For separatist politicians in Catalonia, acting like an independent state may be a lot easier than becoming one.
The authorities in Barcelona grabbed the limelight as the semi-autonomous Spanish region responded to last week’s terror attacks. Setting the stage for breaking away from Spain will be more difficult with support for independence on the wane thanks to an economic recovery and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy adamant a referendum planned for Oct. 1 won’t happen.
It was regional government and police officials who updated the world on the hunt for the terrorists while Spanish security services complained they had been excluded from the investigation. The Barcelona and Catalan administrations — not the central government in Madrid — called an anti-terror demonstration that’s due to take place in the city Saturday.
Rajoy “basically left all the space for the Catalan government so they could widely flag the idea that they are a self-sufficient state,” said Veronica Fumanal, a former communications adviser to politicians including Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez and Albert Rivera, the head of Ciudadanos, the largest political party in Catalonia favoring union with Spain.
At stake is the future of Spain’s biggest regional economy and its place in a nation that’s emerging strongly from a banking and housing crisis that drove unemployment in Catalonia to more than 24 percent.
Back in 2013 when the economy was shrinking for a third straight year, 49 percent of Catalans said they thought the region should break from Spain. Now, less than 35 percent favor independence, the lowest level in five years, the regional government’s polling agency said last month.
As far as the central government is concerned, Catalonia already enjoys the highest level of autonomy among regional administrations in Europe and possibly the world, according to an official for the prime minister’s office. She said that the Catalan government and police had acted correctly and within the framework of the law following the Barcelona attacks, along with the loyal cooperation of the other security forces.
The region’s president sees things differently, citing the Spanish government’s opposition to Catalan independence as having contributed to a decision to block the hiring of new Catalan police officers and restrict access to Europol information.