Spanish Prime Minister Takes Hard Lines Against Catalan Independence

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 01: Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez, speaks during a debate to form a new government at the Spanish Parliament on March 1, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish Socialist Party leader appeals for support ahead of the investiture debate to get enough votes from …
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty

Spain’s new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made waves in his first two weeks in office, taking in the misbegotten migrant ship Aquarius after it was shunned by Italy and cracking down on the Catalan independence movement.

From the outset, Sanchez said he would prioritize the Catalan Independence crisis, and his Socialist minority government has demanded that all talks be kept within the constitutional framework. This effectively bans future referendums, since they are not provided for in the current Spanish constitution.

Sanchez has also appointed anti-separatist hardliner Josep Borrell as his foreign minister, sending a clear message that he would not give in to illegal moves toward independence.

Last fall, 2.25 million Catalonians showed up at the polls to vote in an independence referendum. According to the regional government, 90 percent of the votes were in favor of secession from Spain. This vote came after the constitutional court in Madrid, in 2010, struck down a key 2006 provision in Catalonia’s autonomy statute, which described Catalonia as a “nation” and gave greater powers to the regional government.

Catalonia is a region in northeast Spain with a long history of grappling for independence. Massive cultural differences between Catalonia and the rest of Spain drive the passionate movement. Catalonia has declared its independence from Spain on four separate occasions, the most recent being an armed insurrection in 1934.

Catalan regional leader, Quim Torra, has called on Sanchez to negotiate. Torra and his fellow seekers of independence are expected to press Sanchez to allow a legal, binding independence referendum.

Mariano Rajoy, Sanchez’s predecessor, used article 155 of the Spanish constitution to assume direct control of Catalonia after the illegal referendum last fall, making him an unpopular figure among Catalonians.

Since the 2010 ruling only dealt with the results of the votes, and not their legality, Catalans remain optimistic as they seek to take advantage of constitutional uncertainty.

Catalonia is vitally important the Spanish economy, representing 19 percent of the country’s GDP and 50 percent of its land exits into the rest of Europe.

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