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Carles Puigdemont. EFE
False hope
The Euro Zone opinion

False hope

If Catalan secessionists lose the May election, which is likely, Pedro Sánchez might expect them to stop making awkward demands in exchange for parliamentary support, writes Mark Nayler

Mark Nayler

Malaga

Friday, 15 March 2024, 17:04

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On Wednesday, pro-independence Catalan president Pere Aragonès announced an early regional election for May 12th, after failing to pass a budget for the region. The next day (the day of writing), congress voted on the government's proposed amnesty deal for Catalan separatists, recently tweaked to exclude Carles Puigdemont from absurd terrorism charges.

If Catalan secessionists lose the May election, which is likely, Pedro Sánchez might expect them to stop making awkward demands in exchange for parliamentary support. But defeat in the regional vote would ultimately do nothing to undermine the power wielded by Junts and ERC over the Socialist-led government. If Sánchez hopes to be dealing with a more subdued Catalan separatist camp from May onwards, he's in the grip of a false hope.

The latest test of Catalonia's political mood revealed a dramatic decline in support for disconnecting from Spain. Conducted last November by the regional government's polling agency, it showed that only 31% of Catalans support secession - the lowest that figure's been for twelve years. Two other results stood out: first, that the Socialists would win the next regional election; and secondly, that 60% of Catalans support the amnesty bill, a piece of legislation detested by the majority of Spaniards.

Say Catalan secessionists do lose the vote in May. Well, that wouldn't reduce the number of seats they currently hold in the national congress at all (although it might suggest that they would also drop seats in the next general election). But if their home region has rejected secession, you might wonder, what basis would they have for continuing to push for a break with Madrid? The bottom would surely drop out of their cause.

Not so. Catalan nationalist parties would still be able to campaign for a legal referendum on independence, modelled on that held in Scotland in 2014 with prior permission from London (although the Spanish Constitution makes such a vote more problematic than it ever was in the UK). And for this they do have a great deal of support: a poll taken last spring revealed that 77% of Catalans want to be able to vote on their political future.

This is why, even if the Socialists take Catalonia from separatists in May, Sánchez's job won't become any easier. Puigdemont's and Aragonès' bottom line remains a state-backed referendum on secession, although it now looks almost certain that they would lose it (just as Scottish nationalists lost the 2014 vote).

Given Sánchez's flip-flopping over Catalan independence - one moment in favour of the punishment meted out to its champions, the next bending over backwards to promote their cause - perhaps this is not an unreasonable thing for which to hope or ask.

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