Political Focus: Catalan Referendum sparks crisis

John Bozick, Web Editor

In the latest crisis to grip the European Union, Catalonia, Spain’s most prosperous region, voted for independence from the rest of Spain on October 1. While Spanish police violently blocked many protesters from taking to the polls, as many as 2.3 million people were still able to cast their vote.

While the Spanish government rejected the vote close to 90 percent of the votes cast were pro-independence, while voter turnout was only close to 43 percent, a pretty good amount if we’re judging based on American voter turnout.

However; even with the low showing, both the king of Spain and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have called the vote illegal and are calling for the local Catalan government to cease all illegal activities, yet this did nothing to stop the regional government from pushing for independence.

Catalonia, a wealthy autonomous region in Northwest Spain, has its own unique language, culture and regional government that differs from a majority of the country. The regional government situated in Barcelona provides healthcare, education and many other services to the general population. The region also contains close to 16 percent of the Spanish population and much of the countries financial sectors.

Yet, given that that the region is still required to pays taxes to the national government in Madrid, many pro-independence politicians have used this a levey for the referendum, saying that it is unfair to send tax revenue to less-wealthy regions of the country.

President of the Generalitat of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont has said that Catalonia will officially apply for a referendum law, which will call for a declaration of Independence from Spain so long as the referendum shows a clear majority.

Speaking in a televised address Puigdemont stated “The declaration of independence, that we don’t call a ‘unilateral’ declaration of independence, is foreseen in the referendum law as an application of the results. We will apply what the law says.”

This move comes after thousands of protesters took to the streets in Madrid urging both parties to set aside their differences and work towards preserving a united Spain. The march , whose slogan was “ Let’s recover our common sense”, was organized by the main pro-unity party and saw close to 350,000 people take part.

Prime minister Rajoy has also contemplated suspending Catalonia’s autonomy stating, “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.”

In order to suspend the autonomy of Catalonia he would need to enact Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, however; he like many, is hoping for a more peaceful outcome that will not  damage the Spanish state. 

Rajoy’s government fears that if Catalonia achieves independence the Basque Country of Spain would also try to seceded, this would further fracture the Spanish State and potentially triggering conflict due to the regions history of violent separatist movements.

While independence has not been declared the crisis could boil over into a major crisis that an already startled European Union would have to handle carefully. As of yet The EU will recognize Catalonia only if the vote falls under the current Spanish Constitution.