Catalonia’s sovereignty plan leads nowhere

CiU, the mainstream nationalist party embodying until a few months ago a rather moderate stance, has paid on face value a rather hollow ransom for securing regional government. Following yesterday’s agreement with ERC, the party openly seeking an independent State, he will call a public consultation as early as 2014 for citizens to decide whether they prefer to become a separate country within the EU. A rather odd question to confront voters with, as remaining in the common European house, should secession from Spain win the day, would be subject to unanimous green light from existing members. The newborn would in fact need clearance from the country it aims to pull out from.

Common sense would invite nationalist parties in Catalonia to get firm assurances on Madrid’s willingness to accept the result of the polls, as it happens in Scotland. Knowing in advance that Spain will hold firm in resisting any sovereign claim, their stubborn decision to go ahead will only feed further bitterness and frustration. The extremist ERC party stand as the only one benefiting from such a critical scenario. CiU indulges in a suicidal gamble by promising a future sovereignty it cannot deliver.

CiU unwisely bets the threat of secession might bring windfall benefits by exerting extra pressure on Madrid. But its strategy is due to backfire. Mr Rajoy cannot lose his face caving in to such a blatant blackmail. The only potential way out it could offer would be confined to limited financial concessions, leading to fairer treatment for regions like Catalonia paying more and receiving less than more affluent counterparts. Curtailing to some extent current solidarity levels would be the most Madrid would be ready to go. Not much when you have embarked yourself on a one-way ticket to full independence.

So long CiU holds in power, any fundamental disagreement with the Spanish government can be fairly managed. But ERC might be tempted to bring down the regional Cabinet reaping the harvest so foolishly grown by it. Should failure to meet independence promises become the electoral issue, CiU is bound to lose substantial support from those disenchanted by its lack of determination in openly defying Madrid.

Meanwhile, the Catalan economy might head for rough times as investors flee from political uncertainty and the danger extremists might take over. CiU leader Artur Mas is heading for disaster by taking a road leading nowhere. In his attempt to outmanoeuvre both Madrid and the ERC party, he is trapped by the delusion to be able of cheating both of them at the same time. Sooner than he expects he might receive a bitter medicine.

About the Author

JP Marin Arrese
Juan Pedro Marín Arrese is a Madrid-based economic analyst and observer. He regularly publishes articles in the Spanish leading financial newspaper 'Expansión'.

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