After a chaotic and contested referendum showed that an overwhelming majority of Catalans prefer secession, the government of Catalonia has decided to suspend its formal declaration of independence from Spain.
Catalonia President, Carles Puigdemont addressed the Catalan parliament with the message that while the October 1 referendum won the country the mandate for independence, he would work with Spain to resolve its worst political crisis in 40 years.
“We propose the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence for a few weeks to open a period of dialogue. If everyone acts responsibly, the conflict can be resolved in a calm and agreed manner.”
The roadmap for independence was charted in 2015 when the regional parliament of Catalonia approved a proposal made by pro-secession lawmakers from the groups “Together for Yes” alliance and the extreme left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) to separate from Spain in 2017.
Both groups secured the parliamentary majority from the September 2015 regional elections.
The Spanish government believes that the process of creating an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic was not subject to the institutions of one of its states.
Results from the October 1 referendum showed that an estimated 90% voted in favour of separation from Spain. However, voter turnout was low at only 42%.
The Catalan government shared its opinion that voter turnout would have been high; perhaps 55%, if it was not for the crackdown on polling stations by the Spanish police which often turned violent.
Under its referendum legislation, Catalonia would have 48 hours to declare its independence from Spain. During the interim, Puigdemont requested for mediation and arbitration from the European Union (EU):
“This moment needs mediation. We only received violence and repression as an answer. We do not want a traumatic break from Madrid. We want a new understanding with the Spanish state.”
But the EU chose to side with Madrid. Its executive body, the European Commission declared the referendum as illegal and issued the following statement in its Twitter account:
“We call on all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue. Violence can never be an instrument in politics.”
If Catalonia decided to declare independence, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy would move to suspend Puigdemont and take over its government.
Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, Deputy Prime Minister of Spain, denounced Puigdemont’s speech, accused the Catalan President of taking the country into uncertain territory and appeared to prefer a non-negotiable position:
“Dialogue between democrats takes place within the law, respects the rules of the game and doesn’t make them up as it goes along.”
Many of those who voted in favour of independence were disappointed at Puigdemont’s decision to hold discussions with Spain.
Already the political crisis has affected economic prospects for the province as banks and other businesses including Spain’s third largest financial institution CaixaBank have announced plans to move out of Catalonia.