Spain and Catalonia : What Comes Next?

October 5th, 2017 - by André Lecours, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa

The Catalan government held a referendum on independence on October 1. The Spanish government considered this referendum illegal, thereby sending a signal to opponents of independence that they should refrain from participating, and it used polices forces to actively prevent Catalans from voting. As a consequence, the results show a very strong support for independence (90%) but voter turnout was low (around 42%). The Catalan government has shown all signs of making good on its promise to pursue independence in the advent of a ‘yes’ vote. A declaration of independence is expected on Monday. At the same time, Catalan President Carles Puidgemont delivered a televised addressed on Wednesday where he expressed the need for dialogue and hope for mediation. Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has declared there would be no dialogue and no mediation, and King Felipe essentially placed all the blame for the conflict at the feet of Catalan leaders in his own television address. 

The situation is therefore delicate and potentially dangerous. Both sides are boxed in by their previous statement and actions. After having treated Catalan secessionist politicians as outlaws (an approach which is not without support in the rest of Spain, especially in the conservative constituency of Mr. Rajoy’s Partido Popular), conciliation could be politically damaging for the Prime Minister and his party. Hence, the Spanish government is more likely to respond to the Catalan declaration of independence by charging various public officials with sedition or even invoking article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and suspend Catalonia’s autonomy than by accepting negotiations. The Catalan government, for its part, is unlikely to put a stop to the self-determination process after having chosen to push it this far. Such a move would surely lead to the fall of Puidgemont’s Catalan Democratic European party government, which needs the support of two more radical secessionist parties to govern.

How does this conflict end? It can end well only with dialogue, of course, and dialogue most likely would need to be spurred by some type of mediation. How we get there is, at this point, unclear.


Spain's deep crisis of democracy and Catalonia's controversial quest for independence

October 4th, 2017 - by Pablo Ouziel, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria

Looking into Spain from the outside it seems as if the current crisis in Catalonia has been caused by a Spanish State unable to accommodate the legitimate demand of the Catalan people to have the right to decide on their future. Although this is the case, from inside the country things look a lot more complicated. On the one side we have a right wing governing party in Spain the Partido Popular (PP) that is immersed in corruption scandals; Spanish courts are currently investigating 900 of its politicians. On the other hand we have a governing coalition in Catalonia JuntspelSí (Together for a Yes vote) which won the Catalan elections in 2015 with 1.1 million votes (36%) and 62 parliamentary seats. 29 of these seats are held by the right wing PdeCat (Catalan Democratic Party) and the current president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, is a member of this party. The problem with the current independence process being led by this party is that it is the successor to the now-defunct CDC (Democratic Convergence of Catalonia) party, which like its Spanish counterpart is immersed in corruption scandals. In 2014 its founder Jordi Pujol, the leader of the party from 1974 to 2003, and President of the Catalan government from 1980 to 2003, was indicted together with his wife for money laundering and tax evasion. In addition his son who was also a member of the party is now serving a prison sentence for corruption.

            It is important to remember that in Spain in 2011 we lived through the occupation of public squares by citizens referring to themselves as 15M and clearly opposing their representatives. In Catalonia 15M surrounded the Catalan Parliament in an attempt to stop the governing coalition in Catalonia from approving a set of draconian austerity measures. The then president of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, successor to Jordi Pujol in CDC, arrived to parliament in a police helicopter in order to be able to enter the building. It was months later that he announced the drive for a referendum in Catalonia blaming all the ills of Catalan society on the Spanish central government. In September of 2012 he publicly announced that it was time for the people of Catalonia to exercise the right of self-determination. A few years later in the 2015 Catalan elections Artur Mas was forced to step down amidst concerns regarding his own integrity as a politician. He then personally selected Carles Puigdemont as the person from his party that would assume the presidency of Catalonia.

            What we have today in Catalonia is a situation in which it is in the interest of both the Spanish and the Catalan presidents to augment the conflict between nationalisms. Such a conflict helps both presidents save their parties from disintegration by consolidating their voter bases. The PP presenting itself as the only party capable of stopping the secession of Catalonia, and PdeCat portraying an image as the only party capable of making Catalonia into an independent republic. Such a conflict allows these two parties to remain in power while avoiding the crisis brewing in Spain because of their corruption scandals. The social contract that was reached by Spanish citizens in 1978, during the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy has been broken. What we are seeing in Catalonia today is the beginning not the end of an escalation of conflict that will affect Spanish people in numerous ways; secession will be just one expression of social discontent in this deep crisis of democracy affecting Spain. The antidote to this crisis expressed by 15M in 2011 has now been silenced.


 Dr Amy Verdun (Professor of Political Science) and Dr Pablo Ouziel (Postdoctoral fellow) will be speaking to CFAX 1070 radio live on Wednesday 4 October 11:30am- 12:00pm noon. Each of them will speak about different aspects of the recent referendum in Catalonia.