26th Oct 2016

Catalonia still asking for independence

  • Half a million people gathered in Barcelona on Sunday for the Diada, the National Day of Catalonia (Photo: Reuters)

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Catalonia on Sunday (11 September) in a call for independence from Spain, amid efforts by local authorities to raise the region’s profile abroad and a domestic row over the budget.

According to local police around 850,000 people marched across five cities, including 540,000 in Barcelona to commemorate the fall of Barcelona and the subsequent loss of Catalan liberties, institutions and laws in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714.

Organisers claim over a million participants, the Spanish government delegation in the region said they were 350,000.

Two civil society groups, National Catalan Assembly and Omnium, organised the gatherings under the slogan “Ready”. Most people were dressed up in either T-shirts bearing the slogan or with the Catalan independence flag tied around their shoulders.

Among them was Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont, the first regional leader to do so.

Speaking to journalists before the demonstration, he said he feared that Catalans “will never be listened to” by the authorities in Madrid.

He said he was “willing to accept any kind of result of a referendum, unlike Madrid”, and that a referendum would have had to be agreed to with the Spanish government.

The People's Party government in Madrid has ruled out any kind of referendum or consultation and has taken legal steps against move towards independence, saying that it is against the Spanish constitution.

The issue is still very contentious both in Spain and in the region itself. A recent poll suggested that 47 percent of Catalans are in favour of Catalonia becoming an independent state while 42 percent are against.

In the crowd Griselda Valverde and Adriana Pla, two students, told EUobserver they were there “because we want to promote the wish for independence”.

But others were less enthusiastic.

“I don’t like all this patriotism and showing of flags,” said 20-year-old student Miriam Vargas, who was not taking part in the demonstration. “I would like Catalonia to become independent but not if things continue as they are. I want Catalan politics to change as well.”

“I think this national day has been turned into a circus of independence,” Roberto Blanco a Barcelona taxi driver on duty said, adding that not all Catalans want independence.

Scottish example?

A St Andrew's Cross was also to be found among participants. Robert McNair celebrated his first Diada, as the celebration is called in Catalonia, with Catalan friends.

“These Catalans were there for the Scottish independence referendum and we are returning them the favour two years later,” said the 65 year-old Scot from the Glasgow area.

The British vote and Scotland’s warning that it could leave the UK after Brexit have been followed in Catalonia.

“Understandably, there are pro-independence Catalans who are excited about the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum,” Daniel Cetrà, research fellow at the Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh, told EUobserver.

But he said events in Scotland were “unlikely to affect the evolution of the Catalan independence process, just like the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement [to organise the referendum] and the 2014 Scottish referendum did not have a significant effect”.

Edinburgh and Barcelona, he explained, are in two very different situations with the first risking being pulled out of the EU while the other has a political agenda that calls for the right to decide.

Not all agree though. “Clearly a Scottish secession could have an impact since it would show the viability of secession in Western Europe and within the European Union,” a Catalan academic, told EUobserver, asking not to be named because he doesn’t want to appear to take sides.

He said an agreement between Barcelona and Madrid that would give Catalonia full fiscal powers could be “an example of accommodation without secession”.

Since winning the Catalan election last year, the pro-independence Junts pel Si coalition (Together for Yes), and with the support of far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), has begun preparing legal steps for independence by designing a tax collection authority, a social security system and a foreign affairs department. The government in Madrid has protested against all of these steps.

Internationalising the cause

Another move, announced last week, will be to open four new Catalan delegations in EU countries, in Copenhagen, Geneva, Warsaw and Zagreb. They will work as a hub for the region of the Nordic countries; Switzerland and the international organisations; Poland and the Baltic region; and the Balkan region respectively.

A delegation was inaugurated in Lisbon last week, one year after it was approved by the region’s government.

Once opened, the four new delegations will eventually bring the number of unofficial Catalan embassies to 12. Delegations already exist in Brussels, Berlin, London, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Lisbon and in Washington.

“Catalonia should have a proper external representation suitable to what we are as a country and to the mission of this government,” Catalan foreign affairs minister Raul Romeva said at a press conference.

The move shows that “in the last four or five years it has become more important to internationalise the Catalan cause for independence”, Ferran Requejo professor of political science at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, told EUobserver.

“What they can actually do in these delegations is very restricted.”

Confidence vote

“They are very controlled by the Spanish authorities and have less room for manoeuvre than the delegations of, for example, Quebec or the Belgian regions,” he said.

Romeva himself also admitted in a radio interview on Thursday that “we are not a state, that is why our communication is often discreet”.

The opening of the new delegations, and of others planned outside Europe in the future, will have to be agreed in the 2017 budget.

But the Catalan parliament still has to approve the 2016 budget. Earlier this year, CUP – whose support is needed for a majority in the Parliament’s independence camp - decided not to back the regional spending plan because it did not support enough social and pro-secession programs.

Puigdemont has called for a confidence vote on 28 September. If he fails to get enough support, it could lead to the fourth election in the last six years.

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