 20177:00 PM

Politicians respond to Puigdemont’s decision

  • Inés Arrimadas, Ciudadanos: “There is still time to find a solution, but you [Puigdemont] are not interested. You are interested in victimhood, which can give you many things but is never a winning strategy.”
  • Miquel Iceta, Catalan Socialist Party: “Today we have a divided society, a weakened economy and an isolated country. … Call elections, Mr President!”
  • Lluís Corominas, Together for Yes: “Tomorrow we will finish setting a new course for our country.”
  • Núria Gibert, Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP): “We will not stop until the proclamation of the republic.”
  • Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Spanish deputy prime minister: “There has always been a lack of responsibility within the government of Catalonia.”
  • Alberto Garzón, United Left: “It is irresponsible of Puigdemont not to call elections and of Rajoy not to facilitate his calling of them.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Oct 20173:13 PM

Puigdemont refuses to call elections key

In an address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Puigdemont says he has “considered the possibility of calling elections” but decided against it because “there are not enough guarantees” that Spain won’t invoke Article 155 after all and suspend Catalan home rule.

The Catalan leader says it is now up to parliament to decide whether or not to declare independence.

Media reports earlier in the day suggested Puigdemont would call elections in an attempt to stave off Spanish rule, but the reaction from separatists was overwhelmingly negative.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Oct 20172:00 PM

Puigdemont’s allies threaten to walk out

The leadership of the Republican Left has threatened to leave the government if Puigdemont calls early elections.

Party leader Oriol Junqueras told the Associated Press earlier this week that Spain was giving Catalonia no choice but to declare independence.

The Democrats of Catalonia, a small center-right separatist party that is also part of the ruling Together for Yes coalition, has rejected elections as well, arguing that the result of the October 1 referendum, “in which more than two million Catalans voted, is not open to interpretation by lawmakers.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Oct 20171:02 PM

Separatists reject early elections

  • Hardliners in the ruling Democratic Party, including Jordi Cuminal, a lawmaker, and Albert Batalla, the mayor of Seu d’Urgell, have announced their resignations in protest.
  • The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), the small anticapitalist party Puigdemont needs for his majority, considers calling elections a “retreat”.
  • The president of the Association of Municipalities for Independence, Neus Lloveras, tweets she disagrees with the decision.
  • Students demonstrating outside the government palace in Barcelona have been shouting “traitor!” and “we voted, apply the result!”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Oct 201712:14 PM

CUP disappointed, Socialists optimistic

  • The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), the small anticapitalist party that supports Puigdemont’s government, is disappointed. They were not invited to a crisis meeting last night to discuss whether or not to call elections and now accuse the ruling parties of “disloyalty”.
  • Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez has said that if Puigdemont calls elections, his party will no longer support invoking Article 155 of the Constitution to suspend Catalan home rule.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 26 Oct 201712:08 PM

Puigdemont expected to call elections

Catalan media report Puigdemont is expected to call for elections on December 20.

This is probably the best thing he could do. It might just convince Spain not to revoke Catalonia’s autonomy and it buys the two sides time to find a compromise.

Polls don’t suggest the balance between pro- and anti-independence parties will change, but Puigdemont’s center-right European Democratic Party would trade places with the Republican Left.

The Republican Left is more hardline, though, so the governments in Barcelona and Madrid still need to talk and find a way out of the crisis or they’ll be in the same situation they are now in two months’ time.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 25 Oct 201710:50 PM

Catalan public media denounce Spanish control

The publicly-owned Catalan News Agency (ACN), Catalunya Ràdio and TV3 have denounced Rajoy’s threat to put them under Spanish supervision as a “direct attack on the citizens of Catalonia” and a “denial of their right to true, objective, pluralistic, balanced information”.

The simple fact that a government plans to take over and control these media is proof enough of its intent to infringe these rights. Government control is not compatible with freedom of the press.

Catalonia’s journalists’ association earlier condemned the decision as well.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 25 Oct 20178:38 PM

Spain leaves us no choice: Junqueras

Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left, has said Spain is leaving the region with no choice but to declare independence.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Junqueras said the Spanish government “is giving us no other option than to defend the civil rights and citizens’ rights through the best tools that our institutions have.”

Claiming to speak as the leader of his party and not the region’s vice president, Junqueras maintained he would “work toward building a republic, because we understand that there is a democratic mandate to establish such a republic.”

He ruled out snap elections, arguing it would be wrong “to renounce the democratic mandate that we have from citizens.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 25 Oct 20176:58 PM

Puigdemont’s cabinet is not united

El Nacional reports that a majority of ministers from the European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and Republican Left oppose calling snap elections under Spanish pressure.

But others, including Business Secretary Santi Vila, are opposed to declaring independence and have threatened to resign.

La Vanguardia reports that Vila is dismayed by his colleagues’ plans to break away after telling companies for weeks they had nothing to worry about.

A middle road for Puigdemont may be to declare Catalonia a republic and call constituent elections — but that won’t be seen as a compromise in Madrid.

The president has called an emergency meeting of his cabinet tonight.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 25 Oct 20174:17 PM

Far left could hold the key to independence key

Mayor Ada Colau and members of the Barcelona city government attend a demonstration, October 13
Mayor Ada Colau and members of the Barcelona city government attend a demonstration, October 13 (Ajuntament Barcelona)

Catalonia’s far left could hold the key to independence after the next regional election.

Polls suggest the ruling center-right European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) will trade places with its junior partner, the Republican Left.

But the balance between pro- and anti-independence parties could be unchanged — unless Catalonia in Common (Barcelona mayor Ada Colau’s party) and Podem (the Catalan branch of Podemos) change sides.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 25 Oct 20173:36 PM

Spain could struggle to implement Article 155

El País reports that the state could struggle to implement direct rule in Catalonia, given its small footprint there.

Just 9 percent of Catalonia’s civil servants work for the national government. That is against 16 percent in neighboring Valencia, 19 percent in Andalusia and 39 percent in Madrid.

Spain has ferried in reinforcements — literally. The fact that they’re housed on cruise ships “shows how precarious the national presence in Catalonia really is.”

Active and passive resistance from Catalan officials — bureaucrats, mayors, firefighters, teachers and journalists working for the publicly-funded Catalan News Agency and TV3 — could make Spanish administrators’ lives very difficult.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 25 Oct 20171:44 PM

International criticism of Spain

  • Ivan Eland, senior fellow at the California-based Independent Institute: “The ‘democratic’ government of Spain is threatening to take over the governance of Catalonia directly if the region declares its independence. What’s next, martial law?”
  • Jakob Augstein, Der Spiegel: “Yes, Madrid has the law on its side. But what good is the law when 450,000 people demonstrate? In Spain, the nation state is dying.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 25 Oct 201711:29 AM

Mossos worried but not thinking about disobeying

El Nacional reports that agents of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force, are worried about what will happen if Spain invokes Article 155 of the Constitution on Friday. Their boss, Josep Lluís Trapero, will likely be dismissed. Other commanders may be too.

Police unions nevertheless agree they have no choice but to obey.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 24 Oct 20175:54 PM

Rajoy’s offers are too little, too late for Catalans key

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy delivers a news conference in Madrid, January 26, 2015
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy delivers a news conference in Madrid, January 26, 2015 (La Moncloa)

In my latest op-ed for the Netherlands’ NRC newspaper, I argue that Mariano Rajoy’s strategy of waiting for others to fail or rescue him isn’t working anymore.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Oct 20177:41 PM

Commentators exasperated by impasse

  • Le Monde denounces Rajoy for his “wait-and-see approach” and Puigdemont for “counting on the radicalization of public opinion. He knows that direct rule from Madrid will embolden the separatists.”
  • The Guardian: “The two antagonists are now becoming too deeply entrenched for either of them to deescalate with honor or with the agreement of their most fervent supporters. … A respected independent third party could play a role as an honest broker.”
  • Sebastian Schoepp, Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could have simply ignored the illegal independence referendum in Catalonia. Instead, he has provoked the ire of the Catalans with his heavy-handedness. His opponent, Carles Puigdemont, could have called elections until Saturday. But he prefers to put his foot down and possibly end up in prison.”
  • Carmen López Rodríguez, Joop (Netherlands): “Unfortunately, Rajoy and Puigdemont continue to set too many preconditions to make talks possible. But given the absence of international support, ongoing legal procedures and divisions in the nationalist camp, Puigdemont is in no position to make demands. Rajoy is.”
  • Jean Vanempten, De Tijd (Belgium): “Spanish arrogance and Catalan stubbornness mean there must be a compromise at some point, whether Madrid wants it or not.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Oct 20176:00 PM

Basque leader criticizes Rajoy

Iñigo Urkullu, the president of the Basque Country, calls for dialogue and negotiation in an op-ed for The Guardian newspaper:

I cannot understand or share Madrid’s approach to the decade-long crisis regarding the Basque Country, which has now extended to Catalonia. Even less so when, in the Catalan case, the government refuses to address politically a conflict that is political by its very nature and seeks purely legal answers.

Rajoy ought to pay attention to Urkullu’s criticism. His minority government needs the support of Basque parties to pass laws.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Oct 20173:47 PM

Puigdemont has five options to respond key

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont listens to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy making a speech in Barcelona, August 18
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont listens to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy making a speech in Barcelona, August 18 (La Moncloa)

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has five options to respond to the threat of direct rule from Madrid:

  1. Accept the suspension of home rule and step down.
  2. Refuse to step down, but call on other public officials to obey.
  3. Call on Catalan institutions, including the regional police, to resist Spanish intervention.
  4. Call snap elections.
  5. Declare independence.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Oct 201712:29 PM

What’s next

  • Thursday the Catalan parliament meets to discuss the region’s response to the threat of direct rule from Madrid.
  • Pro-independence groups have called for a demonstration in Barcelona on the same day to protest the Spanish government’s actions.
  • Friday the Spanish Senate is expected to confirm Rajoy’s policy and activate Article 155 of the Constitution.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 23 Oct 201712:26 PM

CUP calls for civil disobedience

The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), the small anticapitalist party Puigdemont needs for his majority in the region parliament, has called for “mass civil disobedience” in the face of what it describes as “the greatest aggression against the civil, individual and collective rights of the Catalan people since the Franco dictatorship.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Oct 20179:59 PM

Hardliners demand independence

  • Benet Salellas, deputy for the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP): “A republic is the only way to defend ourselves against the attacks of the Spanish state and exercise the sovereignty that was proclaimed with the result of the referendum.”
  • Josep Pagès, Ara newspaper: “The state … has lost its legitimacy. So it makes sense now to declare in parliament the decision taken by the people of Catalonia on October 1.”
  • Vicent Partal, VilaWeb: “The only reasonable course of action on Friday will be to activate the republic: declare independence at the same time as Spain is declaring dictatorship.”
  • Reagrupament, a small separatist party: “The declaration of independence cannot wait. Never shall fascism set foot in Catalonia again!”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Oct 20178:40 PM

Catalans prepare for “guerrilla warfare”

Michael Stothard reports for the Financial Times that Rajoy may have the law, most of the country and the army on his side, but “as any guerrilla warfare tactician knows,” none of this matters if he cannot in fact enforce his will on the ground.

According to people close to the Catalan government, ministers and regional ministries may in the coming weeks and months simply refuse to obey the edicts under Article 155 and challenge Spanish authorities to try and implement the law.

Regional ministers could simply refuse to abandon their offices and civil servants could decline to obey orders from Madrid.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Oct 20177:24 PM

Suspension of Catalan home rule divides Socialists key

Spanish Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 18
Spanish Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 18 (PSOE)

The Spanish Socialist Party’s support for the suspension of Catalan home rule has triggered defections from prominent party members in the region, including the mayors of Castellar del Vallès, Granollers and Terrassa as well as the party secretary in Manresa.

Àngel Ros, the mayor of Lleida, said that when he heard Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announce the abrogation of self-government on Saturday, “I thought of all it cost us to fight Francoism and gain freedom and democracy.”

Click here to read more.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl 22 Oct 20177:16 PM

Turn of the tide against populism

Watching Spain’s government move to crush Catalonian independence, I’m struck by how similar Barcelona’s predicament is with Irbil’s.

Catalonia and Kurdistan are both undergoing the same geopolitical process: outside powers that might bring them onto the map are standing aside as local governments reassert authority.

I think we’re starting to see a turn of the tide against the kind of populism that’s been undermining state authority — the anti-establishment tide that’s threatened the integrity of both Scotland and the EU and which has popped up even as far afield as Biafra in Nigeria and Anglo Cameroon.

This isn’t the same as a turn against the nationalist populism that’s also emerged alongside it. There were varying strains of populism that came out of the Great Recession and the War on Terror; the devolution-turned-secessionism strain is just the first that’s finally getting pushback.

It could end up strengthening that nationalist populism as well and undermine institutions like the EU. Or it could convince voters that all strains of populism run equal risks to the status quo. That remains to be seen.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Oct 20176:58 PM

Reactions from Catalan civil society

  • The Association of Catalan Municipalities and Association of Municipalities for Independence call on city councils to adopt motions this week to reject the suspension of Catalan self-government.
  • Marcel Mauri, spokesman for Òmnium Cultural: “No government can suspend popular sovereignty.”
  • Teachers’ union USTEC-STEs: “Article 155 is a legal excuse to implement a dictatorship. … [We] call on the educational community to resist the impositions of a state that can no longer be considered democratic.”
  • Catalan Media Corporation: “[We] will continue, firmly, with our mission to offer all citizens of Catalonia, in accordance with our parliamentary mandate, a quality public service, committed to ethical and democratic principles and plurality.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Oct 20174:29 PM

Puigdemont urged to preempt Article 155 with elections

  • La Vanguardia: “Self-government can be saved if, in the coming days, the president of the Generalitat dissolves parliament and calls elections on the basis of current law.”
  • David González, El Nacional: “Declaring independence will not only put an end to Puidgemont and his government. Most likely, it will lead him directly to prison. That is why I can think of only one way to turn the car around and avoid a crash: to accompany the declaration or proclamation with a call for parliamentary elections.”
  • Enric Hernàndez, El Periódico: “Carles Puigdemont has the power to stop this drama. Only he … can preserve self-government and social peace by way of a democratic exit and call elections, demanded by 68 percent of Catalans.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 22 Oct 20173:20 PM

No plans to send in troops: foreign minister

Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis has denied the government plans to send the Spanish police, let alone the army, to Catalonia, telling the BBC, “We hope that the regional police, once put under the control of people who respect and uphold the Catalan rules and the Spanish rules, everything will be fine.”

Dastis also — incredibly — claimed that many of the pictures of Catalans being beaten up by Spanish riot police on referendum day were “fake”.

If there was at all … if there was some use of force, it was not a deliberate use of force, it was a provoked use of force.

More than 800 Catalans were injured in altercations with Spanish National Police and Guardia Civil on October 1. Four were hospitalized.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20179:59 PM

Some in Spain do worry Rajoy is making a mistake

  • Público: “The state, whose main purpose is to ensure social cohesion, is failing.”
  • Fernando Garea, El Confidencial: “The worst thing is that in Catalonia [the activation of Article 155] is seen as an act of aggression while in the rest of Spain it is seen as necessary to put an end to Puigdemont’s irresponsibility.”
  • Fernando Ónega, La Voz de Galicia: “I care a lot about the million and a half [Catalans] who would settle for some kind of agreement. They should be the priority of the state. … Do not repeat the mistake of thinking only about the law.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20179:50 PM

Support for Rajoy in the Spanish media

  • El Mundo: “With the activation of Article 155, Catalan self-government isn’t ended. Rather it is restored, returning normality to institutions kidnapped by separatists.”
  • Antonio Casado, El Confidencial: “It is a constitutional recourse to defend the state from a serious attack perpetrated against the general interest by a regional government, Catalan in this case.”
  • Itxu Díaz, The Daily Beast: “Rajoy has given repeated extensions to allow Puigdemont to turn back and return to the dialogue, but within the law. Once these deadlines have expired, there is nothing left for the government to do but comply with the constitutional mandate that obliges it to return to the Catalans their legal security and freedom. In a word: restore democracy.”
  • J. García Fernández, El País: “A constitutional and prudent decision.”
  • Luis Ventoso, ABC: “After today’s fuss, nothing will happen, just as nothing happened when Aznar and Garzón liquidated the civil arm of the ETA, which had been tolerated until then.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20178:40 PM

Barcelona in the eye of a separatist storm

Patrick Kingsley reports for The New York Times that the independence crisis has provoked exceptionally sharp soul-searching and debate over allegiances and identity in Barcelona:

On the one hand, Barcelona is a global city, a former host of the Olympics and the home of one of the world’s most famous soccer clubs, FC Barcelona. It is a magnet for more than ten million visitors a year, an example of the ways large cities increasingly influence global politics, economics and culture.

On the other hand, Barcelona is … the nerve center of a drive for Catalan independence that is described by its opponents as parochial, exclusive and nationalist.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20177:41 PM

“Attack” on Catalan institutions: Puigdemont

Carles Puigdemont has called Rajoy’s suspension of Catalan home rule the “worst attack” on the region’s institutions since the end Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, but he nevertheless stopped short of declaring independence in a televised address.

Instead, Puigdemont called on the Catalan parliament to convene and discuss the Spanish government’s actions.

Concluding his speech in English, Puigdemont appealed to the EU for help to “protect” the rights of Catalans. “Democratically deciding the future of a nation is not a crime,” he said.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20177:27 PM

Experts worry about escalation

  • Fran Burwell of the Atlantic Council: “By deciding to hold elections in Catalonia, the Spanish government is essentially calling a repeat referendum on independence in an extremely polarized situation.”
  • Nafees Hamid and Clara Pretus in The Atlantic: “The actions of the Spanish government reveal a deep misunderstanding about the psychology of the independence movement.”
  • Matthew Parris of The Times: “Tinpot politicians in Madrid and Barcelona have fueled a crisis that could have been resolved with a little respect.”
  • Roger Senserrich, political scientist: “Catalonia is treading dangerously close to the abyss of ‘Ulsterization’; into a civil conflict that may be violent, toxic and intractable.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20176:29 PM

Furious reactions from Catalans

  • Oriol Junqueras, Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left: “Today the People’s Party and its allies have not just suspended autonomy. They have suspended democracy.”
  • Marta Rovira, general secretary of the Republican Left: “The Spanish government is staging a coup d’état against a legal and democratic majority.”
  • Carme Forcadell, speaker of the Catalan parliament: “Rajoy has announced the execution of a coup d’état.”
  • Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona: “This is terrible and above all it was avoidable.”
  • Xavier Trias, the leader of the center-right Democratic Party (PDeCAT) in the Barcelona city council: “An attack on the democracy and freedom of Catalonia that is without precedent.”
  • Agustí Alcoberro, vice president of the Catalan National Assembly: “They will not get us to take a step back, they will not get us to give up the fight.”
  • José Antich, editor of El Nacional: Article 155 is being used “as an umbrella to put into practice measures that have been desired for many years, but which have not been possible under the ballot box: The Spanishization of Catalonia.”
  • Ignasi Aragay, columnist for Ara: “Spain cannot accept reality.”
  • Salvador Cot of El Món: “There is now no alternative to the immediate constitution of the Catalan Republic.”
  • Catalan journalists’ association: “Interfering with the public media owned by the Catalan government is an unprecedented attack on democracy and freedom of expression.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20175:52 PM

450,000 protest in Barcelona

Some 450,000 Catalans demonstrated in Barcelona today, according to local police.

The protest had been called to demand the release of independence leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, who were jailed this week on charges of sedition. But Rajoy’s announcement earlier in the day that he would suspend Catalan home rule naturally became a focal point as well.

Notably, the protest was led by not just the leaders of the ruling separatist parties but also those of the far-left groups Catalunya en Comú and Podem. They support Catalan self-determination but have previously opposed independence. The heavy-handed response of the conservative government in Madrid is pushing them toward secession.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20174:23 PM

International headlines

  • The New York Times: “Spain will remove Catalonia leader, escalating secession crisis.”
  • Vox: “One of the most dramatic moments in Spain’s forty years of democracy.”
  • Financial Times: “An extreme move set to crush the regional independence movement.”
  • The Guardian: “Catalonia crisis escalates as Spain set to impose direct rule within days.”
  • Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany): “Spain wins the power struggle.”
  • Libération (France): “Government of Spain decides to put Catalonia under guardianship.”
  • De Tijd (Belgium): “Catalan nationalists: ‘Madrid stages coup’.”
  • NOS (Netherlands): “Spanish government takes strong action against Catalonia.”
  • Elsevier (Netherlands): “Rajoy strikes back with dismissal of Catalan leaders.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 21 Oct 20173:28 PM

Rajoy orders Puigdemont and his ministers to step down key

Invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has ordered the following measures:

  • Regional president Carles Puigdemont and his ministers are to step down. They will be replaced by Spanish administrators.
  • The powers of the Catalan parliament will be curtailed. Spain will be able to veto any legislation it enacts.
  • Catalan media will be put under Spanish supervision.
  • Snap elections will be held within six months.

Rajoy denied he is suspending Catalan self-rule, but that it what his policy — unprecedented in Spain’s democratic history — amounts to.

It is unclear if the Catalans will comply. Puigdemont has threatened to declare the region’s independence unilaterally if Spain were to revoke its autonomy.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Oct 20172:11 PM

European support for Spain

European leaders expressed their support for Spain during a council meeting in Brussels on Thursday:

  • Angela Merkel, German chancellor: “We are taking a very close look at Catalonia and are supporting the position of the Spanish government, which happens to be supported by all major political parties in Spain.”
  • Emmanuel Macron, president of France: “This European Council will be marked by a message of unity, unity around our member states in the face of the crises they may experience, unity around Spain.”
  • Theresa May, British prime minister: “We believe that people should be abiding by the rule of law and uphold the Spanish Constitution.”
  • Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament: “Nobody in the EU would recognize the independence of Catalonia.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 20 Oct 20172:05 PM

Spain to take over Catalan presidency, police, TV

When Mariano Rajoy’s cabinet meets on Saturday, it is expected to agree to take over the Catalan presidency, police force and public television, Catalan News reports.

Rajoy agreed to the measures in a meeting with Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez on Friday.

Their two parties command a majority in the Senate, which must approve the suspension of Catalan home rule.

Sidelining Puigdemont would be necessary to call snap elections, however, the Catalan president is unlikely to go quietly. He has threatened to declare Catalonia’s independence unilaterally if Spain revokes its autonomy.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 19 Oct 20176:32 PM

Spain’s hypersensitivity hurts its diplomacy

The Spanish government has lashed out at Belgium, Het Laatste Nieuws reports, describing Prime Minister Charles Michel’s call for international mediation in the Catalan crisis both “astounding” and an “unacceptable attack”.

The Spanish Interior Ministry has said it will no longer support Belgium’s candidacy for the Europol presidency in light of Michel’s comments.

Such overreaction can only hurt Spanish diplomacy. An “attack” — really? This makes Spain look petty and incapable of resolving what it maintains is an internal affair.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 19 Oct 20173:03 PM

More economic damage

The number of companies that have legally moved out of Catalonia is up to 800. Businesses that recently changed their address include Laboratorios Ordesa, which specializes in infant formula, and the real-estate firm Servihabitat.

Seat, which has a big car factory in Martorell, north of Barcelona, is considering moving as well.

Tourism is down 15 percent this month compared to last year, according to industry group Exceltur. It expects earnings to be down €1.8 billion in the last three months of this year.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 19 Oct 20171:09 PM

What suspending home rule means

Article 155 is not specific. It says the central government may adopt “measures necessary to oblige” a region that is not fulfilling its constitutional obligations and “give instructions to all of the authorities in the autonomous communities.”

The article has never been invoked before, so we have to wait and see what Rajoy decides.

Some of the things he could do:

  • Dissolve the Catalan parliament.
  • Remove Carles Puigdemont as regional president.
  • Call regional elections.
  • Put Spaniards in charge of Catalan institutions, including the regional police force.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 19 Oct 201712:46 PM

Reactions to Spanish government’s decision

  • Fernando Martínez-Maillo, national People’s Party coordinator: “The dialogue that the Catalan president demands is deceitful, because he only wants to talk in order to achieve his independence.”
  • José Luis Ábalos, Socialist Party spokesman, calls for a “very, very limited” application of Article 155.
  • Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos: “To apply Article 155 without there having been a previous unilateral declaration of independence would be a democratic step backward.”
  • Marta Pascal, general coordinator of the ruling Catalan Democratic Party: “If Spain applies Article 155, President Puigdemont will have our full support to lift the suspension [of the independence declaration] that he announced in parliament.”
  • Miquel Iceta, leader of the Catalan Socialist Party: “The threat of an impending independence declaration makes the implementation of Article 155 of the Constitution inevitable.”
  • Iñigo Urkullu, president of the Basque Country: Catalonia “never made a unilateral declaration of independence and as such Article 155 of the Constitution should not be applied under any circumstances.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 19 Oct 201712:39 PM

Spain to suspend Catalan home rule 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)

The Spanish government has announced it will suspend Catalan home rule in order to “restore legality” in the region.

Mariano Rajoy and his cabinet were unsatisfied with Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s response to their ultimatum. They had given him until Thursday to clarify that Catalonia had not declared its independence from Spain.

Puigdemont replied that the effect of the October 1 referendum — in which 43 percent of Catalans turned out and 90 percent voted for independence — is “suspended”, but he would not state unequivocally that he still considers the region part of Spain.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 18 Oct 201710:09 PM

Puigdemont makes ultimatum of his own

The Catalan president has told members of his party that if Mariano Rajoy triggers Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and suspends Catalan home rule, he will lift the suspension on the declaration of independence.

Rajoy has given Puigdemont until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning to clarify if he considers Catalonia independent or not. If he does, Rajoy has said that would be grounds for suspending self-government.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 18 Oct 20177:21 PM

Commentators urge Rajoy to give dialogue a chance

  • Bloomberg calls on Rajoy to win the argument, not crush a rebellion: “Victory by force won’t reconcile Catalonia to remaining part of Spain. Rajoy should drop the deadline and propose talks without preconditions.”
  • Sabine Riedel, a political scientist, laments in an op-ed for Der Tagesspiegel that Madrid never launched a substantive dialogue. Voters heard little about the downsides of seceding from Spain.
  • Jan D. Walter writes for Deutsche Welle that Rajoy will go down in history as the prime minister who lost Spain unless he shows a greater sense of urgency.
  • The Irish Times fears the same, admonishing him not to use his constitutional powers “in the same heavy-handed way his police attempted to repress referendum voters.”
  • Francisco J. Gonçalves writes for Portugal’s Correio da Manhã that Rajoy has the dubious gift of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time for the right reasons: “Obsessed with the fact that he is right, Mariano Rajoy is attempting to impose order on a region where millions of people despise Spain precisely because they consider Madrid overbearing and authoritarian.”
  • Joana Mortágua argues in Público that it is obvious “humiliating” Catalonia by suspending home rule would enflame the region — “so one would expect common sense. Unfortunately this no longer reigns in our neighboring monarchy.”
  • Albert Royo-Mariné, head of Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, argues in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that Rajoy is giving the Catalans an ultimatum: “either your surrender or we will arrest you. The Spanish government clearly has no interest in relieving the tension at all. What they want is 100 percent of their objectives.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 18 Oct 20176:46 PM

Catalan Socialist Party leader calls for constitutional reforms

Miquel Iceta, the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party, argues in The New York Times that federal constitutional reform would satisfy the vast majority of Catalans:

  • “Spain is a nation of nations whose sovereignty is determined by all the communities in the Spanish nation. Our Constitution should reflect that.”
  • Culture, education and language should be the exclusive responsibility of the regional government.
  • “Spain should have an equitable and socially responsible funding system in which those regions that contribute more do not receive less money per capita for public services.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 18 Oct 20171:17 PM

Rajoy offers to halt Article 155 if Catalans call elections

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has offered not to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would suspend Catalan home rule, if the region holds snap elections.

Provided such elections are not advertised as a proxy for an independence vote, which is what the separatists did in 2015.

Polls suggest little could change in the balance between separatist and unionist parties, but Carles Puigdemont’s center-right Democratic Party (PDeCAT) would probably lose many seats to its coalition partner, the Republican Left. The latter takes a harder line on independence.

The far-left alliance that includes Podemos could gain a few points, as could Rajoy’s People’s Party. But the liberal Ciudadanos would remain the largest anti-independence party.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 17 Oct 20179:54 PM

Court confirms referendum’s illegality

The Spanish Constitutional Court has officially ruled that the law which made the October 1 referendum in Catalonia possible was illegal.

It had earlier suspended the law.

In an unanimous decision, the justices write that the Catalan law “violates the supremacy of the Constitution, national sovereignty and the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 17 Oct 20176:33 PM

Demonstration for release of civil-society leaders

Tens of thousands of Catalans are demonstrating in Barcelona tonight for the release of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez. The two civil-society leaders were arrested on Monday on charges of sedition.

The manifestation stretches along the upscale Diagonal Avenue from the Plaça de Francesc Macià to the Passeig de Gràcia.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 16 Oct 20179:52 PM

Independence leaders arrested

Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural, respectively, have been arrested and jailed on charges of sedition.

Josep-Lluís Trapero, the head of the Catalan regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, has been forced to give up his passport. He faces similar charges.

Prosecutors allege that Sànchez and Cuixart mobilized Catalans on referendum day to prevent police officers from breaking up polling places.

Trapero is accused of not doing enough to stop voting, necessitating the intervention of the Guardia Civil.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 16 Oct 20172:19 PM

540 companies have left Catalonia

Unideco, a major producer of Cava sparkling wine, is the latest company to move its legal headquarters out of Catalonia.

Around 540 businesses have changed their corporate address since the start of the independence crisis, including the region’s two largest banks.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 16 Oct 20171:46 PM

Reactions to Puigdemont’s letter

  • Mariano Rajoy, prime minister: Puigdemont will be the “only person responsible for applying” Article 155.
  • Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, deputy prime minister: “Puigdemont still has the solution in his hand. He needs to answer yes or no.”
  • Fernando Martínez-Maillo, national People’s Party coordinator: “Thursday is Puigdemont’s last chance.”
  • Oscar Puente, Socialist Party lawmaker: “Puigdemont has to provide a clear answer to the notification by the government of Spain.”
  • Albert Rivera, head of the Ciudadanos party: “The blackmail of the regional government must be stopped.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 16 Oct 20171:00 PM

Puigdemont fails to clarify position

Regional president Carles Puigdemont has failed to clarify if he considers Catalonia independent or not and appealed to Madrid for dialogue:

We want to talk, as well-established democracies do, about a problem placed before us by the majority of the Catalan people, who wish to undertake a journey as an independent country within the framework of Europe.

The central government had given Puigdemont a Monday deadline to clarify his position and warned that a declaration of independence could prompt the suspension of Catalan home rule.

He has now been given until Thursday to provide an unambiguous reply.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 15 Oct 20174:21 PM

Observers sense time is running out

  • Josep Borrell, a columnist for El Periódico, calls on President “Fudgemont” to stop obfuscating the independence question, recognize the damage uncertainty is doing to the Catalan economy and call snap elections.
  • The Guardian commends Puigdemont for hitting the pause button but fears Rajoy is “determined to win a total victory.” The Spanish leader must resist the temptation to suspend Catalan home rule: “Any attempt at direct rule from Madrid would risk precipitating the situation from a constitutional crisis into a catastrophe.”
  • The Financial Times argues both sides must keep their cool: “This is a battle that will be won or lost in the court of public opinion, most pressingly among those moderate Catalans who neither favor independence nor are staunchly pro-union but who want to see the potential for instability and economic disruption dissipate.”
  • Jean Van­emp­ten is not optimistic. He writes for Belgium’s De Tijd that time is running out: “It has already become difficult to start negotiations without suffering a loss of face.”
  • In the same newspaper, Bart Ma­d­dens, a political scientist at the Catholic University of Leuven, writes that a generation has come of age that abhors the Spanish state: “They see the Spanish police as an occupying force and King Felipe as a foreign ruler. That means there is a strong foundation for a Catalan Republic, even if it won’t come into being tomorrow.”
  • Victor Lapuente Giné, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg, laments that both sides believe showing a willingness to compromise would weaken their bargaining position. The opposite is true: “Both the Spanish government and the Catalan separatists must acknowledge that, if they act with sensible generosity, the other side may respond with further concessions.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Oct 20171:07 PM

Junqueras urges left-wing support for Puigdemont

Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan vice president and leader of the Republican Left, has told his party that “the best way to achieve independence is through dialogue,” but that the end goal must be the “construction of a Catalan Republic.”

Junqueras spoke at an extraordinary meeting of his party, which opinion polls put ahead of regional president Carles Puigdemont’s center-right.

Separatist hardliners, including in Junqueras’ party, were disappointed when Puigdemont balked at declaring independence outright. He called instead for a period of dialogue.

Junqueras urged continued support for Puigdemont, saying the pro-independence parties must maintain their “confidence and unity” in the face of opposition from Madrid.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 14 Oct 201711:45 AM

Secret talks about constitutional reform

The Financial Times reports there have been secret talks in Madrid between government and opposition lawmakers about the possibility of constitutional reform.

The meetings are only a first step. The plan is to install a parliamentary committee to take evidence for six months from experts on constitutional law and then make recommendations for amendments.

Important questions, such as which topics to cover and who should serve on the committee, have yet to be answered.

Participation from Catalan nationalists would be crucial.

The Financial Times knows that the current document, which dates from 1978, is so revered because it was written by politicians from all parties and all corners of Spain.

The reaction from the Republican Left, which is projected to be the largest party in Catalonia after the next election, hasn’t been enthusiastic, though.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 13 Oct 20172:16 PM

Juncker rejects Catalan independence

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has come out against Catalan independence, arguing it could inspire dozens of regions to break away.

“It won’t be easy with 28” member states in the European Union, Juncker said, “but with 98 I imagine it to be downright impossible.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Oct 20175:45 PM

Pro-Spain rally in Barcelona

Some 65,000 people demonstrated for Spanish unity during National Day celebrations in Barcelona on Thursday, ACN reports:

Many took part in the demonstration waving Spanish flags while some also waved Catalan ones. The motto of the rally was “Yes to Spain, Yes to Catalonia”.

Around 350 people took part in a separate, far-right rally where Catalan flags were burned and the “Cara al Sol,” a Francoist hymn, was sung.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Oct 20175:08 PM

Puigdemont’s party could suffer historic defeat

Assuming Puigdemont’s center-right Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and the Republican Left (ERC) don’t compete the next regional election on a single ticket, the former could suffer an historic defeat in favor of the latter.

  • Recent polls put support for the Democrats at 8 to 13 percent, down from around 30 percent in the last few elections, which would give them only ten to twenty seats in parliament.
  • The Republican Left is polling at 25 to 32 percent support, or 41 to 51 seats.
  • The far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) is at 6 percent support, which would give them six to nine seats.

Combined, the pro-independence parties would probably win a majority of 68 seats or more. But — like in 2015 — they might not actually get more than 50 percent of the votes.

Support for the unionist parties has changed little:

  • The liberal Ciudadanos would remain the largest anti-independence party with around 18 percent support.
  • The far-left alliance that includes Podemos is up a few points.
  • So is Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party. It would get around 10 percent support.
  • The mainstream Socialists would get between 10 and 14 percent support.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 12 Oct 201712:44 PM

Inspiration from Italy

Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky suggests that South Tyrol could be a template for Catalonia.

The German-speaking region of Italy enjoys autonomy in agriculture, environmental policy, public health, tourism, welfare and a number of other areas. Courts hold bilingual proceedings. South Tyrol keeps 90 percent of the taxes it collects.

A South Tyrolean-style arrangement should resolve two of the Catalan separatists’ biggest grievances: the perceived lack of respect for their language and culture and the complaint that Madrid is vacuuming up Catalan taxes to fund poorer regions of Spain.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Oct 20173:00 PM

Rajoy doesn’t sound conciliatory

The prime minister tells Congress he supports dialogue, but warns “it is not possible to accept a unilateral imposition of viewpoints that one of the parties cannot accept.”

He puts the blame squarely on Catalan leaders, whom he accuses of launching a “disloyal and very dangerous attack” on Spanish institutions and social harmony.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Oct 201712:58 PM

Deal on constitutional reform: Sánchez

Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez says he and Rajoy have agreed on the possibility of constitutional reform. This would see a six-month evaluation of the current framework followed by a debate on changes.

Rajoy and his conservative People’s Party have so far rejected updating the 1978 document, which, according to the interpretation of the Spanish Constitutional Court, prohibits independence referendums in any one region.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Oct 201712:25 PM

No big movement in national polls

The Catalan crisis hasn’t made a huge difference in the national polls yet.

Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party is down a few points; the liberal Ciudadanos, who take a hard line on Catalan independence, are up.

The mainstream Socialist Party has gained a few points at the expense of the far-left Podemos movement, which supports a Catalan right to hold a referendum.

Support for smaller parties is virtually unchanged.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Oct 201711:54 AM

Separatist hardliners unsure about talks

The far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), which was counting on Puigdemont to declare independence outright, isn’t sure how much time to give talks with Madrid.

The party — which is essential to Puigdemont’s pro-independence majority — argued in a press conference on Tuesday that talks shouldn’t last more than one month.

But today one of its representatives, Quim Arrufat, said the party is “open” to a longer period of negotiations.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 11 Oct 201711:46 AM

Rajoy takes first step to suspending autonomy

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has taken the first step to suspending Catalan autonomy by asking his Catalan counterpart, Carles Puigdemont, if the region considers itself independent.

Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution allows the central government to take over a regional administration, but only after “having lodged a complaint with the president of the self-governing community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore.”

Puigdemont fudged the issue in a speech on Tuesday, when he suggested “suspending the effects of the declaration of independence” for talks.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 10 Oct 201710:17 PM

Puigdemont steps back from brink but satisfies neither allies nor Madrid key

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont delivers a televised address from the regional government palace in Barcelona, Spain, March 23, 2016 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Jordi Bedmar)

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has stepped back from declaring independence, telling lawmakers in Barcelona that although the region has won the right to break away from Spain he is prepared to hold talks:

I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks in the coming weeks without which it is not possible to reach an agreed solution.

The climbdown avoids a worse constitutional crisis but is unlikely to satisfy the central government in Madrid. Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, has refused to recognize last week’s referendum and conditioned dialogue on Puigdemont renouncing secession altogether.

The Catalan leader also risks alienating separatist hardliners.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 10 Oct 201711:24 AM

Strengths and weaknesses in diversity

The New York Times reports that Catalonia’s “fragile, unwieldy and paradoxical” separatist coalition between the mainstream right, the mainstream left and the far left has both strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths

  • The independence movement doesn’t need a guru or strong leader.
  • Diversity guards it against accusations of xenophobia and extremism.
  • Separatism brings together lawmakers who are not affiliated with any of the main parties but instead represent the different migrant communities that have helped transform the Catalan population.

Weaknesses

  • The independence cause has radicalized the Catalan center-right, which for decades acted as a buffer between Madrid and hardline separatists.
  • According to Josep Ramoneda, a political columnist and philosopher, the movement is “so easy to divide and disintegrate once you discuss anything other than the goal of independence in itself.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 9 Oct 201712:48 PM

Rajoy raises prospect of Article 155 takeover key

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, speaking with El País newspaper this weekend, has raised the possibility of taking over administration in Catalonia from the regional government.

“The ideal situation would be to not have to take drastic solutions, but for that to happen there would have to be rectifications,” he said, meaning the Catalans would have to forego a unilateral declaration of independence.

Rajoy has the authority under Article 155 of the Constitution to suspend Catalan autonomy, but it is a power no Spanish government has ever invoked and it would certainly meet resistance in Catalonia.

Article 155 reads:

If a self-governing community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the government, after having lodged a complaint with the president of the self-governing community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by an overall majority of the Senate, take all measures necessary to compel the community to meet said obligations, or to protect the above-mentioned general interest.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 7 Oct 20173:19 PM

Parallels

Natalie Nougayrède sees similarities between Catalonia and East Germany. She writes in The Guardian that people in both regions feel their identity has been negated.

Identity isn’t just about power, rights and institutions, Nougayrède argues. Former East Germans aren’t asking for independence. The Catalans are divided. Nor can identity be boiled down to purely economic factors. East Germany lags behind, but Catalonia is richer than the rest of Spain.

It’s about history and a sense of belonging:

Isaiah Berlin once wrote that nationalism feeds on a sense of wounded pride and humiliation. As Europe tries to sort itself out and prepare for the future … it would do well to pay closer attention to those wounds left by history. We thought that they had healed — but they really haven’t.

Doug Saunders sees similarities between Catalonia and Scotland and they have less to do with history, he argues The Globe and Mail, than with the “political incompetence” of leaders in Madrid and London.

Both Mariano Rajoy and Theresa May have created cases for secession, the former by sending in Spanish riot police to suppress a pseudo-referendum, the latter by withdrawing the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 6 Oct 20174:09 PM

International calls for dialogue

  • The Economist believes it’s not too late to save Spain: “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’.” The newspaper warns, though, that any settlement “must include the option of a referendum on independence.”
  • Carnegie Europe’s Richard Youngs writes that “fresh proposals may be needed around embryonic notions of democratically participative confederalism.”
  • The Dutch newspaper NRC urges leaders in Barcelona and Madrid to step back from the brink: “If they are unable to, it is time for help from the outside to restore a dialogue.”
  • Hans-Christian Rößler thinks it’s already too late. He calls for European intervention in a column for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “Without outside pressure, there will be no movement between Madrid and Barcelona.”
  • Jonathan Powell, a former government negotiator in Northern Ireland, agrees, writing in the Financial Times that the two sides are far more likely to reach an agreement if there is a third party involved: “Particularly when trust has become as fractured as it has in Catalonia, it is not wise to embark on a negotiation without someone neutral to facilitate it.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 6 Oct 20174:04 PM

Catalonia not ready for independence: Mas

Puigdemont’s predecessor Artur Mas, who still leads the ruling center-right Democratic Party, has told the Financial Times Catalonia isn’t ready for independence:

We have won the right to be an independent country. The question now is, how do we exercise that right, and here obviously there are decisions to be taken. And these decisions must have one objective in mind: this is not just about proclaiming independence but about actually becoming an independent country.

He pointed out that Catalonia doesn’t yet control its own borders, tax collection and justice system.

In a separate interview with Sky News, Mas said he worries there could be violence if Spain sends in the army.

Others in the Democratic Party have also urged caution, raising doubts that Puigdemont will declare independence outright.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 6 Oct 20171:34 PM

Spain apologizes for police violence

Enric Millo, the Spanish government representative in Catalonia, has apologized for the police violence on referendum day, saying:

When I see these images, and more so when I know people have been hit, pushed and even one person who was hospitalized, I can’t help but regret it and apologize on behalf of the officers who intervened.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 6 Oct 201712:35 PM

Puigdemont to address parliament on Tuesday

Regional president Carles Puigdemont has asked to speak in Catalan parliament on Tuesday and “report on the political situation”.

It seems an attempt to circumvent the Constitutional Court’s suspension of a planned session on Monday, when Puigdemont was expected to declare independence unilaterally.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 5 Oct 20179:06 PM

Court suspends debate on referendum result

Spain’s Constitutional Court has ordered the suspension of a debate in the Catalan parliament on Monday about the result of the referendum.

Given that the Catalan ruling parties ignored the Constitutional Court’s suspension of the referendum in the first place, it seems unlikely they will respect this ruling.

But opposition parties might. Indeed, it were the Catalan Socialists who asked the court to order the suspension.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 5 Oct 20173:00 PM

Echoes of the Civil War

Matt Purple argues in The American Conservative that the Catalan independence crisis has reopened schisms as old as the Civil War: state centralism versus regional independence, authoritarianism versus the freedom of the individual.

Rajoy’s refusal to recognize a Catalan referendum has only validated the secessionists’ claims that Madrid is an authoritarian oppressor, according to Purple.

It allowed government policy to seem an extension of those menacing fascists stomping through the streets. It never even tried to answer the question posed by the separatists: Why should Catalonia not be free?

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 5 Oct 20171:09 PM

Banks consider moving out

CaixaBank and Sabadell, the two largest banks in Catalonia, are considering moving their legal seat if the region declares independence from Spain, the Financial Times reports.

[CaixaBank]’s concern is that any declaration of independence in Barcelona, which could come as early as next week, would prompt a crackdown by the Spanish government in Madrid, destabilizing the region and the city.

Its departure, even if in name only, would be a blow to the separatist cause:

The bank and the Caixa Foundation that controls it enjoy an outsized presence in the region, both as an economic and financial powerhouse and as a sponsor of cultural and social programs in Catalonia and beyond.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 4 Oct 20179:34 PM

Puigdemont reiterates call for mediation

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont made no mention of declaring independence in a televised address on Wednesday night but reiterated his call for international mediation — a call Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy had rejected earlier in the day.

Puigdemont emphasized the peaceful nature of the Catalan independence movement and stressed that there must be no violence.

He lamented that King Felipe missed an opportunity in his own televised address on Tuesday to heal divisions:

The king endorsed the rhetoric and policies of the Rajoy government, which have been catastrophic in relation to Catalonia.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl 4 Oct 20178:47 PM

The world won’t let Catalonia or Kurdistan come quietly onto the map

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, October 3
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, October 3 (Fotomovimiento)

Catalonia and Kurdistan couldn’t seem farther away. One is nestled in the peace and prosperity of Western Europe, the other swims in the chaos of a dissolving Middle East.

Yet the two independence referendums of these would-be nation states are revealing. Both raise questions about the meaning of their regional orders and have provoked pushback from the status-quo world.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 4 Oct 20175:40 PM

No support for Catalans in Europe

A debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday revealed there is little European support for Catalan independence. The leaders of the four largest parties all rejected Sunday’s referendum as illegitimate, although some did criticize Spain’s heavy-handed attempt to suppress it.

Frans Timmermans, the European Commission vice president, told parliamentarians, “Respect for the rule of law is not optional, it is fundamental.”

He urged the Catalan and Spanish governments to find a negotiated solution:

It’s time to talk, to find a way out of the impasse working within the constitutional order of Spain.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 4 Oct 20175:05 PM

Police chief, civil society leaders to appear in court

Josep Lluís Trapero, the head of the Catalan police force, and the leaders of the two largest pro-independence civil society organizations, the Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium, have been summoned to appear in court on Friday to testify to charges of sedition.

The Spanish prosecutor alleges that a “tumultuous uprising” took place in Barcelona on the day gendarmerie raided regional government offices and arrested more than a dozen top civil servants suspected of planning the October 1 referendum.

No individuals have been charged with a crime yet.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 4 Oct 20171:48 PM

Where is the silent majority?

The Financial Times wonders why the silent majority of Catalans who oppose independence is struggling to be heard.

Part of the answer must be that this majority is divided against itself on all matters except its rejection of secession:

It includes radical leftists who abhor Catalan nationalism as much as Spanish nationalism; business leaders who worry about the stability of the Catalan economy; and a large group of people who simply feel Spanish, not Catalan, or who are comfortable with their dual identities.

Another reason, according to Miquel Iceta of the Catalan Socialist Party, is that the separatists have been able to present their vision as forward-looking and optimistic:

Our failure has been that we were not able to offer a project that is as inspiring and positive and that looks to the future as theirs.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 201711:25 PM

Catalonia to declare independence within days: Puigdemont

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has told the BBC his government will declare Catalan independence “at the end of this week or the beginning of next.”

When asked what he would do if the Spanish government were to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, Puigdemont said it would be “an error which changes everything.”

The regional leader also revealed there is currently no contact between the governments in Barcelona and Madrid.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 20179:23 PM

700,000 protest in Barcelona

City police report that some 700,000 Catalans demonstrated in Barcelona today — against Sunday’s police violence and for independence.

In Girona, Lleida and Tarragona, another 130,000 people took to the streets.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 20178:15 PM

King accuses Catalan government of “inadmissible disloyalty” key

In a televised address, King Felipe VI has accused the Catalan government of systematically violating the law and demonstrating “an inadmissible disloyalty” to the Spanish state.

Without mentioning the hundreds of Catalans who were injured by Spanish riot police on Sunday, the monarch maintained that the central government has a responsibility to “ensure the constitutional order and normal functioning of institutions, uphold the rule of law and the self-government of Catalonia, based on the Constitution and its Statute of Autonomy.”

Speaking directly to the citizens of Catalonia, King Felipe said, “I want to reiterate that for decades we have lived in a democratic state that offers the constitutional means for everyone to defend their ideas with respect for the law.” Without that respect, he warned, “no democratic coexistence is possible in peace and freedom, neither in Catalonia, nor in the rest of Spain.”

The king’s speech was not received well in Barcelona, where people interrupted it by banging pots and pans on their balconies.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 20175:08 PM

International calls for calm

  • The Financial Times argues the goal of talks should be “to update and, in certain areas such as regional finances, to expand the autonomy that Catalonia already enjoys under Spain’s 1978 Constitution.”
  • The Guardian puts the onus on Spain: “Finding a way out of this mess will require a willingness to listen, to Catalans most of all.”
  • R. Joseph Huddleston argues in Foreign Affairs magazine that Spain “needs to take deliberate measures to demonstrate that Catalans are respected by the government as Spaniards and that their interests are well received in Madrid.”
  • Bert Lanting writes for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that Catalan leaders must recognize the referendum’s outcome is “too shaky a basis” to declare independence and that Spain must “relax the constitutional straitjacket”.

Some are pessimistic, though:

  • Lisa Caspari laments in Germany’s Die Zeit that the Spanish government has lost its most important ally: moderate, formerly indifferent Catalans. “Since Madrid arrested Catalan mayors and sent the Guardia Civil to patrol the streets, they have been convinced: They seek to subjugate us.”
  • Paul Taylor reports for Politico that hardliners are in the drivers’ seats, playing identity politics. “Moderates have been sidelined. The mood is as combative in Barcelona as in Madrid.”
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 20174:24 PM

Brussels refuses to mediate

Catalan leaders’ call for European mediation has been turned down in Brussels, where a spokesperson for the European Commission said what happened on Sunday was an internal Spanish affair.

European leaders have urged the Catalan and Spanish governments to open a dialogue.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 20174:15 PM

Independence rally in Plaça de la Universitat

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 20171:54 PM

Will Catalonia declare independence?

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010 (SBA73)

The law which made the referendum possible calls for a declaration of independence within two days of a “yes” vote, but there are reasons to doubt the Catalans will go that far.

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Nick Ottens Nick Ottens 3 Oct 20171:37 PM

Welcome!

Welcome to our blog about the Catalan independence crisis.

92 percent of Catalans voted to secede from Spain on Sunday in a referendum that had been ruled illegal by the country’s Constitutional Court, but only 43 percent of voters turned out.

The news from this morning:

  • Strike against police violence: Called by small trade unions and separatist organizations, the industrial action is supported by public-transit workers, students and small businesses. Barcelona airport and big factories like Seat’s remain in operation.
  • Call for committee to investigate police violence: Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has called for a special committee to investigate police actions on Sunday, which Amnesty International has called “excessive”. Some 900 Catalans were injured in altercations with Spanish riot police.
  • Call for investigation into regional police’s “disobedience”: Spanish police associations say they are looking into taking legal action against the “shameful” behavior of the head of the regional Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, for “disobeying” court orders to prevent voting.

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