Torra Gives Spain Ultimatum. His Position Is Weak

The Catalan leader doesn’t have the unequivocal support of his base.

Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region's president, May 14
Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region’s president, May 14 (Miguel González de la Fuente)

Catalan president Quim Torra has given the Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez an ultimatum: allow the Catalans to exert their right to self-determination (which Spain doesn’t recognize) by November or lose the support of Catalan nationalist parties in Congress.

Sánchez needs the Catalans for his majority, but Torra’s position is weaker.

  • Torra doesn’t have the unequivocal support of his base. On Wednesday, his own party, Together for Catalonia, and its ally, the Republican Left, urged the regional government in a parliamentary vote to seek a binding, internationally-recognized referendum in negotiations with the Spanish state. But, crucially, they did not set a deadline.
  • Sánchez has said he would call snap elections before giving in to Torra’s demands. Polls suggest that his Socialist Workers’ Party would come out on top. It might then be able to remain in government with the backing of the far-left Podemos and other regionalist parties — and without the Catalans.

More autonomy

Sánchez has broken with the inflexible policy of his right-wing predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, and offered to give the Catalans more autonomy. This, I’ve argued, is the right approach. It would give Catalonia the same rights as the Basque Country and could satisfy the broad middle of Catalan society.

But hardliners like Torra, more autonomy is no longer enough. They have only heard “no” from Madrid for years and now believe independence is the only way.