In the aftermath of last month's Brexit vote, there was an outpouring of concern in Europe that the British decision would embolden similar separatist movements across the continent. Earlier Wednesday, this is precisely what happened when Catalan nationalists voted to approve a plan to secede from Spain, defying the nation’s Constitutional Court and challenging acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is currently in political limbo as he struggles to form a government.
The decision was approved by 72 regional MPs out of 135. Ten MPs from the CSP group linked to Podemos, Partido Popular and Ciudadanos walked out of the assembly and the Socialists did not vote. A recent poll shows that 48% of the Catalan population currently supports independence compared with 43% against it.
The vote, symbolic as it may be, was one of defiance toward Madrid as Spain's Constitutional Court had in recent days prohibited the regional parliament in Barcelona from voting on it. As Ansa reports, the resolution was presented by the pro-secessionist groups Junts Pel Si and CUP. The anti-secessionist parties - PP, Ciudadanos and PSC - have spoken out against the ''illegality'' of the decision. PP parliamentary chief Xavier Garcia Albiol has said that the act is tantamount to a ''coup'' against the government in Madrid and warned that there will be a price to pay for it. The head of the Socialist party, Pedro Sanchez, said there can be no democracy without common rules, while Albert Rivera, the Catalan-born leader of liberals Ciudadanos, described it as a attack on Spanish democracy. They both have rejected supporting Rajoy’s candidacy to become premier again.
Catalan regional president and pro-secessionist Carles Puidgemont instead says that the position taken by the regional MPs is ''legitimate'' and has in recent months confirmed that the goal is to achieve an independent ''Catalan Republic'' by the end of 2017.
Meanwhile, Spain’s caretaker administration - recall that Spain has been unable to form a government after two consecutive elections - said it has called on the state’s attorney to present a challenge before the Constitutional Court dismissing the plan, which lists the steps that would be followed to create independence, including drafting a Catalan constitution.
The latest escalation in the multiyear separatist movement signals renewed impetus from Catalans to break away from Spain. It coincides with a seven-month political deadlock sparked by two inconclusive elections that left the nation without a government. While Rajoy increased his party’s seats in parliament in the second vote, he’s failed to agree on governing terms with other parties, fueling prospects for a third election. Facing a parliamentary defeat, Rajoy has said he won’t undergo a vote of confidence in the 350-seat chamber that is needed to become PM unless he has received enough pledged support from rivals to guarantee his victory.
And taking advantage of the political chaos in Spain, and the lack of an actual, elected government, Catalonia just became the second European state in the span of a month to demand secession. It may not be successful this time, but as Brexit showed, sooner or later the will of the majority will prevail.