SPAIN: Catalan independence calls unlikely to materialise but could increase security risk

Catalonian independence calls intensified in early June. This came after Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Generalitat – the regional government of the north-eastern autonomous community of Catalonia – unilaterally called on the Catalan electorate to vote in an independence referendum on 1 October, making good on his election promise from last year.

The announcement puts the Generalitat in direct confrontation with the central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who favours a negotiated solution. Puigedemont’s party Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) and its ruling coalition partners, the leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), accuse Rajoy of consistently obstructing the process and refusing to hear the will of the Catalan people, arguing that they are ‘forced’ into unilaterally calling the referendum. The referendum announcement appears timed to capitalise on current divisions within the Spanish central government in Madrid. Rajoy was subjected to a vote of no confidence on 14 June, at the request of Pablo Iglesias of the far-left Podemos party. The motion was rejected with a massive 170 votes against and 80 in favour.

However, Puigedemont and his deputy, Oriol Junqueras of the ERC, could have overplayed their hand as the announcement is dividing Catalonia’s political parties that support independence as well as some of the organisations that supported the broad political and cultural Junts pel Sí coalition, which includes CDC and ERC. While some of the parties agree, in principle, to holding the referendum, they do not necessarily see the results as legally binding. In addition, several recent polls, including by the Generalitat’s opinion studies centre, have shown that a majority of Catalan voters are still opposed to independence.

While it is clear that the vote will take place, its legal effect is less so. Regardless, the announcement does increase growing inter-regional antagonism within Spain. Nationalist groups in Madrid, who want a united Spain, have for years been calling for boycotts of Catalan products, such as the sparkling wine-product Cava, while similar groups in Catalonia have called for the boycott of Spanish products. While the impact of such campaigns appears somewhat muted, they are contributing to an increasingly polarised society, and politically-motivated attacks on private businesses, such as vandalism or break-ins, cannot be discounted. A2 advises businesses located in popular areas with strong support for Catalan independence to review their security measures and consider enhancing the security of their premises.