Deal Slips Away in Catalonia as Both Sides Dig In

The longer the impasse lasts, the more the extremes will benefit.

Barcelona Spain
W Hotel and Barceloneta Beach in Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Benjamín Gremler)

In my first contribution to World Politics Review, I write that a deal is slipping away in Catalonia as the region’s separatists remain deadlocked with the central government of Spain.

Both sides are waiting for the other to make the first move: Spain for the Catalans to form a pliable regional government; the separatists for Spain to drop charges against the leaders of their independence movement. Neither is likely to happen. And so six months after the referendum, and four months after regional elections in Catalonia, there still hasn’t been a breakthrough.

The solution, I’ve argued before, is more self-government. Most Catalans don’t feel they have enough control over their own affairs. But most don’t really want to break away either. It’s only if they are forced to choose between the status quo and secession that the population splits down the middle.

Unfortunately, more autonomy is out of the question for the current Spanish government. Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, won’t even negotiate with the Catalans.

The longer this impasse lasts, I warn, the more the extremes will benefit.

The liberal Citizens, who take a harder line against the independence movement, are stealing voters from Rajoy. Radical separatists in Catalonia are growing at the expense of pragmatists. Rajoy may come to regret not talking with reasonable separatist leaders when he had the chance.

Click here to read the whole story.


For another view, read Ignasi Ribó in Politico, who argues that more autonomy will not solve the crisis. He believes that would be unacceptable to most Spaniards and not enough to satisfy most Catalans.

They would perceive Spain’s concessions as insubstantial as long as the central state and the largely hostile demographic majority it represents remain in control.

His solution is to formalize the Catalans’ right to self-determination but require a two-thirds majority to break away. Which I don’t think is unreasonable. 50 percent plus one is a low bar for such a monumental decision as creating a new state.

Eventually, the parties would need to reach a new constitutional settlement that shares power rather than concentrates it at the center.

Ribó admits it’s far-fetched. But what’s the alternative?

Without negotiations, we will likely witness a growing spiral of repression and resistance, which can only lead to instability, deadlock, breakup, and violent confrontation.