Catalonia: What happens if it declares independence from Spain?

Catalonia: What happens if it declares independence from Spain?

Catalonia: What happens if it declares independence from Spain?

Updated 5 October 2017, 11:25 AEDT

Catalonia could declare independence early next week.

King Felipe VI said this week Spain was, "at a critical juncture for our existence as a democracy", following a vote for independence in Catalonia which Spanish police tried to violently suppress.

Find out what's likely to happen next.

First, Catalan Parliament will meet on Monday to evaluate referendum results

Mireia Boya, from the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy party, said a declaration of independence would follow this.

"We know that there may be disbarments, arrests … But we are prepared, and in no case will it be stopped," she said on Twitter.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont had said he favoured mediation to find a way out of the crisis, but the Spanish Government had rejected this.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Government said Catalonia would need to "return to the path of law" before there could be any negotiations.

Declaration of independence would be considered illegal by the Spanish Government

Carlos Uxo, a Spanish studies expert at Monash University, said these would be the likely outcomes:

  • the President of Catalonia would probably be arrested
  • the Spanish Government would seize control of the region

He said the second of these would represent Spain's, "biggest crisis since the 1981 coup d'etat".

"In fact, only once since democracy has the King given a speech like [the one he gave this week], and it was during the 1981 events," he said.

That coup attempt had involved rebel soldiers holding Spain's Parliament hostage for a day. King Juan Carlos I had denounced the coup in a televised address, calling for the restoration of democracy.

Article 155 of constitution would allow Spanish Government to retake control

This is what Article 155 of the Spanish constitution says:

If an autonomous community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the constitution or other laws, or acts in a way seriously prejudicing the general interests of Spain, the Government, after lodging a complaint with the president of the autonomous community and failing to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by an absolute majority of the Senate, take the measures necessary in order to compel the latter forcibly to meet said obligations, or in order to protect the above-mentioned general interests.

First, the Spanish Government would warn the Catalan Government to put a stop to the move towards independence.

Second, if this warning wasn't heeded, the Spanish Government would seize control of the region.

This power never been used and seen as last resort

Dr Uxo thinks there are two reasons why the Spanish Government hasn't invoked this constitutional power before now.

Firstly, he thinks the Spanish Government has believed — in its delusion — the Catalan independence problem would go away. ("That obviously hasn't happened," he said.)

Secondly, Dr Uxo believes this would be a PR disaster for Spain, and would only embolden the independence movement which was already strengthened by the crackdown on the October 1 referendum.

Spain's best bet at resolving this probably won't happen

Dr Uxo believes the best outcome would be a change of Spanish government and a fresh — sanctioned — independence vote in Catalonia.

Polls taken before the independence vote had shown a majority of Catalans support unity with Spain.

"The majority of Catalans — at least until recently, and maybe even now — feel they are Spanish," Dr Uxo said.

But he believes a fresh vote is unlikely, as it would require not just a change of government, but the new government to support this move (and a significant faction in Spain's current socialist opposition strongly opposes a referendum).

Spain might have been better off having referendum decade ago

Dr Uxo believes this would have been the best option for the Spanish Government, because it's probable that Catalans would have voted in favour of remaining part of Spain.

But the risk there would have been setting a dangerous precedent — he says the experience of Scotland shows independence movements don't just go away when a referendum is defeated.

Going forward, Dr Uxo says he can't see how the movement towards independence can be stopped unless a fresh referendum is held.

This probably won't end in civil war or revolution

Dr Uxo says civil unrest is much more likely than civil war, primarily because Catalonia doesn't have an army or trained personnel, but also because civil unrest would be seen as a better path towards gaining international recognition for independence.

As well, he says Catalonia would look very similar post-independence. There's already a high degree of self-rule in the region and the Catalan Government would remain the same — the main differences would be that Catalonia would control its own taxes and would be able to control its own foreign policy.

Without Catalonia, Spain would be a very different country

When asked why Spain was so intent on keeping Catalonia, Dr Uxo said:

"I don't think 'keeping' is the word, as if Spain had taken Catalonia from someone. Catalonia has been part of Spain for centuries."

He says some would say Spain was formed when Castile and Aragon (which included Catalonia) joined in one kingdom in 1469, which makes Catalonia a founding member of Spain.

Beyond the social impact of Catalonia's independence, Spain would also experience massive economic repercussions — Catalonia is one of Spain's wealthiest regions, making up one-fifth of the Spanish economy.

ABC/Reuters