As Catalans voted Sunday in favor of breaking away from Spain to create an independent Catalan state, the legal implications of Catalonia's bid for independence for Catalans, Spaniards and the EU is of crucial importance. The question of independence for Catalonia is on the EU member states agenda as neither Spain nor other EU countries are in favor of Catalonia's independence. The EU's charter does not involve any binding law for this matter, as the break-up of an EU member state is unprecedented. Britain, which dealt with Scotland's bid for independence, put emphasis on the unity of the Spanish government while urging for a legal referendum to be "done through the proper constitutional framework."
"Britain is a friend and a great ally of Spain ... we want Spain to stay united and to stay together," British Prime Minister David Cameron told business leaders at a conference in London, Reuters reported.
Catalans' hope for independence was refueled immediately after Scotland's pro-independence camp narrowed the gap in the polls in September. However, the result of Scotland's referendum was seen as a setback to Catalans' drive for independence. The National Day of Catalonia on Sept. 11 took the form of massive pro-independence demonstrations against Madrid refusing to discuss Catalonia's full independence from Spain. Since then, Catalans prepared for the non-binding vote for independence.
Despite low turnout in Sunday's non-binding referendum, 80 percent of Catalans who went to the polls voted for the independence of a Catalonian state. About 1.6 million people voted for independence, according to results released by the Catalan government. "Catalonia has once again, the people of Catalonia, have made it very clear that we want to govern ourselves. It is an old aspiration that dates back centuries and remains perfectly alive," the president of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, said.
Spain, as an EU member state, has denied a possible split of Catalonia from the central government. It is highly believed that Spain's decentralization would cause even greater harm to Spain's already stagnant economy, which is still suffering from a deep economic crisis. Therefore, the Spanish government has been in favor of keeping a wealthy region like Catalonia inside its borders. The central government has repeatedly denied granting Catalonia greater autonomy over the region's financial issues. Catalonia is a highly industrialized and independent-minded region in northeastern Spain. With a population of 7.6 million, it has long enjoyed prosperity with its own language and culture, compared to the Spanish government, which is suffering from economic challenges including high unemployment rates and low average income. The economic crisis has hit Spain hard since 2008 and caused increasing tensions between the central government and Catalonia, leading to a greater surge in support for independence. The Catalan government has blamed the central government for much of Spain's debt crisis.
The break-up of Spain is apparently less likely to happen, as Madrid has not recognized Catalonian's independence drive and considers the referenda illegal. The referendum's legality has been questioned for a long time. A legal roadblock was long imposed by the Spanish government against independence. Madrid blocked Catalonia's independence votes several times in Spanish political history while launching a constitutional appeal to block referendum plans. The independence referendum poses a great challenge for the Spanish state has been considered unconstitutional due to the fact that the non-binding vote would violate Spain's 1978 constitution that only allows referenda that include all Spaniards. According to the Spanish constitution, Catalonia does not have the legal capacity to hold an independence referendum.