Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Catalan Political Situation October 2017 - Advice for Visiting Groups

26 March 2018

German police have detained former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont under a European arrest warrant. The news has led to demonstrations in Barcelona that have turned violent and some main roads have been blocked by small groups of protestors.

Safety Advice and Risk Management

Demonstrations in the city are likely. Should they occur, our student groups will avoid them, and their vicinity.

21 November 2017

Barcelona continues to be full of tourists and the political tension is not readily noticeable on the streets. Legal elections are scheduled for 21 December and all political parties are preparing for them.

Safety Advice and Risk Management

The risk to safety for visitors has always been low, and none of our groups have been affected. They have been able to work in, and enjoy Barcelona throughout this conflictive period where they have found the city as normal, with little evidence of political tension on the streets: Rugby School undertaking their geography fieldwork in Barcelona between 23-27 October 2017 and University College London geography undergraduates 5-10 November 2017 geography fieldwork including a study of the Catalan geopolitical crisis and its spatial and historical manifestations in Barcelona’s urban core.

Demonstrations in the city are less likely. Should they occur, our student groups will avoid them, and their vicinity.

3 November 2017

Half of the Catalan government are in jail and the other half on the run, with European arrest warrants issued by the Spanish judge. The editorial line of the respected Catalan newspapers, El Periodico and La Vanguardia put much of the blame for the preventive imprisonments on the escape of ex-President of the Catalan Government, Carles Puigdemont and five ex-ministers to Brussels. One ex-minister, Santi Vila has been released on bail. He had resigned the day before the declaration of independence vote, and was the only ex-minister who answered questions from the judge in court. These events may provide a stimulus to the further radicalisation of the independence movement. Demonstrators have temporarily blocked some roads this morning and more demonstrations are planned. Unemployment in Catalonia in October increased more than in any other Spanish region. A total of 14,698 were laid off, double that of the same month in 2016. Over 2,000 Companies have moved their headquarters out of Catalonia, some with a century and a half of Catalan roots.

Safety Advice and Risk Management

Demonstrations in some parts of the city are very likely and although intended to be peaceful may turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Our student groups will avoid all areas of demonstrations, and their vicinity.

1 November 2017

The sacked former leaders of the Catalan Parliament appear in court tomorrow for questioning. They are yet to be formally charged. They are accused of rebellion - which carries a maximum 30-year jail term - as well as sedition and embezzlement.

30 October 2017

There has been no movement of resistance to the application of direct rule on Catalonia under Article 155 of the constitution. The Catalan police support the Spanish State and encircle the Catalan Parliament. They allow the dismissed members of Parliament through the cordon to collect their personal effects. Only one member remains in his office and risks arrest. Spain’s attorney general has asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against members of the deposed Catalan cabinet for their role in trying to create an independent state. There are reports that the ex-President of the Catalan Government, Carles Puigdemont and five ex-councillors are seeking political asylum in Belgium. The brakes begin to be applied to the exodus of Catalan businesses. Freixenet, Catalonia’s iconic Cava producer was about to announce their departure to Madrid. This evening, this decision is reversed and they will maintain their headquarters in the region.

Media reports have placed their own slant on events, with some focusing on a possible alarming descent into civil war. This has always been unlikely, but feared by many. The role of the Catalan police in this respect has been critical. They are an armed force of 17,000 and their potential intimidating influence has been used to political effect.

We anticipate a very rapid return to democratic normality and peaceful coexistence. Safety of students is always our main priority and we thank parents, school management and staff for placing their trust in our best judgement of events here in Barcelona.

Safety Advice and Risk Management

Demonstrations in the city are unlikely. Should they occur, our student groups will avoid them, and their vicinity.

29 October 2017

Hundreds of thousands have rallied peacefully in central Barcelona today to call for Spanish unity and an end to Catalan separatism. Organisers and the Spanish government put the turnout at more than a million people. The new head of the Catalan police orders all official photos of the former Government members to be removed from police stations.

Safety Advice and Risk Management

Demonstrations in some parts of the city are very likely and although intended to be peaceful may turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Our student groups will avoid all areas of demonstrations, and their vicinity.

28 October 2017

The dismissed President of the Catalan Government, Carles Puigdemont, has called for non-violent 'democratic opposition' to the Spanish Government's direct rule, without detailing what that means. He is presented on the Catalan public television channel TV3 as 'President of the Catalan Parliament' (Generalitat). The Spanish Government removes Josep Lluís Trapero as the head of the Catalan police. He complies and accepts a demotion to commissar. The streets are quiet and there are few signs anything has changed.

27 October 2017

Catalan MPs in the 135-seat regional parliament vote in a secret ballot for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. Dozens of opposition MPs boycott the vote. In response, the Spanish senate grant unprecedented powers to the country’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, to impose direct rule on Catalonia under Article 155 of the constitution. Rajoy calls regional elections for December 21 after dismissing the president of the Generalitat and his entire government under Article 155. The Catalan Parliament is dissolved. The Director General of the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, is removed and the Catalan government’s international 'embassies' are to be shut down. The Spanish Government will assume control of Catalonia’s civil service, police and finances. There is some isolated and minor unrest on the streets.

22 October 2017

The Spanish government has intervened in Catalonia’s autonomy and will introduce direct rule from next Saturday. The aim is to restore legality, hold normal elections, ensure institutional neutrality, maintain social welfare and economic growth and ensure the rights and freedoms of all Catalans. The autonomy of Catalonia is not suspended but the Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, his deputy and all the members of the Catalan government will be removed as part of emergency measures to restore the law. New elections will be called within six months or as soon as normality is restored. The Catalan Parliament will remain open but cannot propose a candidate for the presidency. The Spanish government will have veto power over any new law it may approve. The intervention of these specific powers of the Government under article 155 of the Constitution must now be approved by an absolute majority in the Senate, which is expected to validate the government's plan in an extraordinary plenary session to be held next Friday. Only the Senate can now stop the application of Article 155. In response, Puigdemont has called for the reconvening of the Catalan Parliament. The president of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, has called the Spanish state government's actions 'a de facto coup d’etat that we will not allow'.

20 October 2017

Tomorrow, the Spanish government plans to hold an emergency meeting to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule.

16 October 2017

The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has responded this morning to the Spanish government's request to clarify whether or not he has declared the independence of Catalonia. His response is conciliatory in tone but no clarification is offered. He calls for an end to 'repression against the Catalan people' and for a meeting to reach agreement. This response will force the Spanish government to apply Article 155 to restore 'the autonomy legality' with a deadline set for Thursday 19 October 10.00. Josep Lluís Trapero, the head of the Catalan police, appeared in court facing possible imprisonment for alleged sedition. He has been provisionally released on condition he appears in court every 15 days. His passport has been withdrawn and he is banned from leaving Spain. Jordi Sànchez, President of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, President of Òmnium Cultural have both received preventive detention pending an investigation for alleged sedition. They are the leaders involved in orchestrating pro-independence protests that last month trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and vandalised their vehicles. The Barcelona Court secretary had to escape the building by rooftop.

13 October 2017

The Spanish government is hopeful that the Catalan government response next week will see a return to legality under the Spanish constitution. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is under intense pressure from the left wing of his coalition government to immediately declare independence. However he is faced with an economic and social reality. Economically, the region is highly indebted. Independence would leave it isolated internationally, out of the EU, and without access to sustainable financing. The biggest blow affects its reputation and image. Catalonia seemed to be very suitable for doing business but doubts now arise about legal security. Over five hundred companies have transferred their headquarters out of the region already, with the stock market value of the listed shares equivalent to 40% of Catalan GDP. The experience of Quebec, which went through a similar process between 1980 and 1995, suggests few will ever return. Barcelona is in danger of becoming economically irrelevant. The independence process has fractured Catalan society and damaged the Barcelona brand.

12 October 2017

Today is a public holiday in Spain. Anti-independence demonstrations in Barcelona have a festive atmosphere. There has been a disturbance in the city centre broken up by local police. Carles Puigdemont's suspension of the declaration of independence has temporarily de-escalated the crisis but much depends on his response to the Spanish government's request for a return to legality. The deadline set is 10.00 on Monday 16th October. This is also the time when Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the Catalan police, Jordi Sànchez, President of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, President of Òmnium Cultural, appear in court a second time to face possible imprisonment for alleged sedition. The Spanish government has committed to a reform of the Constitution within six months.

11 October 2017

The Spanish Government sends a request to Carles Puigdemont to clarify whether or not he has declared the independence of Catalonia. It considers his statement yesterday deliberately ambiguous. He has 5 days to respond. No response or any response other than a simple 'no' would be taken as affirmative. Without a return to legality, Article 155 of the Constitution to suspend Catalan autonomy would be activated on 19th October. The Spanish government would then take control of the region pending new regional elections.

10 October 2017

Addressing Parliament, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont declares independence, only to suspend it a few seconds later pending negotiations. The Central Government considers this is a declaration of independence and activates the mechanisms to respond. Mass pro-independence demonstratations are being organised close to the parliament building. The Spanish state police (Civil Guard) accuse the Catalan police of acting as the 'executive arm' of the independence movement. There are reports that the Catalan independence 'road map' includes plans for civil unrest to gain internationalisation of the conflict followed by forced disconnection from the state.

9 October 2017

We are in a short waiting period between a possible unilateral declaration of independence, a 'soft' declaration without legal effects followed by regional elections or a request for negotiations, or a return to legality under the Spanish constitution. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is due to appear in the Catalan parliament tomorrow. The Catalan National Assembly (ANC) has called for mass demonstrations tomorrow at 18.00 outside Parliament in defence of the declaration of independence. Control of security at the High Court of Justice of Catalonia has been removed from the Catalan police and passed to the Spanish state security forces.

8 October 2017

There are mass demonstrations in Barcelona this morning in favour of the Constitution and the unity of Spain. The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is due to appear in the Catalan parliament on Tuesday and this could provide an opportunity for the region’s promised unilateral declaration of independence. The Spanish Prime Minister vows to use any means within the law to stop independence. Spanish security forces have been strengthened at the airport, port and other key infrastructure sites. Some cruise ships have been diverted from Barcelona.

7 October 2017

There are faint signs of a step back on both sides. The exodus of the major Catalan companies gathers pace. The General Water Company of Barcelona (Agbar) has moved its headquarters to Madrid, joining La Caixa Banking Foundation, CaixaBank, Gas Natural and Banco de Sabadell in announcing the transfer of their headquarters out of Catalonia. La Caixa Banking Foundation is the third largest foundation in the world by volume of assets. The stock market value of the latter three amounts to €51 billion, more than half of the total of the seven Catalan companies in the Ibex 35, the main index of the Spanish stock market. In an interview in the Financial Times, the former Catalan leader Artur Mas claims the region is not ready for 'real independence'. He has later denied this. The Spanish government has apologised for police violence during Sunday’s Catalan independence referendum.

6 October 2017

The situation continues to be very fluid. The head of the Catalan police has been summoned to the Spanish High Court (Audiencia Nacional) to face an alleged sedition charge this morning. Banco de Sabadell, the second-largest bank based in Catalonia has decided to move its legal headquarters out of the region to remain under European regulation. The board of CaixaBank, the biggest bank in the region and the country’s third largest, is meeting today to assess its options. The EU’s budget commissioner has warned of the risk of 'civil war' in Catalonia.

3 October 2017

A general strike is called by unions and political groups which disrupts transport and some businesses. There are demonstrations in Barcelona against police violence, defending the right to vote. The Spanish King, Felipe VI accuses Catalan leaders of threatening Spain's stability and urges the state to defend 'constitutional order'.

1 October 2017

Catalans vote in an independence referendum that goes ahead despite the Supreme Court deeming it illegal. Spanish riot police try to remove the ballot boxes from some voting centres. They are met with resistance and batons and rubber bullets are used. The Catalan government says 90 per cent of those who voted backed independence, but turnout was only 43 per cent as many who oppose a split boycotted the referendum.

We will update this page as events unfold.

Brief Background

Catalonia is a relatively wealthy autonomous Spanish region in north-east Spain, with its own distinct language and culture. The region has vital strategic importance for Spain. It produces over 25 per cent of the exports in the eurozone's fourth largest economy and some 70 per cent of the rest of Spain's exports to the EU pass through its territory. It accounts for 6.3 per cent of Spain's territory, 16 per cent of its population and 20 per cent of its economic output. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and its port and airport are among the busiest in Europe. Its cruise port is the most important in Europe, and sixth in world ranking by passengers (2016).

Catalonia's separatist government is seeking to split from Spain and declare independence. The Spanish government asserts that any such move would be unconstitutional and therefore illegal. The Catalan government has defied and circumvented the legal attempts by the Supreme Court to block the independence process. An illegal independence referendum was held on October 1 2017, where 43 per cent of voters in the region cast ballots and 90 per cent of these were in favour of independence. The Catalan government has taken that as a mandate to declare themselves an independent state.

Spain's democratic Constitution of 1978 was approved by more than 90 per cent of Catalan voters, gave very wide autonomy to the region but says that Spain is 'indivisible'. The independence movement claim the 1978 Constitution is undemocratic and that they are an 'oppressed people' against a 'repressive state'. However, the OECD rates the degree of self-government in Catalonia as among the highest in the world. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, considers the Catalans are not oppressed by Spain, their situation cannot be compared with that of countries of the former Yugoslavia and the illegal referendum of October 1 does not reflect 'the total will of the Catalan people'.