Catalonia’s separatist leaders have threatened to declare independence after pressing ahead with a banned referendum on secession which they say they won.
The following are the key points of their independence plan:
When will it be declared?
The referendum law passed on September 6 by Catalonia’s regional parliament, where separatist lawmakers have a narrow majority, stipulated that a win by the “yes” side “implies the independence of Catalonia”.
The declaration of independence must be approved by the assembly “two days after” the ratification of the referendum results, a formal step which has not yet been taken even though final results have been published.
The big question is when the Catalan government will start this countdown to an independence declaration.
It says the “yes” side won 90.18 percent of the 2.29 million votes cast in the referendum, which did not meet international electoral standards.
The turnout was just 43 percent of eligible voters as Catalans who prefer to remain in Spain largely boycotted the polls.
Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the referendum law shortly after it was passed while it considers arguments that it is unconstitutional.
Would it be independent immediately?
Once Catalonia declares independence, a so-called “Law on Transition” would come into effect establishing the region as a “democratic and social” republic, and opening a period for it to set up its own laws and institutions.
This “supreme norm” would rule until Catalonia approves its own constitution, in a public participatory process expected to take six months.
Once a constitution is in place Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont would become head of state.
But the Catalan government has not provided details regarding what means it has to assume the classic duties of a state such as border controls and defence.
Spain’s Constitutional Court has also suspended this “Law on Transition”.
“To be independent there are some things that we still don’t have,” former Catalan president Artur Mas, Puigdemont’s predecessor, said in an interview published Friday in the Financial Times.
Would it be legal?
Catalan authorities argue Madrid left them no option but to unilaterally call the independence referendum because Spain’s central government repeatedly refused to agree to a legal plebiscite.
They also argue that they have the “right to self-determination” outlined by the United Nations even though this applies to colonies and oppressed societies.
“Catalonia is not in this category,” said the UN’s former secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.
Catalonia’s referendum law establishes an “exceptional legal regime” that “prevails hierarchically overall norms which it may conflict with”, meaning it overrides other laws.
All this goes against Spain’s Constitutional Court, which has repeatedly said that the country’s 1978 constitution does not allow regions to call independence referendums.
The constitution establishes “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, a common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards” whose “national sovereignty resides in the Spanish people.”
Based on this, the courts and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government have insisted that a decision affecting the unity of Spain cannot be taken by just one region, but that all Spaniards need to be consulted.
Catalonia’s independence would need to be recognised internationally and so far no country has said it would back a new Catalan Republic.
The European Union has warned that an independent Catalonia would be left outside of the bloc.
Catalonia, a region of around 7.5 million people with its own distinct language and culture, has had a complex relationship at times with Madrid.
Separatist sentiment surged after Spain’s Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down parts of a Catalan autonomy charter that defined the region as a “nation”.
Spain’s sharp economic downturn also helped push the independence cause from the fringes to the mainstream by fueling a sense that Catalonia would be richer on its own.
Pro-separatist lawmakers won a narrow majority of 72 seats in the 135-seat Catalan regional parliament in a September 2015 election billed as a proxy vote on independence even though they won less than 50 percent of the vote.
Puigdemont, a lifelong separatist, became president of Catalonia in January 2016.
Popular support for independence
Polls indicate Catalans are divided on independence although the majority are in favour of holding a legal secession referendum to settle the issue.
The last Catalan government poll on the topic showed 41.1 percent were in favour of independence while 49.4 percent were against. (AFP)