The Spanish region of Catalonia is to call an election today which its government hopes will act as a proxy vote on independence.
The Local reports that regional president Artur Mas will sign a decree that sets 27 September as Election Day in the hope that his new electoral alliance can win a majority allowing it to unilaterally declare independence from the rest of Spain.
The Catalan government has already begun setting up institutions ready for independence, including a public credit institution that could become a central bank and potential tax agency.
The move will be bitterly resisted by the Spanish government, with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowing “There will be no independence for Catalonia”. Several government ministers have raised the possibility of suspending Catalonia’s regional government in such an eventuality.
However, with nationwide elections due by the end of the year and the governing conservatives looking set to lose their majority, it is debatable whether the next Spanish government will be strong enough to do much about Catalonia.
Rival nationalist parties have set their differences aside for the vote and formed an alliance called “Junts pel Sí” (Together for Yes), whose sole aim is to win a majority in the Catalan parliament and then break away from Spain within 18 months.
During a visit to Barcelona, the region’s capital, last month, Spain’s King Felipe VI gave a coded warning to Catalan nationalists, saying: “Respect for the law is the source of legitimacy and an unavoidable requirement for living together democratically in peace and freedom.”
There are fears that if Catalonia breaks away, or there is a protracted row over the Spain’s constitutional future, there could be economic chaos in one of the Eurozone’s major economies, thus adding further pressure on the beleaguered euro currency.
Support for Catalan independence has been dropping in recent months, but pro-unity supporters are worried the ‘Together for Yes’ camp may win a majority anyway as their anti-independence rivals are too fractured and disorganised.