The Next Move for Catalans [Editorial del NYT]
Long denied a referendum on independence akin to those held in Scotland or Quebec, Catalan separatists proclaimed that Sunday’s elections to the regional parliament would be a de facto plebiscite on secession from Spain. The result, however, has only further muddled the issue.
Separatist parties did win a majority of seats, but they failed to win a majority of votes, which would have been required in a referendum. That does not amount to a mandate to create a new nation. Still, the vote tells the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that it had better start heeding the Catalans.
Like Scottish and Quebec separatists, Catalan separatists are convinced that their prosperous region would be better off on its own. This is far from certain, especially since membership in a European Union already facing major challenges to its unity is hardly guaranteed, and there also is no certainty that the European Central Bank would continue to fund Catalan banks hit by the euro debt crisis. When given a clear choice on whether to go it alone, both the Scots and the Quebecers pulled back — the Scots a year ago, the Quebecers in 1980 and again in 1995.
The Catalans, however, have not been able to make a choice. Spain’s Constitution enshrines “indissoluble unity,” and Mr. Rajoy has used this to block any discussion of self-determination for Catalonia. Denied a referendum, the separatists’ leader, Artur Mas, had pledged to start a process toward independence if his party won this election. But his “Together for Yes” coalition failed to win a majority of seats, and will have to join forces with a far-left separatist party that is opposed to Mr. Mas’s leadership to form a majority in the regional parliament. Even together, the separatist parties polled only 47.9 percent of the vote.
The result does not empower the separatists to unilaterally break with Spain. But denying the Catalans have any choice in the matter is certain only to deepen their nationalist feelings. The best course for now is for the separatists to use their strength to seek more control over their affairs from Madrid. Mr. Rajoy should recognize that even within the constraints of the Spanish Constitution, there is plenty of room for discussion on how to accommodate Catalan yearnings.