Crisis in Catalonia


On the 27th October 2017, an unofficial resolution was passed in the Spanish region of Catalonia by its regional president Carles Puigdemont, which sought to declare the region of Catalonia independent from Spain. Catalonia – a region hosting around 7.5 million people – possesses its own unique language, culture and subsequent national identity. As a result, the region functions semi-autonomously from its Spanish counterparts. Apart from its distinct language and culture, nationalists from Catalonia have also argued that the region hosts greater economic prosperity than some parts of Spain – amounting to almost 20% of Spain’s GDP – herein claiming that Madrid disproportionality appropriates such wealth. The perceived legitimacy of the independence movement is reinforced by the fact that 90% of Catalans backed the move for separation in their referendum. This resulted in the formation of the Catalan Republic, though one that was not formally recognised by Spanish authorities. The Spanish prime minister serving throughout this crisis – Mariano Rajoy – has attempted multiple times to prevent Catalonia from gaining independence. As a result, Catalonia’s fight for independence has subsequently caused widespread instability and has amounted to one of the biggest political crises in Spanish history. This has resulted in widely observable police crackdowns in the country, both towards protestors and politicians; actions criticised largely from NGOs. Protests today are sporadically ongoing, particularly against the arrests of various Catalan ministers and politicians of whom are currently facing trial. Hence, with Catalonia still remaining a part of Spain, the situation remains a difficult talking point amongst people in the country, whilst the complex political crisis is reverberated throughout Europe.


Where: Catalonia (A region located in the northeast of Spain)

Major Cities in Catalonia: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida

Population: 7.6 million

Aim/Goal: To form an independent Catalonia state.

Injured: According to Catalonia’s regional government, over 900 civilians and more than 430 police officers were injured in 2017 alone.

Current Situation: Catalonia remains a region of Spain (for further information, click here)

Key actors

condemned the independence movement as illegal. The government has arrested numerous politicians responsible in the elections as well as members of the public. On the latter, police officers have been accused of violating human rights via physical brutality and in violations to freedom of expression.

was the former President of the Government of Catalonia and the key figure in calling for Catalan independence. The Spanish Government removed Puigdemont from office following his declaration of Catalan independence and issued an international arrest warrant for his capture. Avoiding arrest, he is currently residing in Belgium, recently being denied entry to Canada.

invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to effectively remove Carles Puigdemont from office. The Spanish ex-prime minister has always rejected the idea of Catalan independence and has employed numerous attempts – such as through regional snap elections – to prevent this from happening.

is the current Catalan leader. He is described by some as being a puppet of in-exile Carles Puigdemont. Quim Torra has travelled around Europe with Carles Puigdemont and has continually sought another referendum for Catalonia independence.

has offered dialogue and increased autonomy to Catalan separatist groups.
calls for the immediate release of Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart – key figures in the Catalonia independence movement – of whom have been kept in pre-trial detention since their arrests in 2017. The NGO has also criticised Spain’s aggressive response to various pro-independence protests throughout the region.
have criticised the Spanish government’s response to the independence movement.

has avoided interfering in the crisis by describing it as an internal matter for Spain. However, members from the European Commission and the European Parliament seemingly support the Spanish government by stating the referendum illegal. This was subsequently followed by remarks that the independence movement is a coup against Europe.

have mostly condemned the violence associated with the referendum and have advocated for peaceful dialogue. Some member states, such as France, have pledged support to the Spanish government and its constitution.

Timeline of the crisis

The region of Catalonia is formally given more autonomy, power, and informal recognition as a “nation” by the Spanish government.

Throughout these years, Spain enters a financial crisis via economic recession. The recession highlights the economic wealth possessed by the Catalonia region, namely in Barcelona.

Partly due to the economic recession, Spain endures protests by Catalan nationalists throughout Catalonia, though notably in its capital Barcelona. This is arguably motivated by the strong economy, culture and distinct language operated within the region.

The Spanish Constitutional Court withdraws multiple agreements regarding the autonomy of the Catalonia region. The decision aimed to weaken Catalonia’s legitimacy, and thus its distinct Catalan language, whilst also abstaining from referring to the region as a distinct nation. This arguably reignited the Catalonia independence movement with almost 1 million Catalans protesting the decision.

1.5 million people protest in Barcelona on the region’s national day against the disproportionate distribution of wealth in Catalonia compared to the rest of Spain. Due to the sheer number of people attending the protests, Catalonian independence had been given increased legitimacy and international attention.

Various calls for binding and non-binding referendums for Catalonia independence are rejected by Spanish parliament. The Spanish parliament reaffirms that any referendum would be unconstitutional, yet the parliament’s continuous rejection for a referendum fuels pro-independence movements.

Separatist parties win regional elections and Carles Puigdemont is declared Catalan president. The elections provide added strength and legitimacy to the independence movement as Carles Puigdemont aspires for independence within the next 2 years.

The Catalan government passes law to formally declare a vote for independence on October 1. This causes outrage in the Spanish constitutional court and various Catalan government officials are arrested for organising an illegal referendum. Spanish authorities desperately attempt to seize ballot offices to prevent the referendum from taking place.

The arrests of Catalan officials sparks protests from the Catalonia population and increases the movement’s popularity.

International response to the referendum is mixed with some, such as European Council President Donald Tusk, demanding respect for the rule of law, and others condemning the illegality of the vote and somewhat justifying the use of force by Spanish police.

On the 5th October, major financial institutions like Banco Sabadell decide to move headquarters away from Catalonia after pressure from the government and unfavourable political climate. As a result, more people become aware of Catalonia around the world.

The Spanish government orders the arrests of separatist leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart. This sparks outrage amongst the Catalonian population.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy disregards Catalonia’s government and its autonomy to force an election, which sees pro-independence parties win by a majority. The move by Mariano Rajoy is regarded as a violation of democracy and sparks outrage in the Catalonian population and in countries around the EU.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont reaches out to Spain for peaceful dialogue. This is rejected and Mariano Rajoy calls for another regional election.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy then, on the 30th October, charges Carles Puigdemont and various senior Catalan officials with offences of rebellion. As a result, Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet flee to Brussels.

Almost 50,000 Catalans travel to protest in Brussels to support Carles Puigdemont. The protests also criticised Europe’s inactive role on the crisis.

Catalan’s pro-independence parties maintain absolute majority in the regional snap elections, keeping the movement alive.

The Catalan parliament meets for the first time since the independence vote to discuss a new Catalan leader. The parliament, however, delays a planned vote for a new regional president, favouring Carles Puigdemont.

On the 23rd February, a poll by the Opinion Studies Center showed a decrease in support for Catalan independence from 48% in October 2017 to 41%.

Despite the lowered support for independence, most of the Catalan population are outraged by Mariano Rajoy’s suggestion that Spanish should be predominately taught in Catalan schools.

Catalan separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, who is wanted by the Spanish government on charges of sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds, announces that he is ending his bid to be reappointed president of Catalonia. He will step down in favor of detained activist Jordi Sanchez.

Several key Catalan separatist figures are also arrested throughout the month by the Spanish government. This sparked large scale protests and resulted in 20 people being injured.

Carles Puigdemont is released from prison in Germany on bail amounting to 75,000 euros as court rejects ‘rebellion’ as grounds for extradition.

Quim Torra is sworn in as Catalan president of whom is described by some as being a puppet for in-exile Carles Puigdemont.

On the 1st June, Pedro Sanchez becomes Spain’s new prime minister after vote of no-confidence against Mariano Rajoy, promising to address the pressing social needs in the country.

Later that week, Pedro Sanchez’s new government calls for dialogue with Catalan leaders and eliminates financial restrictions previously placed on Catalonia.

Protesters in Spain’s Basques region form a human chain stretching over 120 miles in aspiration for an independence vote. This is arguably motivated by the Catalonian independence movement.

Catalan president Quim Torra urges for a second independence vote quoting the ‘Scottish model’ after meeting with Scottish minister Nicola Sturgeon.

On the same day, a German court states that Carles Puigdemont could be extradited to Spain, but not on terms of ‘rebellion’ that is wanted by the Spanish government.

Catalan president Quim Torra meets with Spanish prime minster Pedro Sanchez in the attempts to ease tension.

Subsequently after meeting with the Spanish prime minister, Quim Torra takes place in a mass protest demanding the release of Catalan separatist leaders.

THE Spanish government drops an international request for Carles Puigdemont’s arrest after criticising Germany’s refusal to extradite the ex-Catalonian president.

Carles Puigdemont travels to Belgium to meet with Quim Torra and other Catalan separatists after Spain fails to extradite him from Germany. In Belgium, Carles Puigdemont informally reinstates his leadership over Catalonia by giving a speech in Belgium with Quim Torra, claiming to internationalise the Catalan political conflict.

Scottish minister Nicola Sturgeon accepts an invitation to meet with Quim Torra in Catalonia, sparking outrage amongst Scottish politicians. Carles Puigdemont later arrives in Scotland as his tour around Europe continues.

Over a million people turn out for a pro-independence rally in Barcelona on Catalonia’s self-proclaimed National Day.

The Spanish prime minister offers a referendum for greater Catalonian autonomy. This is seen as the first concrete attempt to accept Catalonian demands, albeit for autonomy and not independence.

Over a dozen injured as police clash with pro-independence movement. This incident shows that the movement is still alive despite lowered confidence amongst Catalans.

Unionist protests take place in Barcelona on Spain’s National Day in counter to pro-Independence protests in the city on Catalonia’s National Day.

Strikes take place in Catalonia against lowered working conditions. This highlights the sustaining inequality between Catalonia and Madrid.

Protests erupt as Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan leader Quim Torra meet in Barcelona. More than 50 people are injured, with over half of that number being police officers.

Pedro Sanchez’s socialist party wins general election but fails to secure majority. The election results saw far-right group VOX gain popular support whilst the conservative Popular Party received its worst results in history. 

The election results also see jailed separatist leaders, including Jordi Sanchez, win seats, but require support from the Supreme Court to be sworn in.

A court in Madrid rules that Carles Puigdemont can run for European elections.

On the 14th May, Spanish courts subsequently rule that various jailed politicians can be sworn into parliament after winning local elections.

On 21st May, various jailed Catalan politicians – such as Jordi Sanchez and Turull – are granted temporary seats in Spain’s parliament after winning support in the general election.

The newly elected Catalan Members of Parliament are subsequently suspended by the Spanish parliament on the 24th May amid an ongoing investigation.

A UN report published by the United Nations Working Group On Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) condemned the imprisonment of various Catalan separatists, including newly elected MPs Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez as arbitrary and stressed for their immediate release.

Prosecutors in Spain argue that the arrests of Catalan leaders are justified amid an intentional coup d’état against the Spanish government by declaring an independence referendum.

The Catalan president Quim Torra seeks talks with the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez amid increasing tension. The meeting is held to discuss the Supreme Court’s verdict that the Catalonia referendum was staged as a coup d’état. Quim Torra will also discuss the suggestions by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention following the arrests of various Catalan ministers.

The trial against the Catalan separatist leaders ends as political tension remains. The jailed separatist leaders on trial for claims of rebellion have urged for a political solution to the crisis and remain hesitant that they are political prisoners.

The Spanish government also prevented the ability for the various Catalan leaders to become MEPs and take seat in European parliament until the official trial verdict is delivered.

In an open letter signed by 76 MEPs, the Spanish government has been accused of violating the rights of jailed Catalan separatist leaders by not allowing them to take seats in European parliament. This increases pressure on the Spanish government following accusations this month that the jailed separatist leaders constitute political prisoners.

Despite attempts by the Spanish Prime Minister to increase Catalonian autonomy, Spain’s government ordered the closing of Catalonian embassies in Berlin, Geneva and London. Catalonian representatives have responded by arguing that Catalonia has the right to improve its foreign relations abroad in the form of embassies.

A Spanish high court announced this week that Quim Torra, current president of Catalonia, will be tried for claims of disobedience. The disobedience claims refer to the president’s refusal to remove symbols relevant to his campaign from public buildings. Quim Torra has defended his actions by claiming the right to do so in the name of freedom of expression.

Around 600,000 people march in Barcelona to mark Catalonia’s national day. The march, though celebrating Catalonia’s
national day, was also aimed at the upcoming verdict of the ontrial seperatist leaders.

Around 18,000 Catalan protesters march to commemorate two years since the declaration of Catalonia independence.

Spain’s Supreme Court sentences several Catalan separatist leaders to 13 years in prison following their allegedly illegal activity in 2017 independence referendum. The decision has sparked outrage amongst the Catalan population, with supporters marching and clashing with police in Barcelona. A renewed arrest warrant is sought for Carles Puigdemont.

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