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Why Catalonia’s Independence Bid Is Failing

What frequently seals the fate of independence movements is the response of third countries. And it is all but unimaginable that any European country would see any political advantage in facilitating Catalonia’s independence, which would alienate a key EU member and boost myriad nationalist movements across the EU and in nearby states.

BARCELONA – In the confusing aftermath of Catalonia’s messy independence referendum, the Catalan regional government’s president, Carles Puigdemont, has wanted to have his cake and eat it. His long-awaited speech to the regional parliament, in which he had promised to declare independence from Spain, ended up being a muddled effort to placate his radical nationalist allies, the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), without further alienating the central government in Madrid. He achieved neither objective.

Puigdemont did declare a Catalan state “in the form of a republic.” But he immediately “suspended” the declaration to allow for negotiations with the Spanish government. To the Spanish government, Puigdemont’s address was an implicit declaration of independence, and to the impatient CUP, it was a moment of inadmissible betrayal. It is now highly probable that the central government will invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows it to take direct control of Catalonia, a step that would undoubtedly provoke more civil unrest throughout the region.

Historically, national independence has usually been achieved through violent, even cataclysmic processes of decolonization. New states have almost invariably been born in blood, sacrifice, and deprivation. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, independent states emerged out of civil war and even genocide. Enslaved nations have also recovered sovereignty through state failure and imperial collapse. Amicable breakups, like that of Czechoslovakia, or of Norway and Sweden, are a historical rarity, however laudable.

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