Sánchez Has the Right Idea: A Referendum on Catalan Home Rule

The Spanish prime minister argues for renegotiating Catalonia’s autonomy before calling a referendum.

Catalan president Quim Torra is welcomed by Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez in Madrid, July 9
Catalan president Quim Torra is welcomed by Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez in Madrid, July 9 (La Moncloa)

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez has proposed calling a referendum on a renegotiated statute for Catalan home rule.

In 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court rewrote parts of Catalonia’s 2006 autonomy statute. Most of the changes were minor, except they limited Catalonia’s fiscal autonomy and took out the description of Catalonia as a “nation”.

As a result, Sánchez said in a radio interview, “Catalonia has a statute that it didn’t vote for.”

78 percent of Catalan voters ratified the 2006 statute in a referendum.

A third way

Sánchez reiterated his opposition to an independence referendum, which will dissatisfy Catalan separatists. They maintain that last year’s independence referendum was legitimate, despite being forbidden by the Constitutional Court.

But his proposal should be acceptable to the broad middle of Catalan society.

It is the “third way” I argued for in December: taking secession off the table while still giving the Catalans a say in how they are governed.

Popular support

When given only the choice between unilateral secession and accepting the status quo, Catalan society splits down the middle.

But give Catalans the option of becoming a federal state inside Spain or giving up autonomy and support for independence drops to 40 percent.

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

Only 10 percent want Catalonia to become a “normal” part of Spain with less self-government.

Whatever their views on independence, the overwhelming majority of Catalans want a legal referendum to decide their future.