Crisis in Catalonia

Catalonia, Europe

On the 27th of 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. Under current prime minister Pedro Sanchez, several separatist leaders have been sentenced collectively to a total of 100 years in prison for their role in the independence referendum. This has sparked widespread protests, violence and overall instability throughout the country. With Spanish elections resulting in a coalition government with the Catalan Republican Left, the issue of Catalonian independence is and will remain a difficult talking point amongst people in the country, whilst the complex political crisis reverberates throughout Europe. The spread of Covid-19 and the slow response by the Spanish Government has led to renewed calls for independence, with some opposition leaders arguing that an independent Catalonia could better handle the crisis.

"The way Spain has now behaved in Catalonia, after the referendum, is a total disgrace. If this continues, it will all reach the point of no return."

Andre Vitchek - Journalist

Key Facts

Major Cities:

Barcelona, Girona, Lleida

Population of Catalonia:

7.6 Million


Form an independent state

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

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

The Key Actors

The Situation

Classification: Secession/Independence Movement

Adviser’s suggestions:

  • Coming soon

Similar Crises:

  • Coming soon



Although the independence movement itself has lost much momentum, with most of its leaders either in exile or lacking in ability to further the Catalonian agenda, the Spanish government has softened its approach in recent years. Several prominent independence leaders have received official pardons and recent developments have demonstrated a desire for reconciliation on the government's part.

Timeline of Events

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.

The Spanish government refuses to engage in talks with Catalonian president Quim Torra, meaning that violence and protests in Catalonia continue for sixth consecutive day.

Despite advocating for non-violence, protests turned violent as police headquarters are targeted. Police subsequently clash with protesters.

Catalonian protests also take place in Oxford, the United Kingdom.

Thousands of Catalan protesters supporting union with Spain march in Barcelona to counter the protests of pro-independence movements.

Catalan separatist activists block several roads going into Spain in what illustrates the continuous unrest in the country.

Following Pedro Sanchez’s failure to security a parliamentary majority in repeat elections, the caretaker prime minister is seeking the support of the Catalan party. Tensions remain high following the Catalan party leader, Oriol Junqueras’ recent sentencing to multiple years in prison. Representatives of the Catalan party have demanded that, in order to gain support from the party, Sanchez must change his perception and rhetoric of Catalonia.

Spain’s High Court launches an investigation targeted at Russia’s supposed interference in the Catalonian independence referendum. It specifically centres on Russian Unit 29155, a group aimed at destabilising Europe. Russia has since denied any involvement in Spain’s internal affairs.
European parliamentary groups sign a letter urging the European Commission to act as a mediator between Spain and Catalonia to protect human rights.
Catalan activists clash with French police on the border between France and Spain. The activists have blocked roads on the border between both countries, a continuation of earlier road blocks this year.
Pedro Sanchez confirms that he will engage in dialogue on the issue of Catalonia if elected. For Sanchez to be elected, his party will likely require the support of the Catalonian party to secure a parliamentary majority.
Protesters gather outside Barcelona’s Camp Nou football stadium and engage in independence chants. Police fire rubber bullets at demonstrators whilst fires erupt around the city.
In a case which contends the Spanish Supreme Court’s judgement to jail separatist leader Oriol Junqueras, Europe’s highest court – the European Court of Justice, rules that the former separatist leader has the right to parliamentary immunity following European Parliament elections.
Pedro Sanchez successfully forms a coalition government with the needed support of the Catalan party (ERC) after promising dialogue on Catalonia’s future.
The Spanish Supreme Court rules that Ex-Catalan leader Oriol Junqueras will not be released from prison and will be stripped from the immunity that he enjoyed as an MEP. The decision defies the immunity presented to him by a ruling from the European Parliament in December 2019. The Catalan party will bring the matter to the European court.
Following the recent ruling in Spain’s Supreme Court, the European Parliament declares that Oriol Junqueras will no longer serve as an MEP. As a result, Junqueras forfeits the political immunity from Spain and will thus not be released from prison.
Pedro Sanchez sets a date for talks with Catalan leader Quim Torra. The talks will begin in February and will discuss the issue of Catalonia, as agreed previously in order to gain support from the Catalan party and thus maintain a parliamentary majority in the elections.
Catalan police chief, Josep Lluis Trapero, is sentenced to 11 years in prison for his alleged involvement in the Catalonian independence referendum
Catalan leader Quim Torra calls for early elections in Catalonia due to deteriorating relations in his coalition government. The early call for elections will delay planned talks with Pedro Sanchez and Quim Torra regarding the issue of Catalonian independence.
Sanchez announces that talks will take place with Quim Torra this month to resolve the political and constitutional crisis of Catalonian independence. Quim Torra reaffirms that Catalonia will be independent.
Thousands of Catalan independence supporters protest in France in support of Puigdemont. The protesters have called for a fresh way of independence protests.

The Spanish government has formally pardoned nine leaders of the failed
Catalan independence movement. Speaking on the turn of events, Spanish
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared in a televised address, “With this
act, we want to open a new era of dialogue and reconciliation…”

Thousands of pro-separatists rallied in Catalonia as leaders from both sides
of the issue began talks for reconciliation. Many reported seeing the
negotiations as a “betrayal” following the referendum from four years ago.
Catalan regional president Pere Aragones defended the talks, saying,
“Catalonia is on the brink of doing something that it has never achieved
before: opening a negotiation with the Spanish state, government to
government, to tackle how we resolve this conflict”.

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