The International Press Doesn’t Believe Catalonia Will Leave Spain

After a brief look through the main international newspapers and publications, if there is one thing that’s clear it’s that the dominant view is there will be no referendum in Catalonia. And if it does take place, it will have zero effect. In other words, it won’t bring the region independence.
The London School of Economics (LSE) says in an article that “there will be no referendum in October. At least in a format which might be acceptable to the international community.” And according to the Irish Times, this could be due to the fact that “there are a lot of Catalans who are increasingly less enthusiastic about a possible divorce from Madrid.”
The most important thing is that many of these media hold the view that even if the referendum were to happen, it would not have any visible or concrete consequences.
Why do they think that? There is one key reason which almost all the media highlights. That if there were to be a consultation, it would be lost for the separatists once, according to the polls, the No votes significantly exceed the Yes votes.
Almost all the media has published the results of the polls to back this assertion. The BBC cites “a recent poll carried out by the regional government which shows that those against independence total 48.5% and those in favour just 44.3%.” The Economist also recalls that “only 40-44% of Catalans support independence.”
Furthermore, these media outlets flag that the number of people opposed to secession has not stopped increasing. According to Politico “those in favour of independence dropped in March from 44.3% to 41.1%. And those opposed to it have grown from 48.5% to 49.4% in the same period.”
The second argument from the international press is that, effectively, Prime Minister Rajoy is firm in his decision that the ballot won’t take place. It’s not yet clear how he will stop it, but there is some degree of certainty that this is in fact what he will do. The LSE explains that “Rajoy has deployed ‘soft power’, aware that a policy of intimidation could fuel anti-Spanish sentiment. But now he is flexing his muscles and becoming proactive.”
The international press also point out that, given the difficult conditions the referendum process would face, it would not have any international validity. It would be more or less the same as happened with the 2014 referendum. Although the Yes camp won, it didn’t have any legal validity for a variety of reasons.
The Economist recalls that “the Council of Europe made it clear to President Puigdemont in June that any referendum needs to be carried out “in complete accordance with the Constitution.” The Spanish one, presumably.
The international press also flags that if the referendum took place, it would be difficult for it to be considered as legal. The LSE has no doubt about this. “The referendum which they want to organise in October does not respect even the minimum legal safeguards or processes. And its results would not have been accepted either in the UK or in Canada.”
For the Irish Times, the first thing that’s also clear is that the nationalists “now don’t even have the two-thirds necessary in the regional parliament, required by its own Statute, to be able to change the region’s ‘status’.
The international issue is also crucial for the separatists. The majority of the media agree that one of the problems the separatists face is Europe’s very scant interest in the matter. That’s basically because Europe is about coming together, not separating.
They assure the reality is that the ‘Govern’ has not managed to find any support at all for its project amongst European institutions. Mainly due to the fact that the Catalan situation is an anomoly. No country puts up with this kind of secession.
Various newspapers highlight that even the cases of Quebec and Scotland are exceptions. Almost all the democracies in the world would never allow a referendum of secession to be held on behalf of its country. The constitutional courts in Germany or Italy have declared any referendum which questions the integrity of its territories as ilegal. Germany has faced problems in Baviera and Italy in the north.
Whatsmore, the EU has made it known to the ‘Govern’ that its referendum clashes with a variety of legal principles, such as that of territorial integrity (Art. 4.2 TEU). And also that it would not be able to rejoin the European Union, something which Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker has made clear.
This is something which, obviously, worries the Catalans, according to various media outlets. They are concerned that leaving the single market (and the loss of the Spanish market) leaves them with a space of not quite 6 million inhabitants. A situation which would drive the big companies in the region towards the rest of Spain and could fuel an unprecedented rate of unemployment.
And here it’s not an insignificant fact that the Spanish economy is growing. According to the LSE, this is one of the key reasons why many Catalans are deserting the Yes ranks. If all this wasn’t enough, the international media also flag that the matter has now generated very serious tensions and divisions in the heart of the independent movement. And even at the heart of the Catalan institutions traditionally linked to the Generalitat.
Even the Consell de Garanties Estatutaries, the members of which are appointed by the president of the Generalitat, unanimously ruled that the referendum not only breaks with the Spanish Constitution but also with the 2006 Catalan Statute.
There seems to be so much agreement on the above points that very few international media has bucked the general trend. The exception has been the New York Times. In an editorial, it said the government should accept the Catalan referendum. Not because the US newspaper is in favour of independence in the region. But, as it says, “Madrid’s intransigence only serves to fuel Catalonia’s frustrations.”
There is an article in the Wall Street Journal which has also attracted a lot of attention. The US financial newspaper notes that “the management of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils (Tarragona), on the part of the Govern and the security and emergency forces, has given Catalonia ‘the oportunity to demonstrate’ that it can govern itself ‘independently’ of Madrid.”

About the Author

Fernando Barciela
Fernando Barciela has been a regular collaborator for Spain's leading daily El Pais' business section since 1994. He is also a regular collaborator on foreign policy. For Grupo Consejeros he interviews the top executives of Spain's listed companies. He was a correspondent with Diario de Noticias, Portugal's leading daily newspaper, in 1987-2004. He has a degree in Business Science and Journalism from the Complutense University.