Catalonia pushes for independence referendum in 2014
President of Catalonia, Arthur Mas, intends to ‘internationalise conflict’ if Madrid forbids a referendum on independence.
Catalonia, the semi-autonomous region of north east Spain, has been demanding secession from Spain with growing frequency.
Last month, more than 1 million Catalans turned out to demonstrate for independence on ‘La Diada’, Catalonia’s national day, which commemorates the defeat of Catalan forces during The War of the Spanish Succession in 1714.
President Mas plans to hold a referendum on independence, including questions on membership of the European Union (EU), during a four-year term that starts after regional elections on 25 November.
Legally, however, Spain’s constitution doesn’t allow for a referendum. By contrast, the UK’s laws do give Scotland the right to a vote.
In the case of Catalonia, there is a complicated tangle of historical, legal and economic issues to cut through. The region has its own language and Catalans are often bilingual, being able to speak Catalan and Spanish.
The region contributes more in tax to Madrid than they receive, according to the government in Barcelona, who announced a net annual outflow equal to 8% of Catalonia’s gross domestic product. Also, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, seeks to impose more budgetary control on the region.
Rajoy has threatened to block a referendum. Even so, Mas plans to ask the question as polls show support for independence in Catalonia has climbed to more than 50%.
A yes vote in the referendum would not just create a constitutional crisis for Spain, but would also issue a clear challenge to the EU, which has no system for the breakup of a member state. A new entity could have future membership blocked by just one member country.
The referendum would take place around the time of a similar vote in Scotland in 2014. It could be followed by an independence vote in the Basque country, where nationalists and separatists are expected to win elections this weekend.
Mass said he would like to follow the Scottish example and negotiate a referendum with central government, but Rajoy's conservative People's party (PP) government has vowed to use Spain's constitutional court to declare any referendum illegal.
But Mas appears determined to push ahead with a referendum question that could draw the EU into a confrontation between the Catalans and the governments of member states, threatening to take the case to Brussels and “internationalise the conflict” if Rajoy blocks it.
According to the latest polls, his Convergence and Union coalition is close to obtaining an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament. The separatist Catalan Republic Left party (PSOE), which would be a natural ally in the push for independence, is also set to increase its vote.