A Catalan Compromise

How To Solve Spain's Secession Crisis

People prepare a hot air balloon with the design of the Catalan separatist flag. Courtesy Reuters

Although Spain’s economic outlook has steadily improved in recent months, its secession crisis has quietly been worsening. Tensions between Madrid and Catalonia―a region of 7.6 million people that accounts for almost 20 percent of Spain’s economic output―are worse than ever. Seventy percent of Catalan citizens say they want an independence referendum, despite the Spanish government’s insistence that any such plebiscite would violate the constitution. When the Catalan government attempted to organize an independence vote (in the form of either a referendum or a so-called citizen participation process) on November 9, Spain’s Constitutional Court intervened, suspending the effort. The Catalan executive ultimately went forward with a purely symbolic vote, in which 80 percent of over two million Catalans (32 percent of eligible voters) opted for independence.

But Madrid’s approach has been needlessly adversarial. Rather than resist Catalan’s aspirations, the Spanish government should welcome its commitment to a democratic process. After all, Spain has a long history of nationalist groups―most notably the Basque nationalist group ETA―turning to terrorism, rather than the ballot box, to pursue their goals. Madrid has chosen to portray its disagreement with Catalonia in legalistic terms. But the crux of the matter is a political problem: how to accommodate the region’s aspiration for independence within Spain’s existing national framework. The sooner the Spanish government recognizes the true nature of the problem, the sooner it can restore calm throughout the country.


Catalan nationalists have traditionally sought to strengthen their region’s independence by demanding more political and fiscal autonomy from Madrid. In recent years, however, the number of Catalans who believe that this sort of institutional reform is feasible has dwindled; ever larger numbers of people believe that only full sovereignty would be a viable safeguard of Catalan home rule. According to a poll organized by the Catalan government, the percentage of Catalans in favor of independence has quadrupled in the last ten years and now stands at 49.4 percent.

On the national

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