The risk of destabilisation in Europe is looming large with the Catalonia region of Spain in the north-eastern part of the country voting for secession in a referendum which the central leadership in the country is refusing to accept. Catalan leaders have threatened to declare independence unilaterally and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to stop them.
The tourist-friendly region which comprises Barcelona has 7.5 million population and accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy. After days of ill-tempered rhetoric, the central government said it regretted the injuries caused to some of those agitating for independence and suggested Catalonia should hold a regional election to settle the crisis. There is, however, no finality to the situation which continues to be fluid.
Significantly, divisions have developed among the Catalonia agitators with the region’s business minister Santi Vila proposing a ‘ceasefire’ in the row with Spain’s central government. In an article in a Catalan daily he urged the pro-secession camp to ‘reflect on the usefulness and consequences’ of a declaration of independence. But the pro-independence faction is steadfast in its demand of nothing short of independence.
Santi Vila is a close ally of regional president Carles Puigdemont. Businesses and the government kept up economic pressure on Catalonia however, with several big companies announcing moves to shift their legal domiciles to other parts of Spain. With its own language and cultural traditions, demands for independence in Catalonia date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic crisis.
The Catalan government later on Friday published final results from the referendum vote indicating that 90 per cent of voters backed the region breaking away from Spain. Voter turnout was 43 per cent.
Analysts say the Catalan government risks losing international sympathy and giving the Spanish government in Madrid an excuse for a hardline response if it makes a declaration of independence based on an unconstitutional vote. But if it waits too long to act on the results of the plebiscite it could see the momentum behind the independence movement abate. There is indeed an uneasy calm that prevails.