Will the elections in Catalonia put an end to the independence process that has shaken Spain over the past ten years?

Will the elections in Catalonia put an end to the independence process that has shaken Spain over the past ten years?
Will the elections in Catalonia put an end to the independence process that has shaken Spain over the past ten years?

Such a scenario could, however, cause turmoil in Madrid, where the left-wing government of socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez relies on the support of a patchwork of secondary political groups of which the Catalan separatists are the keystone.

For now, the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) is the big favorite in this Sunday’s elections, according to polls, with 30% to 27% of voting intentions. It is followed by Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), the right-wing independence group, founded by Carles Puigdemont, candidate for regional presidency this year. She would receive between 22 and 29% of the votes. Next comes the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), 14 to 17%.

Climate change more important than independence

I believe the desires for independence have largely passed away. Catalan society is not in favor of reactivating the ‘trial’”, estimates Jaime Ferri Durá, professor emeritus at the Complutense University of Madrid. In recent years, a certain loss of steam has been felt in independence. In the latest barometer from the Center for the Study of Opinions (CEO) of Catalonia, relations between Catalonia and the central state are today the third concern of Catalans, behind climate change and political dissatisfaction. The candidates themselves have largely diluted references to independence in favor of more concrete proposals on territorial management.

At the national level, such an outcome would be seen as a success for the left, in business since 2018 under the leadership of Pedro Sánchez. It would end a cycle that began in 2012, which reached its peak in October 2017, with the holding of a “referendum” on independence organized by the local executive, which was declared unconstitutional. The subsequent unilateral declaration of independence by the president of the regional government at the time, Carles Puigdemont, triggered a major political crisis.

After five days of uncertainty, Pedro Sanchez simply announces that he remains Prime Minister, without further explanation

The episode caused the regional government to be placed under supervision by the central state and the imprisonment of nine leaders of the Catalan movement. Carles Puigdemont, for his part, fled justice to settle in Waterloo in Belgium. The “trial” animated political debates across the country in the years that followed, and served as fuel for the meteoric emergence of the far-right party Vox.

During the legislative elections, while the right (the Spanish Popular Party) and the far right competed with repressive proposals towards the separatists, the left opened the dialogue, making concessions to the latter while recalling the limits of the Spanish Constitution.

A sham victory?

If the separatists lose the presidency of the Generalitat of Catalonia and emerge weakened from the polls this Sunday, the left’s strategy will be validated. The amnesty law which has divided the country for more than six months will then become more difficult for the right to attack. Pedro Sánchez will emerge strengthened.

But the agreement between PSOE, JxCat and ERC, which allowed the inauguration of Sánchez could be undermined by such a result”, warns Jaime Ferri Durá. How will the separatists react?

Especially since the Socialist Party of Catalonia will be forced to form a coalition to have a majority in the regional Parliament. And that the separatists will undoubtedly be unavoidable. “A coalition would be more feasible with ERC, on the left, with whom contact is more fluid”, observes the political scientist. But how would JxCat react in Madrid? They are unlikely to bring down the government, as that would open the door to a right-wing and far-right coalition. However, they can make a legislature even more sluggish where reaching agreements is already a challenge.

Regardless, no option can be ruled out. “If the separatists finally win the majority on Sunday, they will continue to demand independence, and make it their biggest priority”, explains Jaime Ferri Durá. Which would be a hard blow for Pedro Sánchez and his government. For his part, Carles Puigdemont announced that he would retire from political life if he failed to regain his place as Catalan president.

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