Live from France: Catalonia Standoff Continues; Nationalist Tensions Rising in Corsica By Nathan Richmond
The standoff between the independence-minded Catalan regional parliament and the Spanish government continues with no end in sight. Meanwhile, in nearby Corsica, nationalists are pressing French President Emmanuel Macron with demands for increased autonomy.
Madrid’s Failed Gamble in Catalonia
Following the unilateral declaration of Catalan independence and the subsequent suspension of the Catalan government and imposition of direct rule by Madrid last October, the Spanish government held new parliamentary elections in Catalonia in December. Had the anti-separatist parties won that election, the issue of Catalan independence would have been delayed, if not altogether shelved, indefinitely. But the separatist parties managed to retain their majority of the Catalan legislature, although their majority was halved from four to two.
First Steps to Reinstating a Catalan Local Government
On January 17, 2018, the Catalan Parliament elected Roger Torrent, a leader of the separatist Catalan Republican Left Party (ERC) as the Parliament Speaker. In addition to electing the speaker, the Parliament elected a five-person board tasked with nominating a new President for Catalonia. The only candidate thus far nominated is Carles Puigdemont, the ex-Catalan president currently in exile in Brussels, along with several members of the Catalan Parliament also in exile, and wanted by the Spanish government on charges of sedition and rebellion in connection with last October’s independence referendum and declaration.
Governing From Abroad?
Mr. Puigdemont has insisted that he is capable of leading Catalonia as its regional president from abroad. He has argued that video links allow him to meet with others as necessary and that there is nothing he cannot do from Brussels that he could do in Catalonia. The Spanish Constitutional Court, however, has ruled unanimously that Mr. Puigdemont cannot be sworn-in as Catalonia’s president unless he appears in the Catalan Parliament in person, and moreover, that Mr. Puigdemont needed the Court’s prior approval before returning to do so. Thus, events in Catalonia have reached an impasse and currently it appears that neither the Catalan Parliament nor the Spanish government is willing to back down.
Corsican Nationalists Energized by Catalan Independence Drive
Meanwhile, on the nearby French island of Corsica, nationalists are pressing President Emmanuel Macron with demands for greater autonomy.
Corsican militant separatists declared a cease-fire in 2014 after decades of violence led by the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) whose goal was independence. In December 2017, a coalition of nationalist parties won control of the island’s regional government. Many in the region speculate that the nationalist electoral victory was, at least in part, due to a spillover effect from nearby Catalonia.
Corsican Demands and the French Government’s Response
Currently, the Corsican nationalists are seeking greater autonomy, but not independence, for their island. Corsica already enjoys greater control over its healthcare and education than do other regions of France, and President Macron has indicated that he is ‘‘open to transferring more powers to local authorities.’’ But on his recent visit to Corsica President Macron rejected the two core demands that Corsican nationalists are seeking: official recognition of the Corsican language and new laws to prevent property speculation by outsiders. It is unlikely that Corsican nationalists will accept the French President’s response and move on.
Nathan Richmond is Professor of Government at Utica College