Catalonia’s defiant vote to secede from Spain is the culmination of Madrid’s costly miscalculations, with potentially serious ramifications for all of Europe. The referendum, marred by violence that left hundreds injured, has further eroded Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s authority to negotiate a settlement out of this impasse. When Catalonians voted overwhelmingly for separation three years ago in a non-binding exercise, Mr. Rajoy enjoyed a comfortable majority in the Spanish Parliament.
Scotland’s vote just a few months earlier to remain in the U.K. may have given hope to Mr. Rajoy at the time that the crisis would somehow blow over. But in 2017, leading a minority government, he faces the crisis with his hands somewhat tied. Whatever the merits of his judgment calls in the run-up to the referendum and the police action on the day, the handling of this long-festering question by Mr. Rajoy, a veteran leader of the conservative People’s Party, has left much to be desired. Popular backing for separation in Catalonia reached a high point in the aftermath of the eurozone crisis. But it had appeared to wane in more recent times, despite the narrow 2015 election of a coalition in Catalonia committed to independence. Capitalising on the positive mood and engaging the secessionist forces politically would have been the obvious approach. But the centre-right government merely insisted repeatedly that the vote not take place. Mr. Rajoy was on record as saying there was no need to negotiate with a party that fell foul of the Spanish constitution, which prohibits attempts to undermine the nation’s indissoluble unity.
Once Spain’s highest court nullified the referendum, the government was evidently on a firm legal footing, emboldening Mr. Rajoy to do anything to stop the vote. In the run-up to the ‘plebiscite’, Catalonia was threatened with dire consequences for every euro of government funds that was diverted to the campaign. The confiscation of ballot papers and the blockade of polling stations further vitiated the atmosphere. The mood among moderate sections in Catalonia turned rapidly hostile, as citizens viewed the denial of their say on a question of sovereignty as an affront to their fundamental freedoms. Conversely, legislators in Barcelona dropped any pretence to democratic accountability by deciding on a course of unilateral independence, irrespective of the turnout in the vote. They had earlier side-stepped the opinion of the Council of Europe — the continent’s human rights body — that the referendum comply with Spain’s constitution. More striking is the lack of any clear programme for the region’s future, given the history of the self-determination demand. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont tried to lower tensions by saying he did not have in mind a “traumatic” separation from Spain and sought a new understanding. It is in both Madrid’s and Barcelona’s interest to begin a meaningful dialogue to contain the damage.
Defiant: showing defiance.
Example: She was in a defiant mood
Synonyms: intransigent, resistant, obstinate, uncooperative
Secede: withdraw formally from membership in a federal union, an alliance, or a political or religious organization.
Example: The kingdom of Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1830
Synonyms: withdraw from, break away from, break with
Culmination: the highest or climactic point of something, especially as attained after a long time.
Example: The product was the culmination of 13 years of research
Synonyms: climax, pinnacle, peak, high point, highest point, height
Miscalculation: an act of miscalculating; an error or misjudgment.
Example: Miscalculations were made in counting properties
Synonyms: error of judgment, misjudgment, mistake, overestimate
Ramification: a consequence of an action or event, especially when complex or unwelcome.
Example: Any change is bound to have legal ramifications
Synonyms: consequence, result, aftermath, outcome, effect, upshot
Eroded: gradually wear away.
Example: The cliffs have been eroded by the sea
Negotiate: try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion with others.
Example: His government’s willingness to negotiate
Synonyms: discuss terms, talk, consult, parley, confer, debate
Blow: an act of blowing on an instrument.
Example: A number of blows on the whistle
Synonyms: toot, blast, blare, whistle
Aftermath: the consequences or aftereffects of a significant unpleasant event.
Example: Food prices soared in the aftermath of the drought
Synonyms: repercussions, aftereffects, consequences, effects, results
Obvious: easily perceived or understood; clear, self-evident, or apparent.
Example: Unemployment has been the most obvious cost of the recession
Synonyms: clear, crystal clear, plain, plain to see, evident, apparent
Indissoluble: unable to be destroyed.
Example: An indissoluble friendship
Embolden: give someone the courage or confidence to do something or to behave in a certain way.
Example: Emboldened by robust passenger traffic, the airlines put through major fare increases
Synonyms: fortify, make brave/braver, encourage, hearten, strengthen
Confiscation: the action of taking or seizing someone’s property with authority; seizure.
Example: A court ordered the confiscation of her property
Synonyms: seizure, requisition, appropriation, expropriation
Comply: act in accordance with a wish or command.
Example: We are unable to comply with your request
Synonyms: abide by, observe, obey, adhere to, conform to