MADRID: Catalonia may have voted to kick off a process towards independence but the wealthy region is far from breaking up with Spain, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could actually benefit in upcoming elections, experts say.
Lawmakers in Catalonia officially started a process Monday to secede from Spain by 2017 in an unprecedented showdown with Madrid, after a parliamentary majority voted for a pro-independence resolution.
The text calls on the regional assembly to start working on legislation to create a separate social security system and treasury, with a view to complete independence within 18 months — a move that Rajoy immediately challenged.
“Having seen that its discourse on economic recovery isn’t working, the (ruling) Popular Party is resorting to plan B — focusing on ‘Spain that is breaking up’,” said politics professor Anton Losada.
Threat from within?
In a direct challenge to Spain’s central government, the resolution states that the parliament in Catalonia — one of the country’s 17 semi-autonomous regions — is “sovereign.”
Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people with its own language that accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economic output, already enjoys huge autonomy in education, health and policing.
But it demands even greater powers, particularly where taxation is concerned, estimating that it gives more to the central government than it receives.
Responding to the resolution, Rajoy said his government would go to the Constitutional Court, which can suspend the text and take sanctions against those who do not respect its ruling.
Rajoy can also invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows Madrid to supersede the authority of a regional government that is acting outside the law, and go as far as cut off its funding.
But ultimately, the separatist camp itself could become its own worst enemy.
After September regional elections that saw pro-independence parties win a majority of seats in the local parliament — 72 out of 135 — they have yet to agree on who they want to lead Catalonia towards independence.
Artur Mas, Catalonia’s current head of government, is up for re-election and his Together for Yes coalition wants him back.
But lawmakers from CUP — the smaller far-left separatist party without whom his coalition cannot govern — frown on Mas, particularly for having passed tough spending cuts in the region during Spain’s recession.
As Raul Romeva of the Together for Yes coalition said Tuesday: “As long as there is no government, we will not be able to implement the measures we approved yesterday.”
Rajoy may benefit
Lawmakers in Catalonia have until January 9 to agree on who they want to lead the region, but meanwhile, time is ticking along and the December 20 general elections are looming.
Rajoy, often criticized for not offering any solutions to this crisis, has managed to garner the support of the country’s main opposition Socialists and new, increasingly popular center-right party Ciudadanos over the issue.
“In crisis situations, voters tend to cast their ballot for the government currently in place,” said political analyst Jose Ignacio Torreblanca.
Historian Carlos Gil Andres said that the prime minister was emerging as a figure of stability at a time of strong nationalistic sentiment.
And he added that other crucial issues, such as the actual content of policies, corruption and austerity were “disappearing from the political debate.”