Spain has had a caretaking administration for ten months and has formed an unstable minority government in October; meanwhile, Catalonia remains on track for secession.
The battle now is turning into a confrontation between the Spanish rule of law and the Catalan secessionist movement. Spain’s Constitutional Court could test the limits of the Catalan secessionist resolve by prosecuting the movement’s leadership.
Paradoxically, it could also favour the Catalan secessionist movement by alienating moderate Catalan nationalist from the idea of a Spanish union.
“Spanish law” versus “the Catalan people.”
Last Sunday, November 13, more than 80,000 protestors took to the streets of Barcelona to protest the intervention of ”Spanish law” against the “Catalan people” by calling for disobedience. Among the protestors was the cream of the crop of the Catalan independence movement.
At least twelve Catalan officials have refused to fly Spanish flags outside Catalan government institutions. That makes them part of the broader wave towards independence and legitimate targets for the Spanish Constitutional Court.
The current President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, vowed in January 2016 to lead his government to independence within 18 months. That entails a distinct tax system, social security, courts, and other fundamental state institutions. On a symbolic level, that preparation also entails refusing to fly the Spanish flag.
Courts are also making symbolic gestures. In October, the Spanish Constitutional Court declared a Catalan ban on bullfighting illegal.
But, more to the point, the Spanish Constitutional Court moved to prosecute politicians for political choices.
The former Catalan premier, Artur Mas, is accused of organizing an illegal independence referendum in 2014. If he were convicted, he faces a 10-year ban from running for office.
The Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadel, faces a similar ban on allowing a vote for sovereignty.
Framing the standoff
The symbolic engagement of the Spanish Constitutional Court can lead to an escalation that will benefit the secessionist movement, alienating moderate Catalan nationalists.
A coalition of very diverse pro-secessionist parties is preparing Catalonia for an outright referendum on independence, which could be illegal.
Pro-secession parties pronounced local elections in September 2015 a de facto “pro-independence” referendum. The result was inconclusive, as the pro-independence parties secured a majority in parliament, but not an absolute majority of votes.
In this sense, polarization seems to favour the independence movement, by potentially winning over the part of Catalan public opinion that has not voted for a pro-secessionist party.
On Sunday, the Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont was confident that Catalans would defend Catalan institutions and their elected officials. In making this assertion, Puigdemont was asserting that Spanish law is not Catalan law.