The independence movement arises in Catalonia because the region is economically powerful, has its own distinctive language and culture, and opposed Franco during the Civil War. “There is clearly a linguistic and cultural difference with the rest of Spain, and the Spanish government has been very centrist, so in a way the independence movement is understandable,” says Cornelissen.
“But Spain is essentially a grouping of regions and provinces, so if you give free reign to Catalonia, you open up a can of worms for other regions such as the Basque area.
The Spanish government has always been very strict against separatist tendencies, of which Catalonia has been the strongest. Catalonia was on the side of the government during the Civil War, and when Franco won it, he mercilessly put down separatist movements.”
Cornelissen says Catalonia and its capital, Spain’s second-largest city Barcelona, also have enough economic clout to be able to potentially survive as an independent state. “What complicates matters is that Catalonia has always been the richest and most industrialized region, accounting for almost one-fifth of Spanish GDP,” he says. “So many in the region complain that they have to pay too much to subsidize Spain’s poorer regions such as Andalucía, which in a way some people would consider to be the true Spain.”
However, many equally powerful entities oppose independence. “A lot of companies have threatened to leave Catalonia if it becomes independent, and the central government warned just before the elections that it could not prop up Catalonian banks after independence,” says Cornelissen.
“And an independent Catalonia would not be a member of NATO or the EU, so it would have to apply for membership and sit in the waiting room with Serbia, though of course this would be handled pragmatically, as it is clearly not in the interests of NATO or the EU to have them leaving.”
The legal issue that hinders separation also needs to be overcome. “The Spanish constitution doesn’t allow secession, but under international law this is ambiguous, because you can say the sovereignty of people cannot be hindered,” says Cornelissen. “We don’t think secession is likely in the shorter term, but these wounds will continue to fester.”
“Getting 48% of the vote is still pretty impressive. It may yet escalate into a messy divorce, and given the high level of debt in Spain, this is not what investors are looking for.”