Catalonia: Spaniards face tense week amid independence standoff

(CNN) Spain faces a week of deep political uncertainty as the standoff between the independence-minded leader of the region of Catalonia and the central government in Madrid shows no sign of easing.

In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt on Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy laid out his determination to prevent any secession by the northeastern province, which is also the powerhouse of the Spanish economy.

“Spain will not be divided, and the national unity will be preserved. To this end we will employ all the means we have within the law. It is up to the government to make decisions, and to do so at the right moment,” he was reported as saying.

“We have listened to many people. I believe we know what Spaniards think, and they should know that the government too is clear about what it has to do.”

Around 250,000 anti-independence Catalans, and supporters from the rest of Spain, marched through the streets of Barcelona on Sunday to protest any moves for a breakaway state, following a divisive and controversial referendum on October 1 that found the majority of Catalans in favor of independence.

Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont has rescheduled a session of the Catalan regional parliament for Tuesday after Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended Monday’s session.

Members of Puigdemont’s Popular Unity Candidacy party (CUP) had threatened to meet in Parliament on Monday anyway, in an act of defiance, but it is unclear if they will.

A Catalan Parliament spokesperson told CNN that a new session had been called for Tuesday at 6 p.m. (12:00 p.m. ET), in which Puigdemont is expected to update members on the “current political situation.”

The address could be the moment when Catalonia’s leader declares that the region will break away.

“Many people believe — and he seems to be moving in that direction — that he will use this opportunity to declare, or to announce the results of the referendum which, as far as he was concerned, were overwhelmingly in favor of independence,” Dominic Thomas, chair of the department of French and Francophone Studies, University of California Los Angeles, told CNN.

Whatever happens this week, it’s clear that there are deep divisions over the issue, not only between Madrid and Barcelona, but within Catalonia as well.

Rajoy vowed on Saturday to use every tool within the law to stop any meaningful declaration of independence, including a never-before-used clause in the Spanish Constitution to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy.

“We are going to stop independence from happening. On that, I can tell you with absolute frankness, that it will not happen. It is evident that we will take whatever decision that we are permitted to by law, in view of how things are unfolding,” Rajoy told the El Pais newspaper in an interview.

“The ideal scenario would be that there were no need for drastic solutions, but for that there would need to be rectifications.”

Catalan parliament to meet Tuesday

On Sunday, protesters marched in Barcelona in support of remaining part of Spain, arguing there was no reason they couldn’t be both Catalan and Spanish.

But protesters have also marched in favor of independence since the October 1 vote, claiming that the Catalans have a distinct culture from the rest of Spain and that they contribute more to the economy than the other regions.

Thomas says that the “powerful” show of support for unity means that a declaration of independence may not be well received.
“Many people stayed home and didn’t vote (Sunday) so the whole question of the mandate that he would have in speaking before that parliament and declaring independence would be challenged.

“The turnout in Barcelona and across Spain to talk about Spain and unity and to express the voice of those who would not want this referendum to go ahead was also overwhelmingly powerful.”

‘No turning back’

Catalonia is the country’s wealthiest and most productive region, qualities that have already given the Catalan people the leverage to negotiate sweeping powers and autonomy status within Spain.

Pilar, a pensioner who gave only her first name, told CNN in Barcelona that she was nervous about what this week might bring.
“If that happens I will leave Catalonia,” she said.

The division took a particularly brutal form on the day of the vote, when Spanish police sent into Catalonia by the thousands clashed with protesters and voters in an attempt to shut the referendum down.

Images of police firing rubber bullets, restraining elderly people and pulling voters from polling booths by the hair have shocked people around the world. Hundreds were injured.

Despite the outrage, Rajoy and even Spanish King Felipe VI defended the police and doubled down on their stance to take whatever measures necessary to keep Catalonia from seceding.

Rajoy was forced to apologize on Friday, but many in Catalan say the crackdown has only fueled their desire for independence.
“I didn’t feel that repressed until what happened on October 1,” 25-year-old student Mireya Jimenez told CNN

“I think that whatever they do, they have made us angry, and I think we have seen that a … part of Spain doesn’t like us — the King doesn’t like us either and so I think that, also because of how they’ve treated us just now, there is no turning back.”

What’s at stake?

There are wide implications for both Spain and Europe if Catalonia declares and achieves independence.

Catalonia accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain’s economy, and leads all regions in producing 25% of the country’s exports, CNN Money reports.

It contributes much more in taxes (21% of the country’s total) than it gets back from the government.

And there is more at stake for Madrid than losing wealth. The country has 17 regions with varying degrees of autonomy, and losing one may inspire others to begin, or revive, separatist movements.

But there are many other unanswered questions, including continued membership in the European Union.

If Catalonia was forced to independently apply for EU membership, it would have to convince all of the bloc’s current members to agree, including Spain.

Splitting from Spain would also likely mean a reduction in funds Spain can pay to the EU.

And if Catalonia became an independent state, it would not automatically be a World Trade Organization member, so would likely face stiff trade barriers that would hurt its economy.

Journalist Elena Gyldenkerne and CNN’s Vasco Cotovio contributed to this report from Barcelona.

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