Madrid Prepares to Suspend Catalonia’s Independence Referendum

While Catalonian leaders press for a new referendum, Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy has promised his party that the vote will not occur. Circumstances may soon drive Madrid to decisive action, even as Rajoy continues to push for discussion on both sides.

In order to prevent a new 9-N crisis similar to that of the 2014 independence vote, Rajoy considered the evocation of Article 155, a constitutional measure, which would allow the federal government to assume direct control of polling places and the Catalonian regional guard. This move will be contingent on court or legislative approval.

Not all Catalonians stand on the same side of this independence issue, however. The Ciudadanos’s (Citizens) leader Inés Arrimadas recently met with Vice President Santamaria in Madrid, after which Arrimadas declared, “The citizens of Catalonia are not to blame for the unrealistic plans of the Generalitat” (the Catalonian government). Thus, the Ciuadadanos will stand against any independence referendum, instead proposing that a strong, united Europe and Spain represent the best realities for Catalonia. Notwithstanding this claim, demands for a more autonomous financing system and infrastructure spending remain on the table.

On the other hand, Catalonia's CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) and ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) hope to utilize the Madrid-led trial of former Generalitat President, Artur Mas, to bolster support for independence. Artur Mas will stand trial for backing the illegal and non-binding plebiscite for Catalonian independence in 2014, from February 6-10, 2017. Ahead of his trial, Artur Mas argued, “This trial has no legal basis, since it has been filed by the Attorney General of Spain and not in Catalonia.”

Though the newest vote on independence had been scheduled for September 2017, the CUP and ERC expect to move the date up to this May. The last referendum failed to result in any decisive action, even though the vote for independence won in a landslide. In order to avoid these same dilemmas, the CUP and ERC will work together to increase regional turnout, and the CUP has suggested the implementation of new legislation to ensure that this vote actually has the full force of law.

Meanwhile, Rajoy and the Ciudadanos have assured their constituents that the vote will not occur. The immediate strategy from Madrid is to continue to press for negotiations. As Vice President Santamaria explained, the call for “dialogue but firmness” is an absolute necessity.

With both sides determined to press on, it remains unclear at this time whether dialogue is a viable option or if more extreme measures will be employed by either side.