The regional parliament of Catalonia has approved an independence referendum on October 1st, 2017.
The move has already been condemned by Madrid, which has vowed to outlaw the vote. It has also accused the Catalan parliament of committing a “constitutional and democratic atrocity” against Spain.
Catalonia is one of the most industrialized regions in Spain. Barcelona is the region’s largest city as well as its capital. Even though it is part of Spain, the region has a distinct culture and history dating back to the Middle Ages. Many native Catalans think of themselves as separate from Spain.
The political movement for a separate state of Catalonia can be traced back to 1922. Francesc Macià, the 122nd President of Catalonia founded the independentist party Estat Català. In 1931, after winning the elections, Macia declared the independent state of Catalonia. After negotiations with Spain, he accepted autonomy rather than independence. However, during the Spanish Civil War, General Francisco Franco abolished that autonomy.
A non-binding Catalan self-determination referendum was held in 2014. Over 80% of the people voted in favor of independence. However, according to estimates, only 37% of Catalan residents voted in the ballot.
Separatist parties in Catalonia currently hold a slim majority in the parliament. Catalonia already enjoys autonomous powers.
The vote calling for the referendum received 72 votes in its favor in the 135-seat chamber in Barcelona. There were 11 abstentions in total. After the votes were cast, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signed the bill into local law.
Catalonia’s deputy governor, Oriol Junqueras took to Twitter to express his joy after the vote noting, “Committed to freedom and democracy! We push on!”
Madrid has made it clear that it will be fighting the Catalan government and will do everything in its power to stop the referendum. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said, “The government will defend freedom, democracy and coexistence. We won’t allow the law to go unheeded in Spain. Let no one doubt that we know what we have to do and that we will do it.”
Alejandro Fernandez of the ruling People’s Party (PP) has also registered his opposition noting, “You will not split up Spain, but you are breaking up Catalonia. You’re putting social harmony at risk.”
Puigdemont, however hailed the historic nature of the referendum stating, “The concept of a state and patriotic unities that go beyond the rights of citizens don't have a place in today's Europe. Catalonia belongs to this world that looks forward, and that's why it will decide its own future on the 1st of October."
Our assessment is that the outcome of the referendum will have geopolitical implications on the regions for decades to come. If Catalonia declares its independence, it is likely that the Spanish government will do everything within its prowess to keep it from being part of Europe’s single market and the European Union. The region is incredibly prosperous and its secession would negatively affect Spain.