The decision of Catalonia parliament to declare independence from Spain has pushed country and whole of Europe into deep crisis. Today Catalan regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain, while the Spanish parliament approved direct rule over the region. Everything about the increasingly polarised stand-off between Spain and Catalonia suggests a crisis that could and should have been averted by earlier and wiser actions on both sides. Instead, the two antagonists are now becoming too deeply entrenched for either of them to de-escalate with honour or with the agreement of their most fervent supporters. The situation is volatile and dangerous and it is getting more so.
Political solution based on dialogue and negotiation is required. Catalonia is not the only place where nationalist separatism is a challenge to the existing EU nation-state order. Scotland is still going through similar convulsions, while two of Italy’s richest northern regions, Lombardy and the Veneto, have just voted for increased autonomy from Rome. In each case, though, the onus is primarily on the larger nation state to respond creatively, permitting legal votes on separation but also offering devolved solutions too, as the UK broadly did over Scotland. The rest of Europe and world should thank Spain for offering this startling lesson on how not to deal with separatist movements. At a moment when nationalism is on the upsurge, when identity politics and a slew of social, economic and political developments — not least the rise of demagogues — are creating centrifugal forces, the self-defeating actions of the Spanish government offer a vivid cautionary tale. The ultimate test of political maturity is resolving conflicts without violence. Spain failed that test.