What Could Happen If Catalonia Declares Independence

Madrid might declare a state of siege
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 3, 2017 3:58 AM CDT
What Could Happen If Catalonia Declares Independence
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont attends a protest called by pro-independence demonstrators in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday.   (Manu Fernandez)

Catalonia, one of Spain's autonomous regions, is threatening to declare its independence from Madrid following a disputed referendum that, it says, gave it a mandate to break away. Spain, which declared the referendum illegal and invalid, says it will do all it can to maintain the country's unity and keep hold of the region of 7.5 million people centered around the port city of Barcelona. The two would seem to be about to enter uncharted waters. Here's a look at how Spain got to this point and what may happen next:

  • Declaring independence. Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont says he'll keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally following a claimed win for the "Yes" side in Sunday's disputed referendum. The independence declaration could happen as early as Wednesday or Thursday when the regional parliament meets.

  • Would Catalonia be recognized as a separate country? So far, no country or international body has expressed any support for the Catalan government's independence drive, so any declaration of independence is likely to be rejected, at the beginning at least. The European Union is standing solidly behind Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and says Catalonia would be expelled from the bloc.
  • What immediate changes might be expected? Besides the removal of Spanish flags from official buildings, it's hard to see what else Catalan authorities could do. The feeling is that the declaration would be a symbolic one. Catalonia doesn't have security forces sufficient to set up borders, and key areas such as taxes, foreign affairs, defense, ports, airports, and trains are in the hands of the Spanish government in Madrid.
  • Spain's options. Spain has two main options, and both would be painful. The constitution's Article 155 allows the government to suspend any region's self-government if it attacks the general interests of Spain. Possible measures could include placing the region's police under Spanish control. The other, more extreme alternative would be to declare a state of siege, which could allow for the suspension of civil rights and imposition of martial law. Neither option is likely to happen overnight.
  • A compromise. Given the current state of affairs, this would be the most desirable for all, but with neither side backing down, the least likely to happen. Both sides say they're open to dialogue, but both put up conditions unacceptable to the other. Rajoy had insisted he couldn't discuss a referendum unless the constitution was changed, and he invited Catalonia to work on changing it. The Catalan government said its right to self-determination must be respected first before talks could proceed.
(More Catalonia stories.)

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