Could Fresh Elections In Spain Reignite The Catalonian Independence Movement?

Pedro Sanchez has been acting as Spain’s Prime Minister for nearly four months after being elected in a general election largely dictated by the issue of Catalonian independence. Despite this period, however, Sanchez to date has been unable to form a new government, suffering initially from his failure to win by an absolute majority. Now, with just one month left to form a coalition government, the country is at risk of undergoing its fourth election in just four years and therefore dwelling deeper into its complex, constitutional crisis.

The problem for Sanchez is dire; if he cannot form a government by the 23rd of September, parliament will be dissolved and fresh elections will be held in November. Luckily, numerous attempts have been made, mostly by the leftist Unidas Podemos Party, to form a coalition government. Unluckily, Sanchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) has rejected these offers, despite claiming his party has “demonstrated a noble willingness to reach a deal.”

Opposing parties argue this is not the case; Podemos states that Sanchez’s PSOE merely offers “inexistent or empty” roles within the government, and this idealises the pattern of negotiations thus far. Other parties, namely the conservative, Popular Party and the anti-immigration, Vox party, are unlikely to be supported by Sanchez. But where does that leave Catalan representatives? The issue of Catalonia independence has caused difficulty for Sanchez; his most likely candidate in forming a government, Pablo Iglesias of the Podemos party, carries drastically different views on this. Even deliberating in discussion with Catalan representatives, however, has seen Sanchez labelled as “the biggest villain in Spain’s democratic history” by the leader of the People’s Party.

Momentum for the Catalonia movement has dwindled since the declaration of Catalan independence back in 2017. A poll by the regional Opinion Studies Center in May placed 49% of the Catalan population against independence—an increase of 5% since March. This can be attributed to the lack of political momentum leading the movement, since several Catalan ministers remain on trial and imprisoned. The UN has responded to such detention of Catalan ministers as “arbitrary” and as constituting “political prisoners,” condemning Spain’s government for abuse of powers. Despite this, in May, five imprisoned Catalan leaders were voted and sworn in at Spanish parliament, a first in the country’s history.

Whilst it may seem like the issue of Catalonian independence is an unreachable goal attributed to the lack of media reporting on the issue, the movement still remains alive. It is clear that for Sanchez to form an efficient government the issue of Catalan independence must be addressed and not neglected. His main and statistically only choice in forming a coalition government is through an agreement with leftists Podemos. However, Sanchez has himself admitted that the possibility of this remains uncertain due to the party leader’s supposed support for Catalan independence. There also remains the issue of a parliamentary majority, which would still be needed even if Sanchez’s PSOE and Iglesias form a coalition. One of the parties that could be instrumental for this majority, and thus avoiding partnership with far-right parties, is the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC). With Iglesias in government and concern from the UN and EU member states over Spain’s treatment of imprisoned Catalan separatists, the issue of Catalonia independence could thus witness a resurge in interest.

It is unlikely that the ERC will gain enough votes to form a coalition with Sanchez’s PSOE, even with revitalized support. Yet, it is imperative to identify the issue of Catalonian independence as the predominant root cause behind arguably Spain’s worst constitutional and political crisis in recent history. The initial attempts by Sanchez at meeting with Catalan President Quim Torra are applaudable and a step into the right direction. Condemnation of Sanchez’s efforts by opposing parties risks justifying Spain’s illegitimate treatment of the crisis, as documented by the UN and EU member states. Ultimately, the addition of Iglesias in Spain’s government, with his different views on the Catalan issue, could signify a resurgence in the Catalonian independence movement. The reality is clear, although suspended, the Catalonia issue will be back as soon as there is a new government in Spain.