Polls Foreshadow the Decline of Catalan Independence Movements
Andrea Walton 31 January 2024

The separatist political parties in Catalonia can count on the support of a substantial part of the region’s population, but the overall level of support is decreasing compared to the results obtained in the 2021 local elections. This is the result of a survey carried out by the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió (CEO) between October and November 2023, which reveals a complex scenario. The Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) party, aligned on social-democratic and nationalist positions, would obtain between 18 and 22 percent of the votes in the next regional elections, compared to the 21.3 percent of the votes obtained in the 2021 consultations. The center-right separatists of Junts, led in the past by the former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, stand between 12 and 15 percent of the votes against the 20 percent of the votes obtained in 2021 while the Candidacy of Popular Unity, of the radical left, could obtain between 4 and 6 percent of the votes against the 8 percent achieved three years ago.

Another interesting feature of the CEO survey concerns opinions on the future of the region. Only 30.9 percent of Catalans believe that independence is the best type of relationship between Catalonia and Spain, the lowest figure since February 2012. 31.4 percent of the respondents favor maintaining the status quo with Catalonia as an Autonomous Community of Spain, while 23 percent favor a federal Spain and 7 percent believe that Catalonia should not be autonomous at all.

The constitutional crisis and the repression by the Spanish authorities following the 2017 independence referendum have left their mark on Catalonia, and separatist parties have been reduced in a region that some believe was ready to transform itself into an independent state. As Foreign Policy recalls, support for independence movements has declined due to the inability of separatist politicians to realize their aspirations and the perception of a world hostile to small nations. Pro-independence politicians over the years have referred to a Catalan identity that has existed since the Middle Ages when the Kingdom of Aragon rivaled the monarchs of Madrid. The loss of independence in 1714 did not prevent Catalonia from maintaining its own identity, language and culture separate from the rest of Spain, but this autonomy has been opposed by the central government in some historical periods.

A new phase of tension with Madrid erupted in 2010 after the Constitutional Court rejected a regional statute that would have guaranteed greater autonomy for Catalonia. This event led to a marked increase in popular support for Catalan independence and the formation of an unprecedented coalition of center-right and center-left separatist parties to achieve the ultimate goal.

The failure of the 2017 independence referendum, which was approved by 43 percent of voters with a 92 percent turnout, led to the collapse of this alliance. The European Union did not recognize the outcome of the vote, which was also delegitimized by the Constitutional Court and the Spanish government, while many separatist politicians were arrested or fled abroad (like Puigdemont). Some parties of the separatist front entered into a dialogue with the Spanish unionist parties, while others refused any negotiations, and these differences caused an internal fracture.

Catalonia’s separatist parties regained importance in the political scenario following Spain’s 2023 national elections. No party won an absolute majority of seats in parliament and the conservative Popular Party and the progressive Socialist Party spent weeks trying to find enough allies to govern. In the end, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, a member of the Socialist Party, managed to clinch another term in office thanks to a deal signed with the Catalan independent movement. The deal included a law granting amnesty to those prosecuted for Catalonia’s attempt to secede from Spain, according to a text seen by France24. Santos Cerdan, a senior Socialist official who spoke to France24, said the agreement included Junts lending its votes in parliament to support legislation for a full four-year term, but Junts, which seeks another independence referendum, said supporting any law would depend on progress in talks involving Catalonia’s political conflict.

Popular Party figures have accused Sanchez of writing “a blank cheque for the independence movement”. Madrid regional leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso said the Socialists were “selling out a nation with centuries of history” with an attack on Spain’s rule of law, while associations of judges and prosecutors also expressed “profound concern” about the agreement. According to the agreement, which runs just over three pages, the draft amnesty covers charges from the start of the Catalan push for independence in 2012 until 2023, but it does not refer to any individual by name. The peculiar situation of Catalan separatist parties, fundamental to the stability of the Madrid government but long ostracized by central authorities, poses a dilemma for the future of the independence movement.

President of Catalonia and ERC’s member Pere Aragonés wrote in an editorial published by the Financial Times that his government’s priority is to reach an agreement with Spain, but the Spanish authorities have rejected attempts to do so. Aragonés clarified that 80 percent of Catalans believe that the sovereignty conflict should be resolved through a referendum and that Catalans only want to be able to decide their own future. These words are evidence that sooner or later a referendum will finally end the quest for independence, but the outcome of the vote, at least according to the survey mentioned above, may not be what separatist politicians think it should be.



Cover photo: a police officer walks past a bus set to carry protesters bearing a combination of pictures depicting Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont (on the left) and Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid on November 15, 2023. Photo by Oscar Del Pozo/AFP.

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