Spanish unity is in trouble.
Earlier this morning, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that the Spanish Parliament would begin the process of stripping Catalonia of its autonomous status. This comes after a wave of protests that became violent during the October 1st referendum on Catalonian independence that was ruled illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court. On the day of voting, the Spanish police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell rioting crowds. Because of this unrest and a lack of loyalty from the Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, Rajoy is considering having the national government take complete control of the region.
Much like the state system that we have in the United States, Spain is divided into 19 autonomous communities. These communities all have their own lower-level governments but some are far more independent than others, including Catalonia. This system arose after the death of Franco, and the Spanish reforms that led to Constitutional Monarchy, to give more power to areas that had long been suppressed by the Franco regime. Catalonia and the Basque countries have always had rebellious streaks, from the early days after the Spanish unification in 1492, to the ETA terrorism of the past century, to current demands for independence in Catalonia.
Is holding onto Catalonia worth the trouble? It would certainly seem so. 19% of the Spanish economy is centered in Catalonia, which is far richer than the rest of the country because of its strong tourism and manufacturing industries. People in Catalonia are richer and less likely to be unemployed than their fellow Spaniards. Were Catalonia to secede, the possibility of Basque secession, due to emboldened regional nationalism, could also take a large chunk out of the Spanish economy. Rajoy’s concern is very real, his country faces the possibility of a massive collapse were Catalonia to secede.
Other European leaders, such as Macron and Merkel have also noticed this being a potential catastrophe, and have voiced their support for the Spanish central government. Europe is just now recovering from the Great Recession, and countries like Southern European countries like Spain are recovering even slower than other countries. The possibility of economic collapse is very real.
As Europe is threatened by economic crisis, mass migration, and Islamic terrorism, Spain doesn’t have the patience to handle an unruly region. In mid-August, over a dozen people were killed and over 100 were injured on the streets of Barcelona when an ISIS-affiliated terrorist plowed through Las Ramblas. This was the deadliest terror attack in Spain since the Madrid train bombings of 2004. While Rajoy’s response to secession may seem harsh, it needs to be done. Spanish unity is threatened more than at any time since its civil war and unity is what Spain needs now.