Catalonia has declared itself independent — sort of.
The Spanish region’s leader and parliament have produced a signed “declaration of independence” — but, confusingly, say the document does not yet have any force.
Catalan president Carles Puigdemont signed the declaration on Tuesday night after a tense session of the region’s parliament.
Although it went further than ever before towards enacting Catalan autonomy, the move was also something of a climbdown, given that Puidgemont had for days been speaking of making a complete and unilateral declaration.
Instead, Puigdemont said that the independence he just declared was immediately suspended in order to give Catalonia time to formalise its exit with the Spanish national government in Madrid.
A spokesman for the Catalan government has since said that the document is “symbolic”, and does not have the legal force required to establish a separate nation.
The almost-declaration has perplexed the Spanish government, prompting them to request that the Catalan government clarify its position before moving ahead.
In a press conference on Wednesday, prime minister Mariano Rajoy formally requested that Catalonia “confirm whether or not it has declared independence.”
The crisis follows a referendum last week in which a large majority voted in favour of secession. Spain maintains that the vote was illegal and does not count.
Madrid has a “nuclear option”
If Catalonia declares independence, Spain can invoke Article 155 of its constitution, which allows Madrid to take “necessary measures” if an autonomous region declares independence from Spain.
The article has never been invoked in the Spanish constitution’s 39-year history and has been dubbed Madrid’s “nuclear option” in the Catalonia crisis. The ratings agency Moody’s said Article 155 was one reason why Catalonia’s independence wouldn’t take place, according to the Financial Times.
Rajoy said on Wednesday: “The response of the Catalonian government [on whether it has declared independence] will determine the events in the next few days.”
So was the vote legal or not?
Catalonia says yes, and Spain says no.
On September 6, Catalonia’s regional government passed a local law to allow an independence referendum to take place on October 1.
Prior to the vote, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that a regional government could not call a referendum because the constitution “does not recognise the right to self-determination and establishes that sovereignty resides with Spanish citizens collectively,” according to the Washington Post.
Regardless, over 2.2 million Catalonians — or 43% of the region’s eligible electorate — voted overwhelmingly to separate from Spain that day.
Consequences of an independent Catalonia
An independent Catalonia would not be a member of the European Union, the European Commission said last week.
Major Spanish banks, including Caixabank and Sabatell, also reportedly said they were moving or were considering moving their operations out of Catalonia if the region declares independence.
Catalonia is one of Spain’s economic powerhouses, and contributes nearly one-fifth of the country’s total GDP.
Spanish stocks led a rebound in European shares on Wednesday after Puigdemont stopped short of declaring independence, according to Reuters.
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