Since the Catalan government's decision to stage a referendum on independence on October 1, there has been much comment on the rise of separatist movements across Europe. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the EU could not accommodate 95 member states. Alarm has been expressed about the contagion effect of Catalonia on other stateless nations striving to establish their own state. There is, in fact, no wave of separatism across Europe. In Belgium, the Flemish nationalist party is part of the national government but has not even insisted on a constitutional reform.
"It won't happen," insists Spain's prime minister, and for the Catalan leaders trying to organise Sunday's vote on seceding from Spain, his words are becoming harder and harder to contradict. The nerve centre of the 1 October referendum - Catalonia's economy department - has been seriously damaged by raids carried out by Spain's military police force, the Civil Guard. Fourteen junior officials and associates were arrested, but more importantly close to 10 million ballot papers were impounded, and websites informing Catalans about the election have been shut down. The government in this north-eastern region of Spain admits its logistical effort to organise the referendum has been seriously disabled, as it defies a suspension of the vote by Spain's constitutional court. Spain's interior ministry has hired three ferries to accommodate the extra security contingent being sent to the region, and a power struggle has blown up over control of Catalonia's regional police, the Mossos d'Esquadra.
If the stand-off between the Spanish state and the north-eastern region of Catalonia has been intense for the past five years, 2017 looks set to be explosive. Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont set the tone in a New Year message, saying a planned referendum would go ahead by September. That would defy the Spanish government's warning that any vote organised by Catalonia's regional authorities would be illegal. "If 50% plus one vote'yes', we will declare independence without hesitation," he said. Tensions between supporters of independence and Spanish authorities are likely to rise when three senior Catalan ex-officials, including former president Artur Mas, go on trial accused of criminal disobedience for organising a wildcat poll in November 2014.
Carles Puigdemont, the man with the mop-top haircut, hit international headlines last year when he called an independence referendum that was held on Oct. 1, 2017, despite it being declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court. The dispute with Madrid escalated into a full-fledged crisis. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy temporarily took over the regional administration of Catalonia. The Catalan government was sacked and Puigdemont charged with rebellion. He fled to Belgium, while members of his cabinet were remanded in custody. In late March, Puigdemont was detained in Germany under a European arrest warrant while traveling by car to Belgium from Finland, and was held in a jail for 12 days in the country. In mid-July, the higher regional court in Schleswig-Holstein ruled that he could not be extradited on the charge of rebellion.