Standoff puts Catalonia’s independence plans in jeopardy

Tensions within separatist movement may stall ‘democratic disconnection’ from Spain

Acting President of Catalonia Artur Mas. Opponents say many Catalans do not want independence.  Photograph: Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Acting President of Catalonia Artur Mas. Opponents say many Catalans do not want independence. Photograph: Alex Caparros/Getty Images

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Tensions within the Catalan separatist movement have created doubts over its willingness to break unilaterally from Spain, just days after the approval of a controversial resolution announcing the beginning of an independence process.

On November 9th, the Catalan parliament approved a nine-point document proposing the northeastern region’s “democratic disconnection” from Spain and asserting its refusal to obey Spanish state institutions. The roadmap envisaged independence being completed by spring of 2017.

The independence drive has created a standoff between the Catalan regional government of Artur Mas, which has led the initiative, and the central administration.

Madrid appealed against last week’s resolution straight after its approval and the Constitutional Court has declared it suspended pending a ruling.

However, frictions within the independence camp, rather than opposition from Madrid, appear to be the most immediate obstacle to secession.

‘Big force’

Earlier this week, Catalan government spokesman Francesc Homs surprised many by telling a radio interviewer that “in Catalonia, pro-independence [parties] are a very big force but not big enough to impose their views unilaterally”.

He added that those parties did not have enough support “to complete the independence process”, apparently contradicting the gist of the recently approved resolution.

Mr Homs also said that after the December 20th general election, he expected to see “more dialogue, more negotiation and more agreement,” with the central government, all of which have been lacking between Catalonia and Madrid in recent months.

In September, the Junts pel Sí­ (Together for Yes) separatist coalition won the Catalan elections, which it treated as a plebiscite on independence.

However, it fell short of a majority of seats in the regional parliament and in order for the coalition’s candidate, Mr Mas, to continue as Catalan premier, he needed the backing of the radical leftist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).

Although the CUP wants independence, it has refused to support Mr Mas, because of corruption scandals affecting several of his colleagues and his administration’s spending cuts in Catalonia.Mr Mas’s allies warn that blocking his investiture, as the CUP has done twice since the election, will delay or even derail secession.

‘Negative effects’

In an article titled “Let’s not strangle independence” published in Catalan newspaper Ara, the head of the Catalan government’s economic department, Andreu Mas-Colell, warned that CUP’s refusal to support Mas “could have very negative effects on the Catalan political process”.

CUP deputy Julià de Jódar responded with an article in the same paper in which he accused Mas’s centre-right Convergence party of wanting to see the former “on its knees and begging for forgiveness”.

Unless Mr Mas’s coalition and CUP can agree on the leadership issue by the January 9th deadline, which is looking increasingly unlikely, new Catalan elections will be held, probably in the spring.

“If, unfortunately, there have to be elections in March, the pro-independence vote will grow,” said Oriol Junqueras, of Junts pel Sí­.

However, the noticeably less strident tone struck by the Catalan government this week appears to reflect doubts over whether Junts pel Sí­ and CUP do indeed have a mandate to begin breaking away. Together, they have 72 of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament, a narrow majority. But many critics of the independence process have been emphasising that in September’s election they won only 48 percent of votes.

Last week, Catalan Socialist Party leader Miguel Iceta accused Mas of trying “to achieve independence when not even half of Catalans want it”.

Besides the difficulties within the secessionist movement, the poor relationship between Madrid and Catalonia was underlined when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy did not include Mas in his round of consultations with Spanish political leaders on jihadist terrorism on Wednesday. Catalonia is one of Spain’s biggest hubs of jihadist activity.

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