Spain Says "Referendum Won't Happen", To Shut Barcelona Airspace After Catalan Separatists Unveil Ballot Boxes

The Spanish government reiterated its angry rhetoric this morning that the "Catalan referendum won't happen" with Íñigo Méndez de Vigo saying "organizers will be held responsible," after they unveiled the ballot boxes and discussed the 2,315 polling stations to be used.

Madrid, which claims the authority of a constitution that declares the country to be indivisible, remained implacably opposed to the vote. As Reuters reports,

“I insist that there will be no referendum on Oct. 1,” central government spokesman Mendez de Vigo told a news conference following the weekly cabinet meeting, reiterating that the vote was illegal.

It appears the Catalans are ignoring him...

In a sign that large crowds are again expected on the streets on Sunday, department store chain El Corte Ingles said it would shut three stores in central Barcelona. The central government said airspace above the city would be partly restricted.

 

Lines of tractors draped in the red-and-yellow striped Catalan flag left provincial towns on Friday, planning to converge on Barcelona in a sign of support for the referendum.

 

Catalonia's vice president says more than six out of ten voters are expected to cast ballots during the region's independence referendum despite the Spanish government's aggressive efforts to stop the vote. As AP reports,

Oriol Junqueras said Friday that Catalan citizens will be able to vote on Sunday "even if somebody takes voting stations by assault and tries to avoid something as natural as placing a voting slip in a ballot."

 

Spain's Constitution says that only the nation's government can call a referendum on sovereignty. Police forces acting on judges' orders have seized ballots and arrested regional officials in an unprecedented crackdown.

 

Junqueras says an internal poll showed that more than 60 percent of the 5.3 million eligible voters plan to cast ballots.

As TheSpainReport reports, after weeks of speculation, Catalan regional government ministers unveiled the ballot boxes they mean to use for the suspended referendum vote this Sunday.

The ballot boxes are made of grey and black opaque plastic.

 

 

During a press conference before the unveiling of the ballot boxes, Deputy First Minister Oriol Junqueras said there would be 2,315 polling stations on Sunday, with 6,239 voting tables, and that there were 7,235 people involved in organising the referendum.

 

"Neither the Catalan government nor Catalan citizens are doing anything wrong", he said.

Fascinatingly, Bloomberg reports that Spain’s aviation authority will restrict airspace over Barcelona during the weekend of illegal referendum on Catalan independence.

Step is in line with policy during events that attract large crowds such as major soccer matches or demonstrations, spokesman for Public Works Ministry says by phone.

Of course, enforcing the government's wishes falls to the local police, and as The Wall Street Journal notes, they continue to see their loyalties tested...

Since it was established in the 1980s, Mossos has been one of the most visible symbols of Catalonia’s autonomy, answering directly to the Catalan Interior Ministry rather than to Madrid. Among the other 16 Spanish autonomous regions, the Basque Country is the only other to have a fully independent police force.

 

Some Mossos officials and other people familiar with the matter say Mossos won’t stop people from voting Sunday as long as there’s a sizable number of voters inside polling stations, which those officials believe would give officers public-order grounds not to intervene.

 

“Some of the measures asked by prosecutors can’t be followed without creating a bigger conflict than the one they say they want to prevent,” Joaquim Forn, Catalonia’s regional interior minister, said in an interview.

Catalan leader Puigdemont called on the police not to act in a “political” way when carrying out their duties on Sunday.

“I would like them to use the same standards that the Catalan regional police use. Not political standards, not on political orders, but policing and professional standards,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal explains how they believe the Catalan Independence vote is likely to play out...

What can be expected from the referendum?

The government of Catalonia, a wealthy region in northeastern Spain with a distinct history and language, is forging ahead with an independence referendum, even though Spain’s constitutional court has suspended the vote and the central government has declared it illegal. Spanish officials, prosecutors and judges have launched an all-out effort to block it by sending thousands of police to the region to confiscate ballots and ballot boxes, shutting down pro-referendum websites and arresting Catalan officials. Even though police have orders to stop the vote, the Catalan government has said it will still go ahead.

 

Will police try to stop the vote from taking place?

Madrid has sent about 4,000 national police officers to the region, with orders to seal polling stations. But that may not be enough to stop the ballot in many sites, especially if the Catalan police corps claim public-order grounds to avoid intervening when a sizable number of voters are present. Pro-independence supporters plan to occupy polling stations starting Friday, but police might still succeed in sealing off a few of them. This could force some attendees to hold a makeshift vote instead.

 

What is the result likely to be?

The latest official poll showed the independence camp has lost some support over the past three years: 35% of Catalans want independence, compared with 49% in 2013. But a survey earlier this month by Catalan pro-independence newspaper ARA found that almost 70% of those who are planning to vote are in favor of secession. However, because Madrid and pro-union parties have declared the referendum illegal, those supporting Catalonia remaining part of Spain are likely to boycott the vote, suggesting a result in favor of secession is more likely.

 

If the vote is in favor of independence, then what?

That is unclear. Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puigdemont, has promised to declare independence. But a unilateral move is unlikely to have international recognition, and members of Mr. Puigdemont’s own party have denied a declaration of independence will happen. Such an attempt would likely drive Madrid to seize control of the regional government, although some still hope Barcelona—the Catalan capital—and Madrid could sit down to negotiate a resolution to the region’s grievances. Regardless, pro-independence activists are planning large demonstrations and possibly a general strike aimed at pressuring Madrid to offer a negotiated path toward separation or compelling the European Union to mediate.

Will the economy and financial markets be disrupted?
So far, investors have shown only moderate concern, with Catalan bank stocks struggling a bit. Spain’s borrowing costs have widened slightly relative to Germany’s, with investment banks like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. recommending investors sell some Spanish bonds. Economic data are strong for both Spain and Catalonia, but a prolonged general strike in the region could hamper the recovery. Were Catalonia to separate, ratings companies warn that Spain could have trouble to repay its debts, since Catalonia makes up 19% of Spanish gross domestic product, but Catalans could face significant financial disruption during their transition toward independence.

Spanish equity markets have been paying attention...

But for now, as Citi notes, while Catalan bonds have weakened, the referendum has not been a focus of FX markets; but it appears the Spanish authorities are getting anxious.

As Bloomberg reports, lenders who may be holding their breath over Spain’s secessionist upheaval can sleep calmly.

The central government will guarantee payment to all creditors of the Catalan regional administration, according to a Budget Ministry official.

Regardless of Catalan separatists’ attempts to hold an illegal referendum for independence on Sunday and possibly declare independence from Spain, the ministry will make sure banks, suppliers and civil servants keep getting paid on time, the official said.

Finally, and entirely unexpectedly, Brussels has very much come down on the side of Madrid with AP reporting that European Union officials have ruled out helping to mediate the clash between Spain's government and Catalan officials over Catalonia's upcoming independence referendum.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said at an EU summit in Estonia on Friday that the dispute is "a Spanish problem in which we can do little. It's a problem of respecting Spanish laws that Spaniards have to resolve."

 

Catalan officials, including the mayor of Barcelona, have asked the EU to mediate the tense standoff ahead of Sunday's planned vote that Spanish authorities say is illegal.

 

Tajani says the EU is maintaining its support of Spain's government because "on a legal level, Madrid is right."

 

He says: "I think it's important to talk on a political level after Monday."

Of note is the fact that The EU has said Catalonia will be ejected from the bloc, if it declares independence.