Both of Spain's likely partners in government want to maintain Catalonia's position as an integral part of the country.
Catalonia’s ongoing push for separatism is causing uncertainty in Spain’s political future as the battered left-wing attempts to hobble together a ruling coalition.
Spain’s Congress of Deputies seats 350 lawmakers elected by the different autonomous regions of Spain.
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) gambled greatly with the snap polls, Spain’s fourth in four years, and lost, according to Spanish media.
While PSOE won the election, they did so with three less seats. Their main potential ally on the left, Podemos, lost seven seats since previous elections in April.
Sanchez and Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, put forward a 10-point agreement two days after the election.
Many saw it as a positive move to “unblock” Spain’s longstanding political deadlock. But for many in Catalonia, the agreement looks to promise a continuation of the status quo.
“I hoped the negotiations would take longer, or collapse,” a Josep Pujol, a pro-independence resident of Barcelona, said. “Things have been better when there’s no government.”
Point nine of the accord states that any PSOE-Podemos government will seek to “guarantee coexistence in Catalonia and the normalisation of political life” by “starting dialogue … within the constitution”.
While pro-independence Catalan parties have called for dialogue for years, the phrase “within the constitution” guarantees an independent Catalonia is off the table.
The Spanish Constitution guarantees the autonomy of each of the 17 regions, along with the two cities of Ceuta and Melilla inside Morocco.
While not a federal state, such as the United States where each of the 50 states hold considerable say in issues like budgets, educational systems and taxes, Spain is considered a decentralised unitary state.
The Spanish constitution does not provide a legal pathway for any region to secede.
“There is no room for us to negotiate within the constitution”, Pujol said. “We don’t want the Spanish Constitution to be our constitution.”
Tensions between Catalonia and Spain’s central government in Madrid came to a head in 2017, when Catalonia’s regional government held a referendum on secession from Spain.
Madrid deployed national police to stop the vote from occurring. These police engaged in violence in stopping the vote that rights groups called “excessive”.
Catalonia then declared independence from Spain, based on the results of the referendum, which saw roughly 90 percent vote in favour though less than 50 percent participated.
Since then, nine Catalan leaders were given prison sentences of up to 13 years for their involvement in the referendum in October and the region has seen frequent large-scale demonstrations against Spanish policies.
Rather than taking solely to the streets, many protests are occurring at airports and train stations to disrupt business. Dozens of demonstrators responded to the calls of one of the main organising groups, the Committee to Defend the Republic (CDR), to strike at Barcelona’s main rail station on Saturday.
Authorities said they were removed after an hour with no arrests made.
As unrest in Catalonia continues, separatist parties in the regional parliament feel pressure to continue their secessionist push.
Sanchez toughened his rhetoric on Catalonia in the days leading up to the election, seemingly to court undecided voters leaning towards the right.
Now, Sanchez needs support – or at least abstentions – from regional nationalist parties to be confirmed as prime minister. He began calling the situation in Catalonia a “political crisis” and a “territorial crisis” after the election.
The Catalan Leftist Republic party (ERC), whose leader Oriol Junqueras was given the highest sentence of 13 years by the Spanish High Court, has publicly called on Sanchez to admit the crisis is political, rather than a “crisis of coexistence”.
ERC won 13 seats in the recent election, the most of any Catalan party. Sanchez wants to convince ERC to at least abstain from voting in his investiture.
If they do not cooperate, they risk another national election that could see the far-right, anti-Catalan separatist Vox party see further gains.
“Otherwise, what solution do you propose? What kind of government do you want?” Sanchez questioned.
ERC did not respond to TRT World’s request for comment.
Pujol, the Barcelona resident who said he voted for ERC, said he supports the party’s hardline approach to Madrid.
“Still, I worry about another election. If Vox wins more seats, I think independence will be more difficult to achieve”, he concluded.