On Tuesday, the votes of separatist Catalan parties in the Spanish legislature resulted in the Spanish government failing to pass its national budget. As a result, Spain’s minority government has called a snap election to take place on the 28th of April. The separatists, who had previously supported the government, voted against the budget because the government refused to enter into negotiations regarding the future independence of the Spanish region of Catalonia. It is hard to predict exactly what results the snap election may bring, but there are concerns that Vox, a far-rightwing Islamophobic and anti-feminist party, is likely to make significant gains and potentially become part of a right-wing coalition. The willingness of the Spanish government to end its term early, rather than negotiate, is a disappointing sign for the future of the Catalan independence movement, which may continue to cause conflict until a democratic resolution is achieved.
Treasury Minister Maria Jesus Montero told reporters that Spain’s government “doesn’t want, nor is it able to, negotiate outside the walls of the constitution”, because Spain’s constitution does not recognise any region’s right to secede, according to Al-Jazeera. Montero also said “this government will not cede to any blackmail” from separatist politicians. Pablo Casado, the leader of the main opposition party, stated that “if it’s decided to call elections, they will be welcome”. Joan Tardà, a Catalan legislator, said his party voted against the budget (even though it included increased spending in Catalonia) because they believed the government was “running scared” from the right-wing opposition, who would use any negotiation with the separatists as political fuel. Tardà lamented the refusal to enter negotiations was “a huge lost opportunity, because they know that, sooner or later, they will have to negotiate a democratic solution”.
While Catalans should have the right to vote in a legitimate referendum on whether they want independence, it is hard to judge whether the nationalist parties’ move to topple the government is a constructive step towards this goal. The current left-wing government has had a much more constructive relationship with the separatists than the previous right-wing one, but this promising relationship might be ended if new elections result in a different coalition makeup. Urging a government to act unconstitutionally to facilitate Catalan independence is a big ask, but pursuing constitutional change to allow their independence looks perhaps even more difficult; to amend Spain’s constitution would require both houses of Spain’s bicameral legislature to have a supermajority in favour, and then the proposed change would be put to a referendum. International pressure on Spanish lawmakers is needed to ensure that a way is found for Catalans to peacefully and democratically resolve the question of independence. The European Union and Western nations which purport to endorse democracy and freedom should form the basis of this international pressure.
Catalonia has a long history as an independent nation since medieval times. It has its own language and distinct culture. It has been incorporated into many empires and political groupings over its history and has often been in a state of struggle for its independence. The most recent use of violence as a means to gain independence was by a militant group called Terra Lliure, which carried out deadly attacks between 1978 and 1992. Catalonia’s modern independence movement began in 2010, after agreements made in 2006 regarding the region’s autonomy faced legal and constitutional issues and resulted in less autonomy for the region. In 2017, a referendum was held in Catalonia which was declared illegal by the Spanish government. The central government used violent police oppression to assault voters and close polling booths. Despite the repression and an anti-separatist boycott, Catalan officials reported a 43% turnout and that nearly 90% of votes were in favour of Catalonia becoming independent. The trial of leaders who instigated the illegal referendum also began on Tuesday, the same day the government’s budget failed to pass.
Catalan deserve a chance to democratically determine their region’s future. But without international support, or the support of the wider Spanish population, it looks unlikely that the issue will be resolved in the near future. The problem will continue to cause political upheaval in Spain and one hopes that the methods the separatists use to pursue their goals continue to remain peaceful.
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