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NEGOTIATING THE CATALAN INDIPENDENCE. di Ada Mullol

The Spanish general elections have been held on December 20th, in the middle of an excited Catalan political landscape, with the electoral victory of separatists in Catalonia on September 27th but still without an established government. The negotiations that will follow the fragmented results of the Spanish elections, in parallel with the unprecedented long-lasting process of electing a Catalan president, will affect decisively the separatists struggle for independence in the upcoming months.

Catalonia is facing a major challenge since the separatist movement got a clear majority in the Catalan Parliament in the elections on September 27th, 2015 –72 seats out of 135. From those seats, 62 were from the coalition Junts pel Sí (Together for the Yes), and 10 from the CUP, an anti-capitalist party. However, almost three months later, there is still no agreement to establish a Catalan government. The CUP party has been consistently opposing to reelect Artur Mas, and the two blocks are still stuck on negotiations. If it does not change, Catalonia could face new elections on March 2016. September elections came after a long process through which the separatist movement has been gaining strength and decisiveness. The turning point of the process was when Artur Mas’ government elected in 2010 started to get involved in the separatist movement. During the last years, the demonstrations on September 11th, the National Day of Catalonia or Diada, have turned to massive calls for the Catalan people’s right of self-determination and, eventually, for independence –the demonstration on 2015 reached between 1.4 and 2 millions of people.
It is believed that the Spanish constant blocking of any Catalan executive’s call for dialogue regarding self-determination has increased greatly the feeling of alienation from Spain among Catalans. This was clear after November 9th, 2014, when Catalans voted in an informal referendum on whether they wanted Catalonia to become an independent state. That consultation was substantially different from the referendum on independence Scotland held on September 18th, as the Spanish government did not allow a referendum, and even filed two appeals to the Constitutional Court. Despite that, a “participative process” was proposed, enhanced by civil society organizations and carried out through the participation of volunteers, although its results would have no political consequences. More than 2.3 million people, out of the 6 million Catalans in the electoral census, voted in this consultation, 80.9% of whom stated they wanted Catalonia to become an independent state. This voting process faced strong criticism, due to the lack of political legitimacy that a real referendum would offer. Nonetheless, it was conceived as a preliminary consultation whose results would be validated through the elections for the Parliament of Catalonia in which independence was the central issue on debate. In September 27th elections the separatists won again, but so far they have failed to establish a stable government to lead the country in the upcoming months.
In this complex Catalan political landscape, Spanish elections have been followed with special attention from the northeastern region, as the Spanish positioning towards the Catalan issue will affect future negotiations between the two newly elected governments. These elections have shown an unprecedented fragmentation, breaking with its traditional bipartidism between the right-wing party PP and the leftist PSOE. The spectrum has become divided into four main parties –the former ruling party (PP), with 123 seats out of 350 in the Congress; the socialists PSOE, with 90; and two new parties entering strongly in the chamber, the leftist Podemos, with 69 seats, and the right-wing Ciudadanos, with 40. None of them has achieved an absolute majority –176 seats– to elect a Spanish President, but two main coalitions could be considered. First, a unionist coalition among PP and PSOE, which is unlikely. Second, a coalition of leftist parties –PSOE and the newly empowered Podemos, that would need further support from smallest parties, such as the Catalan separatists, which is also unlikely. Ciudadanos, on the other side, has stated that it will not support PP’s leader Mariano Rajoy as President.
In the upcoming weeks, then, there will be plenty of negotiation meetings trying to find a stable Spanish government from this tetris-lookalike scenario. Nonetheless, what seems clear is that the Catalan separatist movement has become empowered with the Spanish elections. On the one hand, Catalan separatist seats have increased from 3 to 17 in the new Spanish Congress. This, added to the seats of Podemos, the Basque nationalist parties, and the leftists from IU –69, 8 and 2, respectively–, which would be in favor of a Catalan referendum, means the 27,4% of the newly elected Spanish Congress would be now willing to let Catalans exercise their self-determination. On the other hand, this favorable perspective could influence and press the two Catalan separatist blocks to finally reach an agreement and elect a Catalan President to start the process of independence from Spain.

Ada Mullol
Master Student
Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI)
Barcelona, Catalonia

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