As Catalonia opened the ballots for an independence referendum, Spain’s central government in Madrid ruled the exercise as unconstitutional and sent police forces to disperse the voters and close the voting centers.
Catalonia, an autonomous region within Spain, has its own language, its own culture and its own government, parliament and police, albeit under Spanish law. This northeastern region, however, is still under the law of Spain’s constitution and the rule of the Spanish government. This means that taxes and the region’s economy are tied to the central government in Madrid.
Secession is not a new notion for Catalonia. In 2010, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled against granting Catalans the right to hold their language, Catalan, above Spain’s own official language, Spanish. The court also ruled any judicial power granted to Catalonia’s courts and judges as unconstitutional, and stated that even though Catalonia is an autonomous region, any reference to it as a nation is unlawful.
The constitutional court’s rulings as well as general feelings of over-taxation by the Spanish Government, sparked pro-independence movements around the region. Under the presidency of Artur Mas, Catalonia held a non-binding election with two questions: “1) Do you want Catalonia to become a state? And, if yes, 2) Do you want Catalonia to be an Independent State?” Around 37 to 41 percent of Catalans casted a ballot, and nearly 80 percent of those that voted marked “yes” to both questions reported The Atlantic.
In 2015, Carles Puigdemont was elected as the new president of the region. Puigdemont ran his campaign under the promise of carrying a binding independence vote. Amid the strong opposition of the Spanish government, Catalonia held the independence referendum on Sept. 30. The voters faced strong opposition from the Spanish police, who were ordered to confiscate ballots and close voting centers after the referendum was ruled as unconstitutional. Even though the turnout was not high, around 90 percent of the voters decided in favor of Catalan independence, and hundreds were injured during the clashes with the police.
Daniel Bennett, associate professor of political science at John Brown University, qualified the acts of police brutality as a response of a country that fears a circumvention of their authority, a move that is not viewed well in the international community.
All of the turmoil generated by a threat of Catalonia’s separation will have economic repercussions on the region.
“A Catalonian separation would create a lot of uncertainty in the market,” Randall Waldron, JBU’s professor of economics and international business, said. “Potentially there would be more transaction cost in doing business there. So, I would expect an economic setback in that market initially.”
Even though secession wouldn’t have an immediate positive impact for the economy of the region, Waldron believes that Catalonia’s strong tourist industry and the attraction of international investment into the region would help the economy in the long term.
“In the short run the transition is likely to be pretty challenging and they may be overestimating their ability to capitalize under independence. I’m not sure that they have the economic pull that they may think they do, nor, for that matter are they subsidizing the rest of Spain as much as they think they are,” Waldron said.
Even though Catalonia’s economy has been used by many as a way to justify secession, Waldron believes nationalistic feelings among the people in Catalonia may be a stronger force in their independence.
Though Catalonia and Catalans may hope for independence, for the moment, it must wait on further deliberation by Spanish parliaments. Though they have already stated that they will not recognize the results of the referendum, Catalan pride and nationalism continue to grow.