Catalonia’s Defiance of Spanish Authority Turns into Rebellion

“Do not underestimate the power of Spanish democracy.”

By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.

With these words, eerily reminiscent of a line once spoken by Star Wars villain Darth Vader, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy brought to a close a week of frenzied drama. It began with a foiled attempt by the Spanish police to close down the official website for the Catalan independence referendum. As often happens with web-based raids, the official site was up and running again within minutes, albeit with a different domain name.

Next, the Public Prosecutor’s office ruled that the referendum is now illegal “beyond all doubt” and instructed the Civil Guard, National Police, Catalan Police (Mossos d’Esquadra) and local police forces to act to stop it. It also launched criminal investigations against the entire Catalan government, the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, the leaders of two separatist municipal associations and more than 700 Catalan mayors (representing 75% of Catalonia’s municipalities) for agreeing to cooperate with the planned plebiscite.

On Friday, Spain’s Finance Ministry joined the fracas by introducing a motion that would hand Madrid much greater control over how Catalonia spends its money in an effort to block the regional government from using state cash to pay for an illegal independence referendum. It has also frozen Catalonia’s monthly advance of the national liquidity fund (FLA), worth some €1.4 billion a month, and demanded that banks report any transactions related to the referendum vote to the central government.

The ultimate goal is to turn the Catalan regional government into an empty shell of an institution — one that has no autonomy, or for that matter any practical function or purpose.

Starving Catalonia’s regional government of funds could well make the vote logistically impossible, but the policy is not without its risks. As we warned a few months ago, if the Catalan government feels that it’s backed into a corner financially, it could weaponize its tick-tocking debt bomb. If Barcelona refuses to honor its debt to Madrid, both Catalan and Spanish debt could be declared in default, with disastrous consequences for both.

While such an outcome is still highly unlikely, especially given the potential scale of the fallout, there are no signs as yet that either side of this conflict is prepared to back down.

But how did relations between Spain and its richest province plumb such depths? How did Catalonia, a region that enjoys levels of autonomy in education, health care and public policing that would be the envy of many other parts of Europe, particularly those across the border in France, end up embracing a cause that would put it in direct confrontation with Spain’s central state?

While many of Catalonia’s grievances date back decades, and in some cases centuries, the latest explosion of separatist fervor is relatively recent. In 2007 just 14% of the Catalan population supported independence, according to the regional government’s own stats. By 2013 the number had more than tripled, to 48%.

What happened in such a short time to spark such a sea change in collective thinking? A large part of the answer can be found in the following three developments.

1. The Financial Crisis.

When Spain’s gargantuan property boom began crashing in 2009, prompting the domino-like fall of the country’s savings banks, the inevitable result was a massive contraction in the economy that laid waste to millions of jobs. By 2012 unemployment in Catalonia had hit 19% while in Spain as a whole it was a staggering 26%.

As public anger in Catalonia rose, so, too, did support for the separatist cause. In what was largely a calculated move to divert attention and blame away from its mismanagement of the local economy, unpopular cuts in public spending, and political scandals, the region’s governing party, Convergencia, hitched its wagon to the rising movement.

The Spanish government hardly helped matters by repeatedly reducing the amount of public investment in Catalonia, which merely fuelled Catalans’ sense of economic injustice. Catalonia contributes nearly a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product, yet the region receives just 9.5% of Spain’s national budget. Even in the last couple of years, after repeated promises from Madrid that it will inject more funds, the total investment has continued to fall.

2. The Still Birth of Catalonia’s New Statute of Autonomy.

As with all of Spain’s autonomous communities, Catalonia’s regional government holds sway in certain areas of culture, education, health, justice, environment, communications, transportation, commerce and public safety. It also has its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, though the Spanish government keeps agents in the region for issues relating to border control, terrorism and immigration.

However, Catalonia has virtually no say in fiscal matters, unlike Spain’s other separatist region, the Basque Country. That was all supposed to have changed with the new Statute of Autonomy signed in 2006 by the Catalan executive and Rajoy’s predecessor in government, José Luis Zapatero.

But the agreement was not to last. In 2010 Spain’s highly politicized Supreme Court, at the urging of the People’s Party, annulled many of the articles of the already diluted Statute, effectively stripping the agreement of any meaning and giving Catalonia’s independence movement its biggest boost in decades. When the decision was made, three of the twelve members of the Court had already finished their terms while a fourth member had died and not been replaced. Nonetheless, the ruling still stood.

As Rajoy says, “do not underestimate the power of Spanish democracy.”

3. A Full-Frontal Attack on the Catalan Language.

In Catalan culture one thing is more sacred than any other: the region’s language, which was ruthlessly banned from public and official use during the Franco dictatorship. But that didn’t stop the governing People’s Party from using its absolute majority to bulldoze into law a deeply unpopular education bill that, among other things, sought to introduce a trilingual model (Spanish, Catalan and English) in schools that would de facto suspend the current Catalan immersion system. The Catalan executive refused to comply with the law.

It was its first major act of open defiance.

Now, five years later, it’s in open rebellion. If Rajoy carries out his threat and unleashes the full power of Spanish “democracy” in the weeks ahead, stripping away Catalonia’s autonomy at a time that it’s crying out for more, the rebellion could even become a revolt. By Don Quijones.

The closer the referendum, the more draconian Spain’s response. Read…  Investors Fret as Catalonia’s Independence Turmoil Seethes

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

  49 comments for “Catalonia’s Defiance of Spanish Authority Turns into Rebellion

  1. Gershon says:

    Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is a “former” Goldman Sachs official and zealous water carrier for the EU project which like all globalist schemes enriches a venal oligarchy at the expense of everyone else. As globalism continues to plunder formerly sovereign countries and peoples, I suspect the looted populations are going to turn to populists and nationalists – genuine or otherwise – to protect themselves from predatory capitalism. With the EU and its financial warfare arm, the ECB, trying to consolidate their control over Europe from Brussels, the emergence of sovereign peoples trying to reclaim their national identities and fight for self-determination rather than accepting forced incorporation into the elites’ incorporated neoliberal plantation must have the banksters and oligarchs in a cold sweat.

    • Andreu says:

      Goldman Sachs official? Do you have any evidence of this?

    • Cynic says:

      That is a very good point. Nationalism can be seen as an assertion of national and individual dignity in the face of globalism.

      However, things being as they are, to become a new micro-state in the EU (or trying to get in) is highly dangerous: one could end up being ruled directly by the Commission, ie Berlin.

      The Basque Country, for instance, is much more secure and independent as a province of Spain, with old privileges and a position of relative power from which to negotiate in internal Spanish politics – Rajoy’s govt, desperately needs their votes at the moment – than as an independent entity.

      And they know it. But don’t dare to say it explicitly…..

      Meanwhile, stoking up tensions for no result is good business for career politicians of all sides.

  2. David Calder says:

    Wolf, if Barcelona actually did default on it’s debt, and I would not count that out, it would bring down the Spanish banks but what would the ramifications be for the rest of Europe and even the world? I have friends here in Seattle who are part of the CWI who just got back from Barcelona and all say the Catalonians are not fooling around.. They want out of Spain and have the numbers to make that happen..

    • Gershon says:

      Spain and Italy are too big to be bailed out. If Draghi’s “extend and pretend” runs out of road due to a any default that triggers credit default swaps – or more likely, shows this “insurance” to be a sham – the ECB’s financial house of cards built on mark-to-fantasy valuations is going to come tumbling down, followed in rapid succession by every other central bank asset bubble and debt pyramid.

      Got popcorn?

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Draghi’s term ends in 2019. They’re already talking about who will get that job. Jens Weidmann is not the favorite of the Italians and the French, we have learned, but he may become ECB president anyway. The bond market is not ready at all for an ECB under Bundesbank President Weidmann.

        • cdr says:

          When Draghi moves on, the sport begins. ECB QE started when bond rates rose due to high risk of some Euro debt. All machinations since then were for the purpose of forcing rates down. No problems that would reduce debt risk have diminished, hence, it is normal to expect higher rates when artificial influences to lower rates are removed.

          If Europe is willing to accept market rates for risk then no problems are to be expected, except in Europe where people will have to figure out how to live within their means and bond owners who will see aggressive repricing. If ECB QE was and is intended to manage rates lower only, then, let the games begin. Will Brussels become totalitarian assist bill paying or will a new master excuse maker take over at the ECB? 2019 will be an interesting year.

    • Gershon says:

      For now the Spanish 10-year bond is signaling unconcern. If yields start to spike, it means the wheels are about to come off the bus.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        As long as the ECB buys Spanish bonds, they’ll signal unconcern… because nothing else really matters. Once the ECB stops buying Spanish bonds, and signals that it won’t buy anymore, such as it might do under future ECB president Jens Weidmann, things might change.

        • d says:

          If Catalonia forces an internal Default, does it not create a situation where the mafiosi at the Ecb, can no long buy Spanish bond’s??

          As to Weideman He get my vote (or would if I had one in the matter).

          As to the situation in the referendum.

          Madrid is determined to have a fight. Its ridiculous draconian action’s, will probably make it the biggest looser in that fight.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          “If Catalonia forces an internal Default, does it not create a situation where the mafiosi at the Ecb, can no long buy Spanish bonds?”

          Yes, in theory. But the ECB owns a ton of Greek bonds. In 2010, Greek bonds were downgraded to junk. In 2011 Greece selectively defaulted on its bonds held by private sector investors, who then agreed to a huge haircut on these bonds. With Draghi at the helm, the ECB will find a way to ignore the rules.

        • Gershon says:

          Good point. Sometimes even I forget how distorted “the markets” have become due to central bank manipulation and collusion. Once the risk premium gets priced in for Italian and Spanish bonds, I suspect the end game for the ECB’s financial chicanery will be near at hand.

    • Cynic says:

      Listening to what the locals say is like taking the opinion of Iraqi exiles seriously before the US invasion of that country.

      They are always serious, always sure, always deluded.

      Spain has been seething for centuries. :)

    • David G LA says:

      What is the CWI? Thanks

  3. Stevedcfc72 says:

    Good luck to Catalonia, what the financial crisis has brought up is how undemocratic things really are.

    You would have thought after Brexit the Spanish authorities would have come on board with doing more for that region, they didn’t heed the warnings so deserve everything that’s coming.

  4. Kenny Logoffs says:

    “The ultimate goal is to turn the Catalan regional government into an empty shell of an institution — one that has no autonomy, or for that matter any practical function or purpose.”

    Won’t this eventually happen to all regional governments in a USofE?

    Not just to reduce admin overheads for enhanced cronyism at the core, but remove the potential for dissident regions to easily leave the union.

    After all, Westminster brought about the Brexit referendum under Cons because the local political party UKIP brought the option of Brexit to the table.

    But what I can’t fathom then is why the political parties within regions vote for this?
    Aren’t they turkeys voting for Christmas?

    Or are the politicians working under the misapprehension that they’ll *all* get a cushy safe EU non-job and benefits till the day they drop?

    Is this mass stupidity?

    They’re selling out their electorate’s interests and their own?

    If not, then what are they gaining?

    Or is it all just short termist career centric motivations to climb the greasy pole of their parties, appeasing the leadership in the hopes they’ll be the lucky ones to be taken across to shangrila?

    • Hysteria says:

      But what I can’t fathom then is why the political parties within regions vote for this?

      Or are the politicians working under the misapprehension that they’ll *all* get a cushy safe EU non-job and benefits till the day they drop?


      Is this mass stupidity?


      They’re selling out their electorate’s interests and their own?


      If not, then what are they gaining?

      Some may genuinely believe in the socialist Shangrila.

      Or is it all just short termist career centric motivations to climb the greasy pole of their parties, appeasing the leadership in the hopes they’ll be the lucky ones to be taken across to shangrila?


      • Ken Logoffs says:

        I suppose this is what Catalonians have noted, and are voting appropriately, and they’ve got the leadership and representation they deserve.

    • michael w Earussi says:

      It’s a clash of egos now, logic has nothing to do with this.

    • Cynic says:

      There are many motives. Few of them noble…….

    • Roger Roca says:

      You must consider that in general Spaniards including Catalans are pretty satisfied with EU rule, since it is much more reliable and less corrupt than any Spanish government. The effective power and influence of Spain’s big corporations is stronger in Spain than in EU rule.

  5. james wordsworth says:

    The more the parent wants to control the teenager, the more he/she wants to leave home. In this case the teenager also has a higher income than the parent, making leaving even more likely. The parent lashes out and in the end makes everything worse.

    I’m off the Barcelona this week. Should be interesting.

  6. Greg says:

    The EU is actually very fine with the breakup of states that are, essentially, it’s only competitors in the political hierarchy. The EU is actually pushing for all sorts of regionalist movements (scots, Flanders, catalon ….). Destroy all states under the protective wing of the EU…..

  7. unit472 says:

    Hard to imagine a more hamfisted approach to this referendum than what the Spanish government ( perhaps under EU Commission orders) is doing.

    Britain allowed a binding vote on Scottish independence and the Scots, looking over the pros and cons, decided to stay in the UK.

    Now Catalonia, unlike Scotland, is a net contributor to the Spanish state but as Scotland came to realize actual independence would require a host of practical difficulties including re-joining the EU which other EU nations facing their own secessionist movements might make as onerous as possible. Spain seems determined though to make Catalonia independence not only possible but probable by its denying even a non binding referendum.

  8. cocomaan says:

    Don, you’re one of the only people publishing anything about this Catalonia situation. So thank you for that. Everyone else is too busy talking about how Donald retweeted a meme.

    It’s amazing to see how hard Spain is cracking down.

  9. Gtt says:

    The Spanish civil war never ended. La guerre finit jamais.

    • d says:

      “The Spanish civil war never ended.”

      Only the shooting part did.

      It was however enjoying a slow quiet death until the recxent “Democratic” idiots in Madrid, brought many of the drivers of it back to aggressive health.

  10. Gershon says:

    Is this mass stupidity?

    They’re selling out their electorate’s interests and their own?

    Yes, it is mass stupidity. Just like the sheeple in America who believed an insubstantial bon vivant and former “community organizer” hand-picked and bankrolled by George Soros and Goldman Sachs in 2008 would deliver “change we can believe in.”

    It takes a special kind of stupid to believe that Soros and Goldman would ever back a puppet out of their heartfelt concern for the middle and working classes they are so assiduously plundering. And of course their errand boy and his complicit AG made sure the banksters got bailed out by taxpayers and no banksters went to prison for causing the 2008 financial crash.

  11. walter map says:

    Franco won, with a little help from his friends. And he’s still winning. There will be no independent Catalonia. That would be contrary to the goals of TPTB.

  12. chatbot barcelona says:

    it,s such a great country all ruined by regionalism spain could be part of the core of europe along with france and germany without all of this internal problems with it,s history and culture this country could be a powerhouse in europe

    • d says:

      “it,s such a great country all ruined by regionalism”

      Regionalism only becomes and issue when there is a driver for it, (Scotland joined England as it was bankrupt and had to, not as the people wanted to (Catalonia was shotgunned into Spain, as a marriage chalet, against the wishes of its people)) and Politicians use it for personal gain.

      The Scottish independence movement is good, for the SNP, nobody else.

      Catalonia has been inflamed by the double dealing and aggression from Madrid, again to aid the Politicians, from Madrid.

      The situation in Catalonia will cause much trouble, as Madrid considers all Spaniards, not just those from Catalonia, should have a “Democratic” voice in Catalonia’s future direction.

      So ensuring Catalonia will be forever milked by Madrid, at the expense of the people of Catalonia, something that will not be allowed to continue for much longer.

      There will be no winners in this conflict, simply a big, and a Bigger looser.

      The DRACONIAN actions of Madrid are ensuring this.

  13. Jim Graham says:

    I wonder if the PERCEIVED success or failure of Brexit meeting it’s goals will have any bearing on what the citizens of Catalonia will actually do.

  14. nick kelly says:

    Thanks for survey of situation DQ. I’m afraid it has left me more afraid. To promise fiscal autonomy and then renege is a provocation.

    If the provisions re: language had been tried by the Feds in Canada re: Quebec this would undoubtedly have produced a ‘YES’ result in the referendum on separation.

    Perhaps the best hope is a ‘behind the scene’ pressure on Madrid by the EU, or specifically the ECB, which ought to have huge leverage ( assuming the client is rational)

    The parties themselves look like two scorpions in a bottle.

    • Don Quijones says:

      You’re welcome, Nick. Thanks for the questions.

    • polecat says:

      As I hear it … ‘it’s that the smaller scopion is the most deadly !’

    • nick kelly says:

      ‘It (Madrid) also launched criminal investigations against the entire Catalan government, the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, the leaders of two separatist municipal associations and more than 700 Catalan mayors (representing 75% of Catalonia’s municipalities) for agreeing to cooperate with the planned referendum’

      Insanity. Why not simplify the investigation and indict the entire population?


    Don’t underestimate the power of counter-democratic misrepresentation (global issue)…

  16. Lune says:

    This is such a bone headed move one has to wonder if Rajoy secretly wants Catalonia independence! He is doing everything to ensure that a dispute about fiscal revenue sharing, something every country deals with and works out internally, progresses instead to revolution. Catalonia independence advocates could not have gotten a better opponent if Franco returned from the grave.

    • K Loggins says:


      As another poster mentioned, the EU might prefer old sovereigns to break into regional powers so they’re weaker and more likely to be subsumed into the USSE.

      Now it might be that Rajoy has his counter-motive as a forever seat in the USSE inner party.

      Just like B.Liar and Kinnock from the UK government, whom seem to have forever jobs in the EU… paid for with my taxes… yet I have no idea whatsoever what they do all day, or even how the cretins got such cushy jobs!

  17. nick kelly says:

    ‘Scotland joined England as it was bankrupt and had to..’

    There is room for debate about some things but NOT about this.
    Scot;and was subdued the Roman way, by force of arms. And speaking as one born in England, it was bloody ruthless.
    After the final battle of Culloden (1746) near Inverness, all wounded were killed and 20,000 head of cattle were seized by the victors.

    The final subjugation of the Highlands was reinforced by a changes in law backed by a strict military government.

    Today of course finance is very much the main driver of both the Independence movement AND their Scottish opponents.

    The latter maintain that Scotland dodged a bullet when it voted ‘NO’ just before the price of oil crashed, a big source of revenue for the UK and what would have been the main one for an independent Scotland.

    • d says:

      One born in englad should know there were many attempts to enforce the union. By Rome and others afterwards. All failed.

      It finally occurred peacefully after Scotland went broke in it’s south American colonial ventures. Which was incidentally after Cromwell. who came after the Scots Stuart king’s of England. Who obtained the Throne peacefully then blew it with the double dealing over religion.

      After the removal of the Stuart kings. Scotland reentered the union peacefully, As it was BANKRUPT (see the DAREN COLONY) and it has been there ever since, continually milking the coffers of London, much like the Danegeld did.

      I say kick Scots out, they cost to much.

      then when they come crawling back bankrupt again, a new and forever deal could be formed, as the SNP wont give up until it has destroyed Scotland and its peiople. They are just like the Scots puritans BAD PEOPLE.

      You need to check on what finally happened, in the final Peaceful union instead of screaming about English union by force, which is the False SNP narrative

  18. Steve Smith says:

    Abengoa and the “grid toll” happened, it’s all about their water and power bills.

  19. Stevedcfc72 says:

    Hi Don,

    What’s the story on Piraeus Bank in Greece?


Comments are closed.