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Catalonia and Spain: End Game Scenarios


I have written a number of times[1] on the increasingly tense situation in Catalonia, Spain’s prickliest province that also wants to become Europe’s newest independent state. On April 8th another act in the unfolding drama was completed: three representatives of the pro-separatist elements in the Catalan Parlament visited Madrid to officially request the authority to hold a referendum on Catalonian independence. It was a foregone conclusion that Madrid would say “no” – a very definitive “no” on the part of Mr. Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister; with other parties joining the chorus in more or less vituperative fashion depending on their ideology and relationship with the governing Partido Popular.

The Catalans returned home dissatisfied, but undissuaded. Before departing the capital, the three legislators expressed their disappointment and their determination, declaring that a referendum would still be held, for the Catalan people were on a “one way path” to self-determination[2]. Artur Mas, President of the Catalan Generalitat, who had not bothered to make the trip and meet with abuse, reaffirmed this stance. He was excoriated in absentia nonetheless.

What is evident is that the Catalans understood the necessity of making the gesture: the Spanish government had to at least be offered this one last time the chance to become a participant in the Catalan drive to a referendum. This was a calculated risk: if the government had agreed to the referendum, they would have had the opportunity to set conditions that would have ensured a favorable outcome for Madrid[3].  A calculated risk, but one that Mr. Mas knew he was never in real danger of losing. Mr. Rajoy already faces a rebellion from the right-wing of his own party, and hardline elements would never countenance the legitimacy that a referendum would give to Catalan separatism, regardless of the government strategy behind it.

Now that Catalans can declare to the world what they have been saying all along: that their peaceful, democratic aspirations are being stifled by an oppressive Castilian clique in Madrid that is determined not only to force Catalans to accept a modus vivendi that they find intolerable, but that is actively engaged in ruining the Catalan economy and stamping out the unique culture and identity of the Catalan people. Castilians obviously have their counterarguments, and I do not propose to enter into a discussion of the merits of one or the other. There are plenty of articles[4] for the interested reader.

Catalans are now preparing their next steps. The Generalitat indicates that they intend to go ahead with the referendum planned for November 9th whether Madrid approves of it or not, but there are, in fact numerous scenarios that could play out. By closing the door to a legal referendum, Mr. Rajoy has opened other potentialities for the Catalans to explore.


End Game Scenarios

There are five potential paths for the Catalan independence movement at this point. I have attempted to chart out the most likely progression for each of these scenarios, using a move-countermove framework involving the government of Catalonia, Spain and the potential involvement of the European Union. At each step, when options have presented themselves, I have assigned a probability for that outcome based purely on my personal experience and judgment.


The first chart shows the current position: Catalan representatives have requested authority to hold a referendum and they have been rebuffed. They now have five options:

  1. End the referendum process and accept the status quo (the “Collaborationist Option”);
  2. Hold an unofficial referendum (the “Veneto Option”);
  3. Hold an unauthorized referendum (the “Crimea Option”);
  4. Call for elections on a single platform of separation, which would serve as a de facto referendum;
  5. Unilaterally declare independence without further ado (the “Jefferson Option”).

Some of these options are so improbable as to be beyond the realm of possibility, but I will present each of them in turn. Since I am as fallible as the next man, take these estimations for what they are worth[5].

I have included the full spreadsheet here. It is password protected, but you can email me if you would like to “play” with the percentages and see the change in the outcomes. Endgame Scenarios_Catalonia

The “Collaborationist Option”

There is always the possibility that Mr. Mas and the CiU leadership will get cold feet between now and November; or that they may be made “on offer they can’t refuse” by Madrid. In such a case, they would attempt to call off the referendum process and put the best face on it they can:

Option 1: End the Process


Unfortunately for Mr. Mas, his government rests on a coalition with the far more separatist ERC. These are hard-core advocates of independence: it is unlikely that they will be satisfied with any sub rosa douceur that Mr. Rajoy might offer the more moderate CiU leadership. Furthermore, they would exploit the weakness of Mr. Mas’ position: he and his party would be wide open to the charges of being collaborationist stooges and having sold out the Catalan people. ERC would have only to withdraw its support from Mr. Mas for the government to fall (Cat 3).

Mr. Mas would have two choices: he could call a snap election, or he could attempt to form a new government coalition. Without the pro-separatist parties (ERC, ICV and CUP), CiU could form a government with just the Catalan Socialists (PSC) or an even more unlikely coalition with the local Partido Popular. The former deal might give the new coalition a certain amount of stability, but an alliance with the PP would only confirm the worst suspicions of “collaborationism”.

In either event, this is an unstable equilibrium. As soon as elections are called, whether immediately or after some time of coalition rule, the most likely result is a resounding triumph for pro-separatist parties. Indeed, the ERC might win an outright majority if CiU supporters flock to them en masse. The new government would find itself back in the original position, but with only 4 options to choose from.

Whether or not Mr. Mas is a heart-felt separatist is open to discussion, but no one denies that he is an experienced politician. He can see the results of “collaboration” as easily as anyone else: the political equivalent of cutting his own throat. For that reason, I give this option a 0% probability of occurring.

The “Veneto Option”

An intermediate step between capitulation and holding an unauthorized referendum would be to hold an “unofficial” referendum, similar to the one recently celebrated in the Italian province of Veneto[6]. An “unofficial” referendum would not use the machinery of the state; it would not be supported by an act of the Catalan Parlament; it would not be considered binding, even by the Catalans. In Venice, for example, the voting occurred online over a five day period between the 16th and 21st of March.

The purpose of such an occasion would be to increase the pressure on Madrid without actually committing to an official and binding, though unauthorized and therefore illegal, referendum. The Generalitat could point to the turnout and results and proclaim: “See! The people of Catalonia really do support independence by a substantial margin! But Rajoy refuses to negotiate and seeks to suppress the will of the people!!” Wrapped in the flag of democracy, self-determination and non-violence, the Catalans would attempt to either have the government buckle or have the international community pressure Madrid into achieving the same result:

Option 2: Unofficial Referendum:


Madrid will immediately dispute any result of an unofficial referendum that did not favor the government. They would claim the voting was unsupervised and tampered with, regardless of any precautions the organizers might take. There is no realistic scenario of Madrid agreeing to authorize a formal referendum on the basis of an informal one, especially if the results indicate a likely victory for the separatists.

In the end, the Catalan government would find itself back where it started, now with three remaining options. That being said, there is a small probability of an unofficial referendum being held just to “check the box.” It could be seen as a safe option, as Madrid is not likely to intervene in what amounts to an especially large poll. It might also be a stop-gap measure to appease hardline separatists if the Catalan government is not confident in the results of an unauthorized referendum or if other circumstances prevent it from going forward, such as an overwhelming pro-union vote in Scotland.

The “Crimea Option”

Spain’s Foreign Minister at one point in February pronounced the situation in Crimea as akin to that in Catalonia[7]. This was prior to the Russian Duma’s annexation of the break-away province. It was, nonetheless, one of the more imbecilic pronouncements from a government that has strived to exceed itself in banality, corruption and apathy. So when I name the unauthorized referendum as “the Crimea Option” it is thanks to Mr. Margallo’s oracular abilities.

The unauthorized referendum appears to be the mechanism preferred by Mr. Mas to express the wishes of the Catalan people. One of its advantages is that referendums have the support of historical and legal precedents: popular referendums are far and away the most common form of successfully seceding from an existing state. There are some generally agreed upon formulae for submitting a motion to a referendum and for setting the minimum bars to carry that motion. A referendum can be monitored by international inspectors. And a popular referendum finds support on the principle of self-determination enshrined in the U.N. Charter, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the International Declaration of Civil and Political Rights, and other international agreements[8].

There are disadvantages too. It is difficult to claim any legal protection for the results of a referendum that, from the beginning, was illegal. The fact that it is illegal facilitates the national government’s efforts to dispute and discredit the results, since no one from Madrid is going to participate in any way. Furthermore, the very act of organizing an unauthorized referendum exposes the Catalan government to a series of legal sanctions that could be applied either before the date of the plebiscite, in order to prevent voting; or else afterwards, in order to prevent any action being taken on the results of the same.

Despite all of these handicaps, this is the avenue most likely to be pursued by Catalonia, and it has received the fullest treatment:

Option 3: Unauthorized Referendum:


After the Catalan Parlament authorizes the organization of the unauthorized referendum, the Spanish government will illegalize the act of the Parlament and order the Catalans to desist from any actions authorized by this measure. Consequences may be threatened or implicit. The Generalitat must decide whether to proceed under threat: acquiescence to the status quo under duress will likely lead to the fall of the governing coalition. Vastly more likely is that Barcelona will call Madrid and see if it is all bluff. They will continue to organize the referendum.

The Spanish government has a wide range of options available to it to impose its will on the recalcitrant Catalans. The three most likely to be used – either singly or in combination – are:

  1. The dissolution of the Catalan Parlament and a call for new elections, coupled with the banning of certain pro-secession parties;
  2. The suspension of Catalonia’s charter of autonomy and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid;
  3. The issuance of arrest warrants for some of the pro-secession members of the Catalan government and legislature on charges of sedition, planning secession, and perhaps various other charges[9].

In the cases of the dissolution of the government or the suspension of the Catalan charters, the Catalans could choose to ignore Madrid and to continue to function illegally. This choice, or if Madrid immediately plays hardball by issuing warrants, would precipitate the fundamental crisis: because the Catalan government is already up-and-running, it doesn’t need to do anything to continue in operation. The onus falls on the Spanish government to re-impose its flouted authority, as well as the responsibility for initiating a course of action that could result in fatalities. Of course, Spain will argue that it is the Generalitat that bears the moral burden of any deaths resulting from their illegal secessionist activities: but at the end of the day, it is Spain that will have to send in armed men to regain control of the situation.

There is also the slight possibility of letting the referendum go ahead and of recognizing the results. This would lead to the “amicable divorce” outcome in which Catalonia goes its own way peacefully and negotiates all outstanding issues with Spain: treatment of the national debt, sharing of the social security fund, disposition of public property, support for immediate admittance into the EU and Euro, etc… This is a long shot, for a number of weighty reasons:

  • Mr. Rajoy would be a dead man walking politically;
  • Mr. Rajoy might not even be able to get a majority of his party to go along with his decision in the national legislature, or there might be a mass desertion of PP backbenchers to Vox, for example. Either way, the government would fall;
  • If Catalonia left peacefully, the Basque Country would go the next day – that is another 6% of GDP, a substantial portion of Spain’s remaining industrial capacity, and the other main land links to France (the primary go through Catalonia);
  • If both Catalonia and the Basque Country leave, it is not inconceivable that Galicia might wish to break off, or that Andalucía would see itself a beneficiary of far greater European Regional Development Funds on her own than in the rump of Spain. The country could literally fall apart.

For all these reasons, I find it difficult though not impossible to believe that Mr. Rajoy would wish to or be allowed to acquiesce to an “amicable divorce” scenario with the Catalans.

Option 3: Unauthorized Referendum – page 2


Regardless of whether Madrid decides on a police action before or after the Generalitat shows its defiance, the first move will be to order the Mossos d’Escuadra, Catalonia’s autonomous police force, to execute the warrants. This will be a critical test: will the Mossos fulfill their duty to the Spanish state, or will they remain loyal to the Generalitat? The degree of violence that is likely to ensue largely hinges on their choice, for if the Catalan police refuses its duty, Spain’s recourse will be to send in the Guardia Civil. At this point, you will have to large bodies of armed men and women in close proximity, in a city of several million people, most of them hostile to the Guardias. The potential for disastrous escalation is self-evident.


If the Mossos remain obedient to the national government, then I estimate the probabilities of violence are significantly reduced. Catalans repressing Catalans is hardly a pleasant scenario to consider, but it would ease the government’s task considerably and totally negate the “ethnic angle”: police action could no longer be viewed as some sort of Castilian attack on Catalans; and Madrid would undoubtedly be delighted to exploit any evident divisions in Catalan society.

A police crackdown would put the ball back in the Generalitat’s court. One option would be compliance: the Catalan politicians would let themselves be arrested and have their day in court. A public trial might be good publicity if the Spanish government mishandled it: international opinion could actually look more favorably on the “democratic” underdog than on a strong-arm government. It is doubtful whether any of them would spend much time in jail; but Gandhi did and came out the stronger for it[10].

Catalonia would then have to be administered directly from Madrid, or with some combination of a rump Parlament of pro-union legislators and officials sent from the capital. In either case, the majority of Catalans would be outraged by a perceived gross violation of their rights and would consider the de facto government as nothing less than a fascist takeover and wholly illegitimate. A probable outcome would be passive resistance; perhaps spontaneous, but possibly planned in advance for such an eventuality. The Spanish government would find itself with political martyrs in Madrid and a non-stop wave of strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies throughout a region that represents 20% of Spain’s economy.  Passive resistance would seek to impose so high an economic and political cost on Madrid that the government would be forced to negotiate an end to direct administration of the province.

Although every single Catalan politician and leader is on the record stating that the independence movement is committed to non-violence and peaceful, democratic means, there is a non-negligible chance of violence breaking out. Whether caused by excessive use of force on the part of police or by radicalized civilian protesters, once violence breaks out it could become generalized. Bricks and steel pipes are ubiquitous in any city, and making Molotov cocktails is child’s play. As the crises in Kiev and Caracas have demonstrated, a determined group of civilians can effectively resist police forces in an urban environment, especially if the officers are not even locals. The Spanish government would be very hard pressed to put a good face on a situation with potentially hundreds injured, hospitals overflowing and large sections of the major Catalan cities in anarchy.

Option 3: Unauthorized Referendum – page 3


Violence, at least of the sustained, organized kind, remains a remote possibility, but one that cannot be ruled out. There are hotheads and violent radicals in every country and political movement. Indeed, the use of agents provocateurs cannot be ruled out, either by the government or by extremists in Spain’s own ultra-nationalist movements. The former would see a benefit in discrediting the “non-violent, democratic” character of the Catalan independence movement, especially if some prominent pro-union Catalan politician were violently assaulted.

The latter would deliberately seek an escalation in the crisis in order to achieve their goals of military intervention in the province and a permanent suspension of the Catalan charter of autonomy, rather than a temporary one. The bloodier the “uprising” is, and the longer it goes on, the more likely the ultras are to achieve their objective. These radical sectors, which include the openly fascist New Falange, seek to preserve the unity of the Spanish state, but that is not enough: for some, it has become a matter of punishing the Catalans for their temerity in questioning the superiority of Spanish nationalism and culture with their own “false history of lies and deceits”. The most radical of these elements go so far as to reject the current Constitution as being too weak, liberal and federalist, and would like to replace it with a much stronger charter for a strong, unitary state ruled from Madrid and with the complete dissolution of the “autonomous communities” as recognized political entities within it.


Fortunately for both sides, the extreme right is almost unrepresented in Spanish politics and in no position of authority to dictate policy. That should be little cause for celebration: Gavrilo Princip was also in a tiny minority when he set the world on fire[11]. However, we already see a ratcheting up of the rhetoric, with some mainstream conservative politicians[12] calling for measures that could have come out of a right-wing manifesto, such as sending a Brigadier-General of the Spanish Army to take-over the Mossos d’Escuadra and “end the separatist trend once and for all.” The Spanish police[13] and Armed Forces[14] also have their hotheads, some of whom might be discreet enough to keep their opinions to themselves – for now.

Active resistance on the part of the Catalan population would make the job of the Spanish government extremely difficult. It would also provoke necessary police measures that, on camera at least, would look extremely brutal, such as clearing streets with water cannon, tear gas, and riot police charges. As casualties mounted on both sides, the actions would become brutal – that is the inevitable nature of escalation in these matters. At some point, if police measures are ineffective, the Spanish government could declare Catalonia to be in a state of insurrection and call in the military. How much more effective that will be than using law enforcement alone is unclear to me: soldiers are trained to kill the enemy, not pacify their own people. When troops are used, then the civilians inevitably become “the enemy” and are usually killed.


Yet the government might be forced into this desperate act for lack of better options. In a scenario where violence continues unabated or escalates, when economic and political damage to Spain becomes widespread, and with immense pressure coming from the hardline elements to the right of the Partido Popular, Mr. Rajoy may be pressured into giving that order. It is unlikely to be successful in quelling unrest; it is certain to fail in making the Catalans love their Spanish neighbors; but it is the sort of desperation ploy that politicians and generals often make when they are in a bad fix and don’t know what else to do. Mr. Rajoy may even find himself without any say in the matter: any “weakness” on his part, evidenced by a desire to negotiate or even let Catalonia go, might be met with an ultimatum from within his party. It is not impossible to imagine Mr. Rajoy being invited to become “temporarily ill” while people with stronger nerves handle the situation. Nothing so Third World as a coup, mind you….

Option 3: Unauthorized Referendum – page 4


The mediation of the European Union appears to me to be unlikely prior to any violence in Catalonia. For one thing, the EU is not going to want to appear to be interfering in the internal affairs of a member state, and Spain will resent and resist anything that smacks of it. The current EU position is that any secession from a member state would result in the new state having to reapply to EU and Eurozone membership from scratch: a multi-year process. This is pure rhetoric, uttered in the hopes of deterring the eventuality and thus dodging the bullet. But in fact, it is a purely political decision whether Brussels wishes to give automatic admission to Scotland, Catalonia or Veneto. For the time being, the politics are all on the sides of the big countries, namely the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.

The politics may change rapidly in a situation where civil war and major economic disruption appear to threaten. It is therefore highly likely as soon as the situation escalates into one of police action; it is certain in the case of the imposition of martial law. If it looks like the Spanish handling, or mishandling, of the Catalan situation is likely to create a financial and economic crisis for the rest of Europe, you can believe that EU Ministers will be shuttling daily between Brussels, Frankfurt and Madrid. It is an open question whether even under these circumstances the EU has sufficient leverage to force Madrid into allowing a peaceful Catalan separation:

  • It would amount to political suicide for the Prime Minister and his party;
  • There is no mechanism for expelling a Member State from either the EU or the Euro;
  • While Spain owes the ECB a very great deal of money that is also a two-edged sword – the ECB could threaten to stop financing Spanish banks and through them the Spanish deficit, but Spain could threaten to not pay back what they already owe. Mutually assured destruction of a financial version;
  • The EU could perhaps threaten to bring cases against individual Spanish officials and officers in the event of gross human rights abuses in the ICJ, but I find it very difficult to believe that they would do so.

In the end, the EU would most likely issue a public rebuke to the Spanish government and very little else. The Spaniards will suffer it: under the influence of nationalistic, patriotic fervor and with their proverbial pride, they are not going to let a parcel of foreigners interfere in the holy unity of Spain. I give the chances of a successful EU mediation a very low probability of success; and the longer the EU waits to make its presence felt, the less likely it is to have any impact whatsoever.

At this point (Cat 10), it becomes impossible to explore this scenario further. Catalonia and Spain will be locked in a race to the bottom, pitting civilian protesters against Spanish law enforcement or possibly military personnel. Which gives way first will be a question of stamina and will: either sufficient numbers of separatists will be jailed, hospitalized or knocked on the head for the rest to stay home; or else the economic losses to the Spanish economy, a skyrocketing risk premium, the outflow of foreign capital, and the effects of international pariah status to “Brand Spain” convince Spanish political and business elites (the only ones who matter) that it is time to cut their losses. It is impossible to predict which will come first, only that the long-term human cost would be dire.

Regional Elections As A Substitute Referendum

Blocked from holding an official referendum, and wishing to avoid the consequences of illegally organizing an outlawed plebiscite, the Catalan government does have a perfectly legal fallback option. The Spanish Constitution grants to the autonomous communities full powers to call for and organize their own regional elections. The Spanish government has no say in the matter. If they so desired, the CiU and ERC could agree to provoke a government crisis by ending their coalition; the CiU would, rather than seek another partner, call for early elections; these elections would then be organized on the single platform of independence for Catalonia. A de facto referendum.

This approach has drawbacks as well: perhaps most importantly, however much the campaign revolves around separation, it still lacks the full legal potency of a single issue referendum submitted to public vote, and it would not be recognized as such by international organizations or other states. Additionally, while Spain could not legally stop the election from happening, the national authorities could still intervene by a judicial process of banning certain parties from participating on the grounds of fomenting secession: a process similar to that experienced by numerous Basque parties with ties too close to ETA for comfort.

Despite its disadvantages, this remains the second most likely scenario behind the unauthorized referendum:

Option 4: “de Facto” Referendum:


Whether the national authorities attempt to meddle or not seems somewhat irrelevant, in that these efforts are unlikely to be successful. There are sufficient pro-separation parties in Catalonia that the suppression of one will only have voters switch to another, assuming that the banned party is not merely reconstituted in another guise. An attempt to ban all of the pro-independence parties, besides make a farce of the constitution and charters of autonomy, would only result in the Generalitat calling off the elections and proceeding to either option 3, the unauthorized referendum, or option 5, a unilateral declaration of independence. Any interference by Spain in the election would be far more likely to garner additional support for the separatists, rather than undermine: Madrid would be shooting itself in the foot.

Even assuming no direct interference, the election would play out in an atmosphere of fear and hysteria: pro-union parties would be predicting a Catalan economic and political apocalypse in the event of a separatist victory, while pro-independence groups would be predicting the end of Catalan autonomy and the snuffing out of their language and culture should the unionists win. There would be no displays of moderation: both sides would be pulling out all the stops with so much on the line.

Based on the most recent electoral results[15] and on polls[16] since then, I predict a high probability of a separatist victory. In other words, the sum of separatist parties’ seats in the Parlament will equal or exceed the 67% they won in the last elections. If one of the pro-independence parties won an absolute majority – unlikely, but not impossible – it could conceivably form a government by itself; or it might choose to form a “national unity” coalition that includes representatives of all the pro-independence parties. This would be a smart move even were it not made necessary by the electoral dynamics.

The national authorities would have another opportunity to intervene prior to the formation of a government. They could attempt to exploit any irregularities to order a recount or to nullify the elections. The former would be unlikely to do more than delay the inevitable, while the latter would lack any legal basis and ought to be defeated in the courts. I think intervention at this point would be unlikely: if Madrid planned intervention, they would want a clear and undeniable justification, which is precisely what the Catalans would be about to give them.

Once the new government was formed, it would petition the Parlament to vote on a declaration of independence from Spain, justified by the results of the election. The first challenge would come from the pro-union parliamentarians, who would likely resign en masse. This in itself would be unlikely to stop the debate, as the parliamentary regulations of Catalonia[17] require only a simple majority of legislators to be present for the session to meet its quorum requirement. The unionists would be unlikely to have more than 35% of the members on their side, and not all of them would necessarily go along with such an order. Certainly the Partido Popular members would; probably those of Ciutadens; but the PSC members have shown a degree of party disobedience on the subject of separation which is undoubtedly disturbing to the PSOE in Calle Ferraz[18]. Still, a mass walk-out would not look good internationally.

It is at this point that the national authorities are most likely to intervene: after the presentation of the bill, but before any debate or voting has occurred. Madrid would want to take its measures prior to having the Catalan legislature vote the measure into law (even though it would be immediately and automatically nullified in Madrid’s eyes). Mr. Rajoy would have the same options we considered in the previous section: dissolution of the government, nullification of the charter of autonomy, arrest of separatist politicians, or all of the preceding.

The rest of this scenario plays out like the one before it. Unless Madrid is willing to let Catalonia go its own way in an amicable divorce, the options remain police intervention, martial law, direct administration of Catalonia and her 8 million inhabitants.

Option 4: “de Facto” Referendum – page 2


The “Jefferson Option”[19]

The final scenario plays out with a unilateral declaration of Catalan independence from Spain without the preliminaries of a referendum or even a regional election to give political cover to the Parlament. This is highly unlikely to be the first option selected for the obvious reasons: it is the most extreme option and the one most likely to meet with stern international disapproval. Given how important international recognition and support are for the Catalans, they are not going to risk it without very great provocation.

It cannot be ruled out, however. Should every other avenue of democratic advance be successfully blocked by the national authorities, the Catalans may decide that this remains their only alternative to a status quo that the majority of their citizens would consider intolerable. If Madrid is able to block both the unauthorized referendum and intervene in regional elections, the writing will be on the wall for the Catalans: declare independence or acquiesce permanently. Prior to accepting the latter, I believe the majority of voters and legislators would opt for the former. Even more would support independence than do now, given the ill-feeling that would undoubtedly be engendered by such blatant interference from Madrid and the political capital that separatists would make of it.

Option 5: Unilateral Declaration of Independence:


This scenario plays out like the previous two, only the starting probabilities vary somewhat.



In all scenarios, the probability of an amicable divorce between Spain and Catalonia is less than 20%; even that may be overestimated. The best option for achieving this result remains the referendum: even though unauthorized, it grants a greater degree of international legitimacy than any other option, and is most likely to receive Spanish recognition, no matter how reluctant or grudging. Next comes the “de facto” referendum, with a slightly better than 10% probability of achieving the sought for “amicable divorce”. It These results presuppose that “cooler heads prevail” in Madrid; a supposition which flies in the face of all evidence from two hundred years of nationalism and more than 600 years of Spanish history[20]. Option 5, unilateral independence, is the least likely to end well, and only after an EU intervention does this become likely at all.

Scenario 4 also has the highest probability of a termination to the process, should the pro-separation parties fail to win their absolute majority in the Parlament: a slim chance at 9.6%, but one that should not be ignored. This is the only scenario that plays out in which Catalonia accepts a continuation of the status quo without conflict. This is largely due to the complete lack of dialogue between the two sides: they talk, but they talk around each other, each addressing their own most radical elements in the public discourse. Of course, there may be backchannel communications which I am not aware of, but I think the process has gone too far for even these to work: neither side can appear to appease the other without suffering an enormous, perhaps unbearable, political cost.

The most likely outcome is that of passive resistance to a solution imposed from Madrid, with probabilities between 55% and 65% in every scenario. This involves the dissolution of the Catalan government and a suspension of the charter of autonomy, followed by passive resistance. In greater than 1 of 3 of these endgames, there is either a police crackdown or military intervention. There is a small chance of the Catalans buckling under the pressure immediately, on average a 6% or 7% probability. It seems unlikely to me, however, that the Catalan people would be willing to fold without some demonstration of resistance, passive or otherwise. This last outcome, active resistance, occurs in 16% of outcomes on average.


It is impossible to foretell which side would be able to impose its will upon the other in this eventuality: what is certain is that there would be no winner. Both sides would inflict a terrible cost on the other: a large and critical piece of the Spanish economy would suffer long-term damage; Spain’s international reputation would plummet even as its borrowing costs soared; and there would be an outflow of foreign investment and capital from Catalonia, one of the primary regions for attracting FDI. Spanish politicians, and many ordinary Spaniards, would be willing to pay this price in order to preserve the territorial integrity of their state; though relations with their Catalan brothers and sisters would be poisoned for another 100 years. It would be even worse in the event of sustained law enforcement oppression or the imposition of martial law.

It is my impression that the situation in Spain is more akin to that of the UK in 1914 than in 2014. Today, the Scots will have their chance at peaceful, democratic self-determination. Back then, Irish Home Rule was on the table, but was put away due to the outbreak of the Great War; Ireland rose in bloody revolt two years later and eventually won her independence after great sacrifice in blood and treasure. Whether Catalonia will gain her independence or not remains in doubt; but I am convinced that the Catalan leadership really has embarked on a course of no return, even if they wanted to: at this point, the dynamics of nationalism and radicalization of the masses has taken hold. They now hold the tiger’s tail and cannot let go.

The ball will soon be back in Mr. Rajoy’s court, to decide if he will accept Catalonia’s decision or embark upon a process that will very likely end in repression and bloodshed. In either case, tte costs will be high for him personally, for his party, for his nation and for the future of European integration.


Sources and Notes

[1] “The Bloody Flag”; “The Most Important Election”, “Catalonia: The War of the Words”, “Die Lüge: (The Lie)”, “La Serenissima”, “Spain: Horns of a Dilemma”
[2]Daniel G. Sastre, “Los enviados del Parlament: ‘Cataluña ha iniciado un camino sin retorno,’” El Mundo, 08 April 2014 (in Spanish)
[3] By setting exceedingly high conditions for the measure to pass, and by splitting the vote over a number of options, the government could almost certainly ensure that an insufficient number of Catalans would vote The for outright independence to clear the hurdle. Such an outcome would settle the “Catalan question” for at least a generation.
[4] For the Catalan position, visit the website of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC). For the Castilian position, read the article published by the Fundación para el Análisis y los Estudios Sociales (FAES) the think-tank established by former Prime Minister and Partido Popular leader, José María Aznar.
[5] I have no special insight or contacts into the principals within the Catalan and Spanish government.
[6] Tom Kingston, “Veneto residents support leaving Italy in unofficial referendum,” The Telegraph, 24 March 2014
[7] Guy Hedgecoe, “Catalonia’s Unwanted Crimea Comparisons,” The Irish Times, 19 March 2014
[8] There has never been an internationally accepted legal reconciliation between the contradictions inherent in the right to self-determination and the right to territorial integrity of a recognized nation-state. The balance has depended on time, circumstances and the relative power of all the interested parties, not just those in the state threatened with separatism.
[9] Such as the misuse of public funds and their diversion to illegal activities. Whatever will stick.
[10] I am not comparing Artur Mas to Mohandas Gandhi, only remarking that repression, even when legal, may rebound upon the authorities in a manner they did not intend.
[11] Gavrilo Princip was the only one of the six Bosnian conspirators who kept his courage and carried out the planned assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, leading directly to the First World War.
[12]“Vidal-Quadras pide intervenir Cataluña con la Guardia Civil,” La Vanguardia, 28 September 2012 (Spanish only)
[13]“Cataluña siempre será España, por lo civil o por lo militar,” Nació Digital, 26 February 2014 (In Catalan and Spanish)
[14]Solé, Richard, “Francisco Alamán, coronel del Ejército español: ‘La independencia de Cataluña? Por encima de mi cadáver,” Alerta Digital, 31 August 2012 (Spanish only)
[15] Ortiz, Fiona and Phillips, Branden, “Separatist parties win Catalonia election in Spain,” Reuters, 26 November 2012
[16] Jack Pitts, “Poll finds that 60% of Catalans want independence,”  The Independent, 21 March 2014
[17] Section 4, Article 80, part 1, “Quorum for the  Adoption of Measures,” Catalan Parliamentary Regulations
[18] The PSOE headquarters are in the Calle Ferraz in Madrid.
[19] In honor, of course, of Thomas Jefferson, author of the US Declaration of Independence.
[20] The sole exception being the ill-fated and brief union of Spain and Portugal under Philip II, which was ended by force of arms in 1668 with revolt begun under the reign of Philip III for his attempts to convert Portugal from separate kingdom united under a single crown, into merely another Spanish province. This coincided with a revolt in Catalonia and Spanish involvement in the Thirty Year’s War, which had drained the country of troops. John of Braganza became King Joao IV of Portugal with almost universal support from all sectors of the population.

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63 Responses to “Catalonia and Spain: End Game Scenarios”

  1. great post

    Posted by Faheem Daha | September 22, 2016, 10:06
  2. Thanks a lot for your article. 🙂
    I’ve enjoyed a lot.
    Excuse my engrish.

    Catalans are in a “free or dead” dilemma. No alternatives here.
    Spanish current/future policies are a dead end.

    No “equal to or better” like Scotland.

    The game is:
    If EU doesn’t control Spain’s idiocracy, Catalans don’t care.
    Europe and Spain will fall with us.

    Posted by Justmeow | September 11, 2014, 04:11
  3. Sr Betancor, me gustaría comentar su artículo Catalonia and Spain: End Game Scenarios, leido en el digital Vilaweb.
    No voy a oponerme a ninguno de sus argumentos, pues los veo elaborados y factibles, dada la condición y las actuaciones anteriores del estado español, en referencia a cualquier reivindicación hecha desde Catalunya, no así desde Euskadi, pues durante muchos años han hablado el mismo idioma, el de las armas y por ello se han entendido a la perfección.
    Creo no errar, cuando apunto que la situación actual entre España- Catalunya y sus entornos económico, social, político e internacional, poco o nada tienen que ver, con el de hace 35 años (inicio del actual régimen español), 75 años (Golpe de Estado y Guerra Civil española coincidente con la IIª Guerra Mundial y los regímenes fascistas), o por ir mucho más allá, 300 años (re-estructuración europea de las naciones en estados, con los consiguientes intereses entre ellos).
    Si apunto estos ítems, es sólo por incidir en la realidad económica en Catalunya, que aunque dificultada por un Gobierno Español que sólo pone trabas al crecimiento catalán, la realidad del mismo, es que acoge a unas 4.500 multinacionales en su territorio y la mayoría de ellas, de encaje industrial productivo y no sólo de servicios, de las cuales el mayor porcentaje son alemanas, seguidas por francesas, norte-americanas, inglesas e italianas, así como de otros 25 países. Esa sola presencia, debería ser un detonante pacificador del único contendiente dispuesto a iniciar un conflicto armado, que es España, pues honradamente creo y le comento, que no veo como en una Catalunya que ha desechado la violencia desde hace muchos años (algún siglo) como fórmula para conseguir sus objetivos políticos, pueda ahora abastecer un grupo mayor o menor de ciudadanos dispuestos a empuñar las armas o a efectuar tácticas de guerrilla urbana; con sinceridad, no lo veo.
    Un segundo ítem, es que la ciudadanía española actual, no es tampoco la existente en los espacios temporales que he mencionado al principio y por ello, estoy del todo convencido de que la resistencia interna si se diese este conflicto abonado por España, respondería con contundencia contra ese Gobierno al cual no apoyarían en esas drásticas decisiones, porque no podrían aparecer impasibles a la violencia y la hostilidad que se vería creada y sufrida a pocos kms. de sus casas y en el interior de su País.
    Aparte de otros argumentos, estoy de acuerdo con los que usted esgrime.
    Y ahora una pregunta y nadie más informado que usted para contestarla. ¿En el caso de un conflicto bélico, cree usted posible la intervención de su País?

    Posted by Toni Mtnez | August 31, 2014, 18:45
  4. Mr. Betancor,
    Your article published online today in vilaweb is sublime! I’m catalan, and so far had not read before anything more prescient as your article. Unfortunately I cannot write well in English, but I congratulate you and thank you for your interest in our country, whether Spain or Catalonia.
    Also I would like to ask you about your opinion in this question:
    What do you think the United States will do or say, if Spain comes up with the army to attack Catalonia?

    Posted by Robert | August 25, 2014, 20:00
    • Dear Robert,

      Thank you first of all for reading the article and writing in your comment. Feedback is always welcome!

      Regarding the US posture in the event of a military intervention by the Spanish government in Catalonia; in other words, if the Spanish Parliament declares Catalonia to be in a state of insurrection and authorizes the government to declare martial law and assume all civil functions directly, then the US would more than likely issue nothing more than a modest admonishment against taking such drastic steps and a strong recommendation to maintain a minimal level of violence for as short a period of time as possible before normal civilian government can be resumed. The official US position is, and will remain, that Catalonia is firstly an internal Spanish matter and secondly and internal European matter, and the US has not interest in getting involved in such a mess.

      That being said, I believe that the intervention by the Armed Forces of Spain is a very remote possibility unless the Catalan government or people acted in an improbably radical manner (such as forcibly seizing public property, “border” checkpoints, government arsenals, or else forming citizen militia groups that violently and with deadly force resisted Spanish authorities such as the Policia Nacional or the Guardia Civil). I think these scenarios are highly improbable, though nothing can ever be totally ruled out. Spain has too much to lose by exerting an overly heavy hand, and I believe that Europe does to. So while EU leaders, like Angela Merkel, publicly back the Spanish position on Catalonia to the hilt, they are likely telling Rajoy in private “make sure this doesn’t blow up in our faces, or turn bloody.”

      But as I said, these situations can easily get out of control, no matter how much the politicos think they have things “well in hand”. Just look at Ferguson, MO for inspiration on the application of chaos theory to a situation like Catalonia’s.

      I look forward to hearing from you again!

      Kind regards,


      Posted by fdbetancor | August 26, 2014, 18:54
  5. Unfortunatelly, the future of Spanish-Catalonia relatinships are WAR.

    Thats the only thing is going to end up all this.

    A) Spanish goverment CANNOT ACCEPT this situation.

    B) Catalans (most of them) believe that they are “the Mediterranean Switzerland”).

    So, is not going to be a very bloddy war, because only a few casualties will appear, but enough to force EU to intervene, and so, force a peace treaty, an outsider country (non EU member), and so on….the en of the EU years later (Italy, France, Germany have so “choosen regions”).

    Posted by XCrob | July 28, 2014, 13:57
    • I certainly hope it does not come to violent conflict, but I tend to agree with you that the endgame does not appear to have a happy ending. The main hope I have to avoid a conflict is the realization by the EU that neither the Catalans nor the Spanish are going to blink come November; and that they will prefer a negotiated solution. What Spain wants is somewhat immaterial: Spain is no longer in full-control of its destiny, as it would be bankrupt outside of Europe. Europe therefore has the financial leverage to impose certain conditions. I feel that the EU might attempt to pressure both sides into a compromise: Spain will have to accept Catalan independence in everything but name, while the Catalans will have to be satisfied with something just short of full statehood. Conceivably a dynastic link might be enough to satisfy both parties. But even though this “negotiated solution” might make sense in Brussels, it will almost certainly be rejected in both Madrid and Barcelona, so again we are at the edge of a civil clash.

      It is hard to judge whether Spain will cave in under the threat of financial isolation or whether the EU will cave in under Spain’s threat to call the bluff and irreparably damage the Euro. Both sides have significant leverage over each other.

      Posted by fdbetancor | July 28, 2014, 15:25
      • “Conceivably a dynastic link might be enough to satisfy both parties. But even though this “negotiated solution” might make sense in Brussels, it will almost certainly be rejected in both Madrid and Barcelona”
        Just weeks before the abdication of Juan Carlos, this option was ‘suggested’ in Madrid. Some call ‘la gran maniobra’

        And thanks again for your job

        Posted by el tet | July 28, 2014, 17:03
        • Indeed, it was suggested to the Catalan Judge Santiago Vidal, but given the circumstances (Mr. Vidal had been summoned to Madrid to face possible administrative discipline for his leading role in writing up a “hypothetical” Catalan constitution) it seems unlikely that it was a serious offer. Either that, or the Consejo del Poder Judicial suffers from an inhuman lack of finesse that beggars belief.

          It is my belief that while a “dynastic solution” would be amenable to the Casa Real, it would still be political suicide for Mariano Rajoy and the Populares: it would create a clash of interests between the monarchy and the governing parties which the monarchy might very well (if not probably) lose; and it would anyway need to be approved by a referendum that the Catalans would insist upon and which they would probably reject (though if the alternative was independence outside of the EU vs. an explicit guarantee of EU admission tied to a Bourbon connection, the calculus could change). I see the monarchy gambit as a means of splitting the Catalan moderates rather than as a serious offer; it is countered by the Catalan acceptance that “everything is open to negotiation” so long as their is an a priori acceptance of the legitimacy of the consultation, which is an effort to split the Spanish moderates and the Left.

          Posted by fdbetancor | July 28, 2014, 17:18
          • The “dinastic solution” is, certainly, a political suicide for Populars (or Socialists). And, even in the case of a historic suicide, the necessary referendum would be in the whole Spain and there is no doubte on results: a large majority of catalans (and perhaps the basques) vote Yes and 95% of the rest vote Non. End of the game ? Probably from an “heroic” spanish point of view. But little change in Catalonia.

            On the “lack of finesse”, it is a classical attitude from spanish establishment, the CPJ is on the track of Ministers as Wert or Montoro (and, yesterday, the brand new Sec.Gen. of PSOE , say “Tenemos que desterrar de nuestro vocabulario palabras como crisis, desigualdad, violencia de género, independentismo”)

            Posted by el tet | July 28, 2014, 18:35
  6. Very interesting article, however it seems to ignore the real coercive power of the Spanish government: it could simply suppress funding to a defying Catalan government. More than 50% of the Catalan government funding comes from Madrid. The Catalan government does not have the capacity to collect its own taxes – although they are trying to setup the infrastructure, so “ignoring” the lack of funding will not work. At that point, it would be forced to either declare independence – extremely unlikely – or comply. Before such a situation arose, it is more likely that there is some kind of negotiation. The key question is whether the referendum will be held or not. As you mention, nor Mr. Rajoy or Mr. Mas have a lot of slack so I would assume that the referendum (in one of your three scenarios) will be held and its results will enable both players to negotiate – a slim majority in favor of independence will enable Mr. Rajoy to either negotiate or call for general elections which would delay the process, but at the end would force both parties to a negotiation. The time though would play against the Madrid government because once the Catalan government has financial capacity to collect taxes independently of the Spanish government, we would go back to your “repression” scenarios, but I would say with a much higher probability of violent resistance. Before that happened, the Spanish economy – that today has critical support from the BCE – could spiral down. I am somehow optimistic that things will end up in negotiation. Nor Madrid or Barcelona can afford a violent conflict – literally.

    Posted by Christian Florensa | July 4, 2014, 00:23
    • The Catalans are indeed making every effort to collect tax information and to put in place the necessary infrastructure to raise the necessary revenues. That sword cuts both ways; after all, the Catalan government collects import duties that are passed to the central government as well as the VAT assessed in its territory and it could choose not to pass these on. I don’t think that this is a real show stopper for the Generalitat: if a referendum vote supports independence, they will have the legal mechanisms in place to collect the necessary taxes and duties to fund themselves.

      If a referendum is held and there is broad support for independence, it seems to me to be high likely that the greater pressure will be brought to bear on Madrid to negotiate with the Generalitat, mostly because it should by that point be evident to Europe that the “scare tactics” they have been utilizing to prevent a “yes” vote will have failed. They are not going to let Europe’s fourth largest economy fall into chaos and drag down the whole Eurozone (though I recognize the non-negligible possibility of the central government simply not caring and being willing to plunge the whole Eurozone into chaos). But if money and threats have their effect, then Spain and Catalonia will negotiate.

      You will notice that all of this is predicated on my statement “if the referendum is held”: I continue to think that the Spanish government is likely to intervene to prevent a referendum and thus deny any form of democratic legitimacy to the Generalitat. On the other hand, that raises another series of problems, costs and disruptions. As you said, the key point is whether the referendum will be held or not.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on the article! I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

      Kind regards,


      Posted by fdbetancor | July 4, 2014, 00:57
  7. Thank you for your interesting analysis. My primary goal was to provide an accurate framework for analysis, so that we could rationally have such conversations as we are having about different outcomes at different stages. I think there are indeed many fruitful opportunities to further refine the probabilities; not to mention that some readers have brought to my attention defects in the framework itself that I will have to correct in a Release 2.

    I do apologize for not being more rigorous in my use of the terms “pro-separatist” and “pro-unionist”. It is purely from my own attempts to make the article flow more easily and not reuse those adjectives ad nauseum. But you are right to point it out and I concur that Catalan society is not even bipolar: there are the pro-, the con-, the uncertain, the indifferent and many more.

    Let me conclude by observing that a conflict in Catalonia would be equally disastrous for Spain, though in other, more subtle ways. I sincerely hope that, whatever outcome is achieved, it can be done so peacefully.

    Thanks again for your comments; I look forward to hearing back from you in the future!


    Fernando Betancor

    Posted by fdbetancor | April 25, 2014, 19:56
  8. Congratulations for your thorough and documented study. It is quite peculiar that I did not see anything similar done from a Spanish University… maybe there is already but I missed it. There are tons of papers analyzing the situation from a legal or political point of view, less are from a social point of view, but this is the first case scenario study that I read and I found it very interesting although a little worrying for somebody living in Catalonia…
    Anyway, I would to point out some little issues that will not change any of the frames, but that could slightly modify the percentage of possibilities that you assign to each scenario.
    1. You tend to confuse “Catalans” with “Nationalists”.
    2. You forgot to mention that when the Congress refused on the 8th April, the request of the Catalan Parliament to hold a referendum, the majority of the Catalan representatives in the Congress voted AGAINST the authorization. (25 against, 22 in favor).
    3. When you consider the possibility of a referendum you mainly take for granted that secessionist option would be winner. I am not sure about it. Catalans tend to vote differently in general elections and in regional elections. This has always been like this; but let’s take as an example only the last elections of both kinds:
    a. 2011 General (National) Elections. Voter turnout = 70%. Non secessionists (PP+Socialists) 47.3% of votes; secessionists (CiU, ERC, ICV) 44.5% of votes.
    b. 2012 Regional Gvt. Elections. Voter turnout = 65%. Non secessionists (PP+Socialists+C’s) 35.0% of votes; secessionists (CiU, ERC, ICV) 54.3% of votes.
    So, nobody really knows what would happen in a referendum. It would also depend on the low or high voter turnout.
    4. Out of the 50 MP of CiU in the Catalan parliament, 14 MP belong to UDC (the U of CiU). It is not sure how they would respond in the case of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. It is very likely that most of them would follow their leader, who has claimed that he is FOR the referendum but AGAINST independence. In my opinion only a few CDC MPs would vote against, and a few UDC would vote in favor of independence. So let’s leave it 36/14.
    5. The same happens with the 13 MP from ICV.
    6. The result of the voting, as far as now, would be: 60 in favour (CDC+ERC+CUP), 48 against (PSC+PP+C’s), 27 white votes (UDC+ICV)

    Posted by Godofredo Murillo | April 25, 2014, 19:26
  9. There is maybe one more factor to take into consideration. Just as both catalan and spanish leaders are forced by the population they represent to mantain their current positions and take them to the very end, in an scenario of brutal repression against Catalonia it is logical to expect a pressure on some european leaders to take the side of the repressed to acommodate the views of their population.

    It is easy to note on international forums that worldwide opinion on such matters takes an expression such as “if they want it (independence), let them have it”.

    Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the EU not only to avoid economic costs but also to intervene in the manner that is seen as most “just”? The EU has a problem of credibility and the ghost of euroscepticism. I think the possibility of the european intervention is much underestimated in the analysis. Probably the EU has enough power to control the government of Rajoy and force a pact, even if this ends in a catastrophe for the Partido Popular.

    One more thing: it is not accurate to extrapolate the situation in Catalonia to Euskadi, where the support for independence is much lower. And in Galicia and Extremadura, the probability of secession is 0.0% for the next 50 years, to be precise. Spain is not going to break into pieces. It could “only” lose about 20% of its economy if Catalonia secedes.

    Posted by Genís Vendrell | April 25, 2014, 04:03
    • Dear Mr. Vendrell,

      We should draw a distinction between EU institutions and EU member states. EU institutions are not particularly accountable to their populations, only to their member states. Furthermore, EU institutions do not have many tools with which to enforce compliance with their “recommendations”: they cannot eject anyone from the EU or the Euro, they cannot even impose trade sanctions or visa bans. They could conceivably fine Spain or submit charges before the ICJ on certain Spanish leaders, but I doubt they would do so before things were very much out of hand. Spain might ignore both actions with a great deal of impunity.

      The only EU institution with real leverage is the ECB: they might stop lending to Spanish banks; they might explicitly withdraw the OMT backstop on Spanish bonds, which would send them through the roof. I question whether Mario Draghi would take such measures. For one thing, they might not work; Spain could take the pain for some time. Or they might work too well; Spain might financially implode, which would be disastrous to the Eurozone. I don’t think Mr. Draghi would intervene so drastically until it was clear that the situation was a clear and present danger to the Eurozone unless he did intervene. Mario Draghi’s mandate, after all, is to save the Euro, not save Catalonia.

      As for member states, the ones with the real weight, most of them have their own separatist problems. The UK has Scotland, France has Corsica and Brittany, Italy has Veneto and Padania. Only Germany is relatively, but not wholly, free of such sentiment (the Bavarians are a prickly set, and “West Germany” still somewhat resents being stuck to “East Germany”). The smaller states might support Catalonia, especially those with their own recent separatist past: Croatia, Slovenia, Czech and Slovak Republics, the three Baltic States. But these countries have little enough weight in the EU decision process. The only states that are going to really matter are Germany and France. Spain is not a major trading partner for Germany and even German banks are only moderately exposed to Spain after 5 years of crisis; so I am not very clear that Germany has any “skin in the game” regarding Catalonia. France more so; they might be tempted to intervene to protect French business and banking interests. Then again, Mr. Hollande has many other headaches at home.

      I might be wrong, but I don’t think and EU deus ex machina is a likely scenario. At least, if I were a Catalan, I wouldn’t be counting on it: just as the Euromaidan protesters and pro-EU Ukrainians have found out, counting on Brussels for active and determined intervention is a dangerous and potentially disastrous gambit.

      Posted by fdbetancor | April 25, 2014, 11:17
  10. Thank you for what I believe to be a thorough analysis of the situation, and your efforts at being objective and impartial. I believe your choice of words to be in fact quite sensible and accurate.

    Having lived in Catalonia for the last 10 years, I too have quite an opinion on the mostly painful daily reality of the situation from the inside, on the validity of the arguments justifying it, and the much too often manichaean depiction of who the “good” and the “bad” guys are. I have just moved out of the country…

    What I think could be an interesting complement to your article is an objective overview of what the immediate consequences would be for Catalonia, should the territory be separated from Spain. You brush on some of them, for example having large international and even national companies leaving or not investing in Catalonia, this is a reality, it is already happening.

    It has already been made clear that Catalonia proclaiming its independence would automatically exit the EU, lose the euro… even though Mas and his followers completely dismiss this communication as being an unrealistic scarecrow tactic to deter them from their holy fight for freedom…

    In the present disastrous economic state of Catalonia, how realistic is it that this new state could put together an independent administration and a basically auto-sufficient system, coin a new currency. etc?

    Posted by Christian Metrailler | April 24, 2014, 11:34
    • You say “having large international and even national companies leaving or not investing in Catalonia, this is a reality, it is already happening.” But, from official figures for 2013, foreign investment grows 31.5% in Catalonia and Madrid falls to 7.1%. The Catalan economy accounts for 22% of all foreign investment in Spain (is the second-best year in history)

      Posted by ELTET | April 24, 2014, 13:28
      • I speak based on local observation, working in the expat circles, talking to many professionals across many different areas of business. I think that sadly, social and political unrest is rarely good soil for economic growth and prosperity, and I always have a pragmatic tendency to trust evidence on the field rather than statistics.
        This being said, I most sincerely hope to be wrong.

        Posted by Christian Metrailler | April 24, 2014, 19:03
        • After years as an expat living in Barcelona again (not Madrid). The feelings do not seem the most objective way to describe the past and, alone, are not the best way to ‘see the future’

          Posted by ELTET | April 24, 2014, 22:40
          • Gentlemen,

            I encourage open and vigorous debate! Only I do ask that we keep it civil and leave any personal reflections on our co-debaters out of it.

            In all events, thanks for reading the article and making a contribution to the discussion! Please continue!



            Posted by fdbetancor | April 25, 2014, 09:05
    • Thanks for your opinion Mr Metrailler.
      All your comment is an exact template of what spanish establishment and media are booringly spreading at every forum or comment enabled site.
      Nothing new.
      But even if there was just a simple truth in all these omens you copy from post to post:
      Don’t you think it’s a choice that must be taken by the Catalan People in a democratic referendum?
      We’re not yet in campaign -you and your bosses will have the choice to explain the consecuences.
      We’re just talking about the right to vote.
      Don’t be mistaken.

      Posted by Yusuf AlAziz | April 24, 2014, 13:36
      • Mr Alaziz,
        Thank you for brilliantly demonstrating a point that I don’t even need to make now.
        Out of respect for this otherwise constructive blog entry, Mr. Betancour, and his educated readers, I will not step with you into the pointless feud that your attitude is encouraging.
        My object was to express a real opinion, mine, void of ideological fanaticism, based on first-hand daily life experience, putting a constructive and very real question on the table. I have a view of this conflict which has been forged over the course of 10 years, with a lot of interaction within professional circles, friends attending the University of Barcelona, many constructive discussions within expat circles and with friends, yes, friends, employers, employees, who are and have been catalan for generations, people in commerce, artists, lawyers, doctors, musicians, all in a spirit of argumented debate and mutual understanding between sometimes diverging but always respectful points of view.
        You have a different opinion, that is fine and very legitimate. If you wished to debate in a courteous way, that would be fine and very legitimate.
        But launching a personal attack like this out of nowhere, dismissing my opinion as worthless and unworthy, through a contemptuous diatribe that is nothing short of blatantly delusional and indoctrinated at best (who is being unoriginal here?), well… that is not fine and not legitimate.
        Fortunately the attempt is too feeble for me to feel offended… implying that I am a sort of brainless puppet, working in the shadows to pollute the virtuous minds on the internet with propaganda, a robot of whatever establishment, “omens”, “my bosses” … really?!? What’s next, I’m probably part of a worldwide conspiracy?
        And of course you know about democracy much more than me, I can see it now. Lesson learned.
        Seriously, listen to yourself, take a step back and think for a bit, and maybe you might begin to realize just how much light you have unwillingly shed on what is happening in Catalonia.

        Posted by Christian Metrailler | April 24, 2014, 19:59
        • Again you are using all of the boring topics and templates from the spanish unionism.
          1. “Fanatics” You try to make clear that your opinion is void of “fanatics” but in every following word you show what the background of your speech is.
          As everyone can check around all media site’s comments section this is just another topic used by spanish fanatics because “spanish nationalism doesn’t exist”.
          2. “Narcissism” Your 10 years of living in Catalonia and your interaction with every layer of our society -I’ve read it don’t worry: university; do you really need to use that word to give value to your opinion?- gives you moral and knowledge enough to judge and conclude. As if your opinion was more valuable just because you discussed a few afternoons with “Catalans for generations” (only this sentence would deserve a deeper analysis; “psychological projection” they call it)
          But this resource it’s just another template used by every “superior beings” talking about what’s happening at the ground level where people are soooo stupid.
          If you really had been in those discussions, you had been very unlucky because you didn’t find anyone belonging to this more than a 70% (polls data) of our people asking for democracy
          3. “Personal attack.” Well, I’m going to get over this because you’ll never fall on this behavior
          4. “Catalan people are the only indoctrinated.” Yeah. Of course.
          Don’t worry showing your indifference to my opinion: “the attempt is too feeble for me to feel offended…” Words should be followed by facts, and every word in your reply is full of that feeling of being offended.
          Don’t worry, again, because you are not the target of my replies. My main intention is give a warning to the rest of the readers about the voidness and falsehood of the arguments you, and others like you, repeat from forum to forum.
          Let’s see the main points of your scarecrow tactics:
          – “large international and even national companies leaving or not investing in Catalonia”
          Reality is painstakingly denying this argument. As Eltet exposed, your omen is not happening and will not happen.
          – “Catalonia proclaiming its independence would automatically exit the EU”.
          As far as it goes, EU did never express any official opinion. Every pretension about this concern is just individual opinions. EU will only pronunciate if there’s a official request from a state member, but spain will never ask for it;the answer is so scary to Madrid.
          But, even if there was a real option, I’m really willing to see how EU will deny the European Nationality to 7 million of its actual citizens.
          Anyway, let’s use the path Scotland is opening.
          – Catalonia will “lose the euro”
          As every scholar knows, is the country who chooses the currency (how many coutries use the US Dollar as currency outside USA?) and not the currency who chooses the country. Even Andorra is using Euro as his main currency.
          Maybe you would mean Catalonia will lose his monetary policy, but do we have now any option on this matter??
          I think I’ve been on every point of your speech. Maybe I’ll need to come back again if I have the time.
          Finally, this has nothing about a personal attack. I’m discussing about your opinions, not about your person, even you referred it.

          Posted by Yusuf AlAziz | April 25, 2014, 13:53
          • For those who feel my previous reply is too large and boring, let me take brief snapshot of what’s happening:
            Mr. Metrailler’s opinion is “As independence is so bad for Catalonia (I say), they don’t have the right to vote. All these people are just indoctrinated by Mr. Mas and that’s unacceptable”. A complete Lesson of Democracy from Mr. Metrailler (as he states on me).
            Even when Mr. Betancor main post is discussing the options about the right to vote, Mr. Metrailler is denying this right based on how bad it would be a main “yes” referendum result
            When the referendum campaign arrives -here and now, we are just talking about how and when to vote- don’t forget to read another academic point of view you will find at “Col•lectiu Wilson” website: http://www.wilson.cat/en/ where shown opinions and strict analysis is supported by documented and high prestige academic individuals, not just near anonymous comment posts as mine… or Mr. Metrailler’s.

            Posted by Yusuf AlAziz | April 25, 2014, 13:56
  11. Dear Fernando

    A very interesting piece of prospect!

    I found one small, serious point lacking in your analysis. At last, your scenarios depend on a final dilemma in Cat 2 between “End of the process” after the parliamentary denying and some sort of “referendum” (unofficial, unauthorized or whatever).

    I think this set of options do not include other very relevant and likely scenarios.

    In particular, the call for elections.

    It may happen that nothing happens in 9th November. Then politics will go on their way: elections in Catalonia in 2015 or 2016, Spanish general election in 2015, regional and local elections (where a lot of power is redistributed in Catalonia). And these elections may design new balances of power that may lead to new scenarios.

    You have a very beautiful set of choices to design depending on who wins, and which type of coalition is created afterwards.

    Of course, some sort of referendum may arrive at the end, but not necessary under the form or the circumstances you assume (for instance, a constitutional reform my well end up in a ‘referendum’).

    Last, but not least: a relevant factor to take into account. Catalonia society & electorate is a very divided one. A division between secessionists and unionists is too simplistic. The nationalist side is very divided, and a significant proportion of this sector may also accept more pragmatic outcomes.

    So we must not be that pessimistic!

    Posted by Juan | April 24, 2014, 08:13
  12. First things first: thank you very much for your interest in our welcoming country.
    Just two points from my humble point of view.
    First: I understand it’s easy to use the term “nationalism” but it implies belonging to a sort of heraldic group of people that share some common human characteristics.
    This is not the case. You belong to Catalan people as soon as you feel it. Maybe the only common sign is the use of Catalan language.
    And second: the most of the possible options you discuss lead us to a violent outcome. This is, at least, sad. Very sad.
    As Xavier Sala-Martin said: countries can democratically decide everything inside their frontiers, but to draw the ink lines in the maps, it seems, you must do it with blood.
    Again: it’s sad.
    Very sad.

    Posted by Yusuf AlAziz | April 23, 2014, 19:36
    • Mr. Al Aziz,

      I use the term “nationalism” because that is the generally accepted term in common use. I use it only as a descriptive, though it clearly has negative connotations as well. However, most alternatives also have negative connotations including: “separatism”, “secession” and other similar terms. And saying “geographically concentrated, self-identifying cultural-linguistic group” gets tiresome 🙂

      I emphasize that the determination of outcomes is purely based on my own personal experience and judgement. However, in my judgement, it would take a commitment by both the Spanish government and the Catalans to ensure that violence did not break out, and I find that unlikely. Even if the Catalans themselves were perfect pacifists, it is highly likely that the Guardias Civiles would end up having to use physical violence to some extent to reimpose authority. The only perfectly non-violent solution is an “amicable divorce” and I see little probability of that being acceptable to Mr. Rajoy and the Partido Popular.

      Thank you for your interest in the article! I hope you enjoy the rest of the website.


      Fernando Betancor

      Posted by fdbetancor | April 23, 2014, 19:44
      • I’m very thankful for your response, Fernando.
        Even more: It’s wonderful how you answer every comment that it’s written in your blog. Again, thanks for the time you spend answering comments.
        I agree with you that an “amicable divorce” would be the scenario without violence.
        But from your main post derives that any violence would start on the “spanish side”, and Catalans will only be able to decide if their response would be “active” or “passive”.
        So, very sad again.
        And even more sad: from your conclusions it’s clear that an European institutions intervention will not be legitimate until violence explodes.
        Don’t you agree with me that at XXI century a democratic proposal from Catalan People could be ignored by Mr Rajoy and violence would the only internationally accepted way to redefine our future?
        Is Mr Rajoy a clever statesman or just the heritage of a oppressing conqueror’s saga?

        Posted by Yusuf AlAziz | April 24, 2014, 11:05
  13. I think that TWO essential questions that have been forgotten. One has been just named on the case of friendly split, but its importance is still higher in repressive scenarios. The other one has not been touched. Im talking about the voice of the ones who borrowed money to Spain and that wont want to fall on bankrupt because of a scalation of the spanish crisis: mainly germanic banks and Germany itself then.
    The second question is how a bad spanish behavior could affect not to the spanish brand but to the european one. Europe is a model in some ways for the rest of the world. If here is admitted a repressive answer to a democratic pacific question, the international scenario could suffer it and Europe could hardly be able to say anything. Just remember that Crimeans claimed the catalan question on its switch, as also have present on veneto, alsacia, french britain, sardignia and other regions just within Europe. A violent bad end could stop at 1st the pacific democratic process that seems to try to be mirrored on the catalans, but on a long shot could close the door to democratic solutions on other latitudes, from libia, palestine or kurdistan to the russian frontier with Georgia, china or others. Europe should be very cautelous on what happens inside europe, because will determine its international position. how could say to russia to defend a democratic solution on chechenia if Europe itself is unable to provide it to catalans?
    So the catalan question could put on the edge the spanish economy (too big to be saved), then some european banks at risk of bankrupt and maybe the european euro or economy itself at risk too, and could give deep problems to european diplomacy if the spanish solution to a democractic paceful question is a bloody answer. Big money and european influence on the world could be on stack, and the spanish stubborness is not a position to be hold forever.
    These two questions would take part on the process at some point before the things get worse. Could do it and they should do it to avoid bigger loses. At some point, for Europe, the Catalan question, instead of having shut all doors according to spanish goverment, will be and amortized question where solution will be a Must avoiding economic loses and bad diplomatic consequences. An example is how europe has adopted a way to act on Montenegro ignoring at the same time the spanish position on the matter. Spain could do whatever would want as a free country, but not within Europe and putting on risk the german banks, the euro economy and the euro currency: the nearly impossible change spanish constitution was changed on an august afternoon not still two years ago just because Merkel told it. So these influence, on the repression scenarios, i think that cant be forget.
    sorry by my english.

    Posted by taberenc | April 22, 2014, 20:56
  14. interesting article

    The Catalans have nothing against the Spanish, but do not accept the system of government, which is from Madrid both PP and PSOE now but for decades.

    The problem has been compounded by the efforts of former sr sick. Aznar (just need to read the book of his memoirs) and the application of the Minister of Education Wert.

    And with reference to the attitude taken in the EU. I agree, even a club of economic interests, formed by nation – states, unable to approve a constitution.

    For what seems democracy has different ratings and implemented by the United States as a democratic country that allows you to vote every four years.

    They would be good for a decade living in Catalonia better understand our position on those Vd. the label separatists.


    Posted by RAFAEL FERRANDO | April 22, 2014, 19:15
    • Dear Mr. Ferrando,

      Please don’t misunderstand my use of “separatists” as having a negative connotation – that is not my intent. I somehow have to label that group of Catalans wishing for self-determination and the creation of an independent Catalan state, and “separatist” seems to be the most neutral and convenient English term in common usage. Certainly “secessionist” has a far more negative connotation for American readers; “independentists” is not a word at all; “catalanists” implies too much a xenophobic nationalism which I don’t believe to be appropriate for the Catalan independence movement in general.

      If you have another more acceptable term, please let me know and I’m happy to take it under consideration.

      Thank you for reading my article and commenting on it!

      Kind regards,

      Fernando Betancor

      Posted by fdbetancor | April 22, 2014, 19:54
  15. Dear Mr. Betancor,

    Excellent analysis, yet you miss a point that can be critical. That is: Catalan goverment has not yet call for a referendum but for an enquiry. Spanish dictionary of last year defines a referendum as “an act of voting about a closed agreement that has been already made”. Yet what catalan government has said will be hold is an enquiry to our population “to know” what catalans want to become.
    There is a big diference between one and the other.
    One thing is to vote about what film are we going to watch and the other is to ask people to know its preferences.
    Now, autonomous laws for catalonia give catalan goverment full rights over consultations that are not referendums. That point has not been cut from the agreement in the 2010 insane constituitional court rulling.
    Therefore, there is an open door for the next escenario: Catalan parlamient will vote on the new Enquiries Law. Minutes after Catalan Government will put a nation wide enquiry to be hold on November the 9th. In few days, spanish government will call unconstituitional the new law and try to ban the enquiry. BUT they don’t decide. The ones that decide are the members of the constitutional court.
    Now, if the constitutional court don’t immediatelly ban the new law, a new game starts. Spanish Government will have it’s butt saved (they did what they were supposed to do, try to stop the referendum of being held), while the rule of law let the enquiry be held with the understanding that no result of the poll is politically relevant.
    Now, Mr Mas has always said that if that poll was being held without state interference, they would try to continue their government until the end, in 2016. So there is a chance that the referendum is being held, pro-independence wins with more than 70% and then a new game starts with a catalan government held by unionists from socialist party until 2016 elections.

    And at those elections final decision is made if unionists don’t know how to move once polls have talked.

    Posted by Eduard (la llegenda de sant jordi) | April 22, 2014, 15:26
    • Dear Eduard,

      You raise some interesting points, allow me to respond to them.

      1. The difference between your “enquiry” and the unauthorized referendum may be pertinent, or it may be similar to my differentiation between an unofficial referendum and an unauthorized one. To the extent that an enquiry might be held, it would hold no more legal force than the recently held “enquiry” in Veneto. The people there stated their support for independence from Italy, but even the governor of Veneto recognized that they would still have to hold an “official” referendum for this preference to become legally actionable. The same situation will hold in Catalonia, I suspect. Madrid will most likely not intervene in anything that is not a legally binding plebiscite, though they are sure to cast doubt and aspersion on the results of any enquiries held. Additionally, the international community is not going to recognize the validity of an enquiry as sufficient cause for a declaration of independence.

      2. Regarding your point about the Spanish government’s challenge going to the Constitutional Court, it is an interesting point, but I am not sufficiently versed in the niceties of Spanish constitutional law to assert whether your contention is true or not. My belief is that it is not: the Spanish Parliament is fully authorized and has the constitutional authority to grant or withhold permission for the communities to hold binding referendums. Therefore, if permission is not granted, the referendum is illegal prima facie, no challenge is required. On the contrary, it would be up to the Generalitat to petition the Constitutional Court to declare the withholding of authority by the national parliament to be unconstitutional, a case they would lose.

      So I think that we agree that there is a scenario in which a non-binding “enquiry” could be held – even sponsored by the Generalitat – but that its non-binding nature would not provide sufficient legal cover to permit the Parlament to issue a declaration of independence (“Veneto Option”). Only a fully binding plebiscite, whether authorized or not, would provide that.

      Still, you might be right regarding the necessity of a ruling by the Constitutional Court – in which case, I would bet money that they would turn in around in a matter of hours, not days.

      Posted by fdbetancor | April 22, 2014, 16:19
      • Notes:
        Only non-binding referenda are allowed in Spanish Constitution. Every referendum is always non-binding: Constitution Article 92.
        They are only 2 exceptions: Changes to Constitution itself and aproval for nationalities’ ‘Estatutos de Autonomia’

        Under Spanish system if Madrid’s govt presents a call to Constitutional Court against a regional Law it is suspended automatically just being accepted. Constitutional Court can have it ‘in hold’ for unlimited years. This has been already used to prevent regionals Laws -disliked for who is in power in Madrid- to be applied. Sentences delayed for 7 years are not unusual but we have cases of a 10 years delay.

        Posted by MSR | April 22, 2014, 17:57
  16. Dear Fernando.

    Thank you for your thoroughly study of the stages of the process towards independence of Catalonia. A very detailed work. Congrats.

    I think there are a couple of factors that have not been sufficiently considered.

    The first factor is understanding who is actually governing Spain and Catalonia. In your analysis only considers the political parties and the population. But it ignores the role of economic elites and media. In Spain the economic elites are who in fact hold the political power through the economic power mainly inherited from the Franco regime. These elites buy political parties whose structures are hierarchical and highly disciplined so that they can be bought by bribing a very small number of people and they also control the media so they have the capacity to influence enough people to determine the results of elections and close the circle.

    If at any time these satellites realize that the best for their economic interest is a negotiated independence of Catalonia ,they have the capacity to tip the Spanish public opinion and to force political decisions to reach an agreement for Catalan independence where both parties (Catalonia and Spain ) end in a win-win situation where Catalonia take part of the Spanish debt, where there is not mutual boycotts , where there are no difficulties in trade between the two countries, where nobody take decisions producing adversely affect on the investments of large Spanish companies in Catalonia or large Catalan companies in Spain. In the nineteenth and twentieth century war was goof business for them. Today the conflict is bad business for them. The Catalans have quantified this and have discarded the hypothesis of conflict. Not because they believe that Europe and Spain are more democratic now than in 1714 when England betrayed Catalonia but because England in 1714 chose the profits from the slaves that Spain was committed to provide as a payment in the Treaty of Utrecht and Spain chose to raze Catalonia and appropriate the property of the vanquished. However now both the EU and Spain have much more to lose with a conflict while with a negotiated independence they have something to gain.

    As for Catalonia population is accustomed to centuries without a state . They have self organized and created all they needed with the state against them, they created schools, hospitals, universities, theaters, highways, railway networks … without the aid of the sate or even with the opposition of the state there are a lot of networks of associations that move to get what they need. Political parties and the media influence but not enough to decide end determine the result. The county has some kind of anarchist tradition due to centuries of not having a state.

    The second factor to with you have not paid enough attention is the imagination, creativity and organizational skills of Catalans. The Catalans are perfectly capable of organizing passive resistance in such a way that enriches Catalonia and ruin Spain. In Catalonia, the Spanish crisis produced tens of thousands of people who are insolvent because they have lost everything and have no legal income. They live completely in the black economy. These people are immune to the economic sanctions that may be imposed by many state events such as tax evasion violate of rules and regulations… Catalonia can perfectly organize human chains of hundreds of kilometers in front of banks going to withdraw all deposits, they can stop rail traffic between Spain and Europe with hundreds of people just by pressing the safety brakes every 15 minutes, they can stop the highways and roads connecting Spain with Europe by organizing hundreds of vehicles traveling in ultra slow motion and go back every hour for weeks and months, they may establish mechanisms for massive tax evasion and stop paying nothing to the Spanish coffers this type of protest has historical tradition in Catalonia in Catalan even has a name and is called “tancament de caixes” but in version 2.0, without talking about the capability for the cyber war…

    Before the referendum, Spain has only two choices, or tolerate and try to win it or opposes it ceases to be a democracy and then Catalonia will go for an independence without agreement which heads Spain to bankruptcy.

    If Spain loses the referendum has only two choices. An agreed and friendly separation where both parties have something to gain or attempt to govern Catalonia like a colony, against the will of the majority of Catalans and Catalonia will go again for an independence without agreement with the corresponding Spanish bankruptcy.

    For the Catalans the best is independence without agreement that will put them in an highly privileged economic situation. For the Catalan politicians the best outcome is an agreed independence that would save them a conflict with Spain and uncomfortable situations for them.

    The Catalans strategy will consist of being able to persuade the Spanish elites that it is likely for them to win the match so they don’t go for a negotiated independence with the Catalan politicians or they don’t go for a negotiated referendum and use massive propaganda to try to win it which would be the worst scenario for Catalans.

    Posted by Joan | April 22, 2014, 13:13
  17. To my opinion your analysis excels.

    But I missed 2 points in it:
    1.- Spain oligarchy interference. How they feel their centuries old absolute power threatened by Catalan independence. And probabilities they will opt for ‘mutual destruction’ before let themselves fall.
    2.- Catalan movement -until today- is defined by its wide spread support in society. This means a lot of formed professionals acting in its own without need to follow a leader orders and organized in a loose network. This makes more difficult ‘preview’ results in a classical ‘deterministic’ way – I think in areas as effective peaceful resistance-.

    Maybe you already discarded them because you evaluated them as not determinant. Or maybe, if they are relevant, you can include them in future analysis.

    Posted by MSR | April 22, 2014, 11:20
    • Mr. Sánchez Ruíz,

      Thank you for your comments! I always welcome challenges to my analysis: it is the best, perhaps the only, way to learn.

      Regarding your comments, I agree entirely with your first point: the opinion of the ruling elites is critical in determining the outcome of any given scenario. That being said, there are numerous different elites in Spain, more or less unified as an oligarchy, but still divided or divisible on certain measures. The ruling political elite, for example, is not unified on the Catalan question. Those on the right are all against Catalan independence, but the moderate right is more open to a “federalist” model or greater devolution of power if it maintains the unity of Spain, whereas the hardcore right is not open to any negotiation whatsoever. The government is in the hands of the hardcore right, or at least, Mr. Rajoy needs to pander to them to prevent their defection. The elite on the left is against Catalan independence fundamentally because the loss of Catalan votes would heavily benefit the PP, not the PSOE or IU.

      Beyond the political elites, there are business elites who have their own ideology, but are still mostly interested in making money. To the extent that Catalonia is a vital component of the Spanish economy, and its defection would hurt their business interests, they will support repressive measures. I believe that, if the situation deteriorates to the point of damaging their business interests more than a normalization of relations with an independent Catalonia does, they will begin to support independence. At that point, they may begin to influence the government into negotiation rather than repression. But it is difficult to predict where that point is, exactly. There are also regional elites that might favor Catalan independence for their own reasons: Valencian elites might actually like turning their city into the hub of Spanish imports and exports and “stealing” that business from Barcelona – not to mention the additional infrastructure investments they are likely to receive. Similar arguments could be made for other regions.

      So I believe that the question of elites is, in fact, quite complex, but I have tried to take it into account.

      Regarding your second point, I agree with your statement that the independence movement is very widespread, which is why I think it is impossible to stop it at this point. To what extent this will make peaceful resistance easier or harder to manage is difficult to estimate. I have not ignored it, but freely admit that my evaluation of probabilities is very probably wrong: it is my own personal evaluation and I am not Catalan. On the other hand, I do live in Madrid, and am well aware of the possibility of at least police action being discussed in the capital: the conviction in the path of peaceful resistance might be strained when the Guardias Civiles come to arrest your leaders, occupy your public buildings, beat your fellow citizens, tear down your flag and generally lord it over you like a hostile army in occupied territory. That would strain the patience of a saint, and I believe that saints are few and far between. To that extent, I don’t question the stated determination of Catalans and their leaders to non-violence; I only state that I know something of human nature and the how likely the Spanish response is to be brutal and degrading towards what they will view as “Catalan traitors”.

      I do think further analysis of the posture of the elites would be very fruitful, but I am not sure that I am in a position to conduct it. I have no special access to Spanish, Catalan or European elites: no one has invited me to Davos 🙂 But it is an excellent suggestion and I will sleep on it; there are many ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes.

      Kind regards,

      Fernando Betancor

      Posted by fdbetancor | April 22, 2014, 11:48
      • Thanks for your answers, but propably we hit something we can not agree.
        How I can see it -of course, distorted by my own experience- is Spanish elites (political, economical, bureaucratic, religious, ) are a lot more interralated and interdependent how you write. At decisives moment end they will act as an ‘only-man’.

        Anyway, I hope somebody will be able to find a path were we can convert this situation to a ‘win-win’ collaboration.

        Posted by MSR | April 22, 2014, 12:40
        • You may very well be right, Mr. Sánchez; it is very possible that Spanish elites will stand united in the face of a Catalan challenge to the status quo. For everyone’s sake, I hope not, because then my estimates of outcomes will probably have to be revised downwards.

          What is needed now is real dialogue, but I am afraid that is it not likely. Mr. Rajoy cannot be seen to buckle to the Catalans, or he will lose support from his hardliners to Vox and UpD, where Rosa Díez has come out very, very strongly against Catalan separatism. The PSOE cannot be seen to be weak on the issue or they will lose more of their already much reduced support among the mainline Spanish voters. On the other side, Mr. Mas cannot be seen to back away from the referendum, which has been promised and is keeping the coalition with ERC together. Whether or not he intends to declare independence after the referendum, or use it as a cudgel for constitutional reform is not clear to me: though I think the decision is not really in his hands. If Catalans vote overwhelmingly for independence, I don’t see how they would settle for anything less.

          The curious thing about all of this is how nonsensical it is: Spain is committed to Europe; Europe is about creating Europeans. From my point of view, what does it matter that the Europeans in Barcelona fly the Senyera and not the Spanish flag? In practical terms, nothing really changes. It is as if the people of northern California voted to become a separate state from southern California. It would have impact on American politics of course, but no one would be calling in the tanks to stop them. It should be the same here. Unfortunately, the situation in Catalonia demonstrates how catastrophically the EU project has failed to create Europeans; Spain and the Spanish continue to live in a XXth or even XIXth century mentality around nationalism and the nation-state. Catalonia has progressed to the XXIst century concept, and it is this difference in concepts which precludes any “win-win” negotiation, I’m afraid. You might be interested in my article “Die Lüge (The Lie)” which explores this concept further.



          Posted by fdbetancor | April 22, 2014, 13:00
          • There is a big difference between violence perpetrated by citizens and by law enforcement. If the Mossos decide to violently resist, this puts them at the status of a civil defence force (an army) against an invasion just as in Slovenia.
            When even Serbia’s resolve only lasted a week or so I doubt that Spain’s would be much stronger given its weak state.
            This is why your focus on the Mossos is so important – they are the key. I would look at whether personnel changes are being made and how loyal/Catalan they can be considered.
            If the Mossos hold firm then the European dynamic changes greatly. France and Germany are most important and an offer to pay a substantial portion of Spain’s debt will shore up the Euro. If Spain’s debt is not paid then the Euro will fall.

            If civil violence does happen you might want to look at the Basque country for its origin rather in Catalunya. The catalans might cut transport links peacefully but might not the Basques be tempted to complete the stranglehold with infrastructure demolition??

            Just one final point – you don’t mention Belgium. Should Belgium break up before the end of the year (elections in May 2014) – low probability but non-zero – then the EU will be forced to create a precedent. That of course changes everything for Scotland and Catalunya.

            Posted by Graeme McCaffery | April 25, 2014, 10:04
          • Mr. McCaffery,

            You bring up an excellent point regarding the possibility of armed resistance by the Mossos. I did not include it on the basis of the following logic: if the Mossos fail to obey orders from Madrid, it is because they are acting under orders from the Generalitat. Everyone in the Generalitat is committed to non-violence: and being a disciplined force, I believe that the Mossos will not unilaterally decide to start shooting. Even if there was an incident with the Guardia Civil, I believe it would be an isolated incident and not lead to repeated violent clashes. The Generalitat would probably order the Mossos back to their barracks, and they would comply.

            That being said, it is not unreasonable to assume that the Mossos may indeed intervene unilaterally if there are many civilian casualties or if they are attacked themselves: say a botched disarmament attempt. Perhaps I should include a path that includes organized resistance by the Mossos, even if I assign a very low possibility.

            There have also been suggestions by Spanish politicians that the national government should send a brigadier general from the Guardias or from the regular army to take over the Mossos. That hasn’t happened, and I wonder if it would make any difference. If the Mossos are indeed more loyal to the Generalitat than to the central government, it will take more than replacing the head of the organization to make them obey orders they may find repugnant. However, I have no personal insight into this…. a fruitful area of research nonetheless.

            I believe I shall have to send out an updated end game matrix next week; there have been lots of brilliant reader comments and suggestions that I feel I should incorporate into a Release V2. EU posture and intervention scenarios, for example, have also been inadequately treated in the first release.

            Thanks! and please keep sending in feedback!


            Fernando Betancor

            Posted by fdbetancor | April 25, 2014, 15:14
  18. Dear Mr. Betancor,

    your analysis is true interesting and plenty of common sense.

    But, always can be find a but, I find a mistake in the interpretation of “catalan nationalism”. Most of catalan nationalism is not nationalist, in the sense that is pragmatic and transversal. It is a defensive nationalism, not an agressive one, and involves a wide political spectrum right-left, also political partys that define themselves as not nationalists, as IC-V, or the CUP.

    Calatan people are pragmatic, and only looks to a fair distribution of money in Spain (in fact there are other regions with same problem, but as are managed by the PP or the PSOE they are silent), and a protection of own culture. Please, notice that the problem of Spain is Spain.

    From Franco’s death, catalan politics tried so many times to find a friendly way to be in Spain, one time, and another time, and another time… But we only received lyes and contempts. The same you can find along the time, for example, along the II Republic (better not to look to dictatorshipt periods).

    So, upon pragmatism, most catalans already saw that the only solution is the independence. And it is not a “nationalism” desire, instead a objective need. There is not radicalism, instead a conclusion.

    How it would affect in case of conflict? I guess that people will avoid direct fight, but will work deeply, strongly, in pacific resistance.

    Posted by Joan | April 22, 2014, 10:38
    • Dear Mr. Comballa,

      I fully respect and accept your definition of “Catalan nationalism”. You will note that I began the article by stating that it was not my intention to get into the arguments in favor of or against independence for Catalonia, nor to qualify the aspirations of the Catalan people as “good” or “bad”. For that matter, I do not attempt to qualify the arguments of Spanish unity either. Personally, I feel that Catalan nationalism is as understandable and legitimate as Spanish nationalism, Basque nationalism or the nationalism of any other coherent, sizable and self-identifying population.

      Naturally I have my own opinions on the subject, but my effort was directed at providing an objective view of possible endgames: how the decisions by both parties at each step of the process could radically affect the outcomes by moving events down a different, and undesired, path. I have also stated from the very beginning that my estimations of the likelihood of any given outcome is based purely on my personal understanding of human nature, of the state of discourse and the realities in Spanish and Catalan politics, and by what you may call “Fortuna” – that element of blind, uncontrollable chance or fate that always intervenes in human affairs and usually overturns the best laid plans.

      For that reason, while I am perfectly willing to acknowledge your insistence on the defensive nature of Catalan nationalism – in fact I say so in my analysis of Option 3 – I am also too familiar with the processes of escalation and the dynamics of masses to believe that every single individual in Catalonia is as sanguine and pacific as you lay out. There is that possibility, and I have heavily favored outcomes that involve “passive resistance” over others. But I put it to you that it would test the limits of any Catalan’s commitment to non-violence to see the Guardias Civiles move down the Avinguda Diagonal or Passeig de Gracia in armored cars and riot gear, dispersing crowds – most probably with water cannon and tear gas, perhaps with batons and dogs too – arresting your leaders and many civilian protesters as well, occupying your public buildings, hauling down the Senyera and putting up the Spanish monarchical flag, and generally treating Catalonia as an occupied foreign province. Are you willing to guarantee that not a single Catalan might unleash their understandable frustration and anger in a violent fashion? I am not so willing to bet on that; even assuming that the Spanish extreme right (or the police themselves) might not use agents provocateurs to create an “incident” that justifies repressive measures.

      I have not written much on the “rights” and “wrongs” of the situation because I feel they are – from a resolution standpoint – irrelevant. Please don’t be offended. All that I mean to say with that is that you are not going to convince Spanish nationalists of Catalan rights and self-determination by any rational means whatsoever, just as they are not going to convince Catalan nationalists that they should all be good little Spaniards and preserve the unity of Holy Spain. I have written other articles for my (mostly American) foreign readers that do lay out some of the practical grievances and I encourage you to read them and comment on them. There are links to these articles at the beginning of my article, or I am happy to send them to you as a pdf file if you prefer. I am also eager and willing to hear back from my readers, and the best way to learn is to have one’s assumptions challenged; so I welcome you commentary.

      Very kind regards,

      Fernando Betancor

      Posted by fdbetancor | April 22, 2014, 11:07
      • Many thanks for your reply. I also read the other comments and your replies, as well as the article The Lye.

        It all made me think in the wind. Winds are creaded by the difference of temperatures between two places, doesn’t matter the scale. So, at same time that there is a global air circulation around the north emisphere, there are regional winds, as well as local winds. Without temperature differences it will not be winds at all.

        Europe fails because there is a disrupt of winds. States compartmentalized their territories with high walls and doesn’t allow the continental winds, instead only national ones. But at same time, the national olygarchies want’s all the wind force for their mills, so doesn’t want any wind they will not control.

        What it means? It means that there the temperatures (the society) along Europe become static, because there is not a real wind moving over all the continent. But also, there is the loose of lots of opportunities because the blocking of regional winds or even local winds. Only is allowed an official wheather.

        Making a joke, may be above subject is the reason that if you live in Valencia and see the spanish TV’s weather saying it will rain, you’ll be sure you’ll have a summer sunny day. Because when air from the Atlantic causes rains in Madrid (so in Spain), this same air arrives as a hot wheather in Valencia.

        Posted by joan | April 22, 2014, 15:54


  1. […] Fernando Betancor, “Catalonia Spain Endgame Scenarios,” Common Sense, 21 April […]

  2. […] johon olisi kuulunut neuvottelut Espanjan ja kansainvälisten järjestöjen kanssa sekä tarvittaessa yksipuolinen julistautuminen itsenäiseksi valtioksi, koska Espanja ei kuitenkaan olisi suostunut […]

  3. […] Most people don’t know much about the issue, you can read more here and here. […]

  4. […] ere finkatzen ditu. Artikulua bere blogean idatzi zuen ingelesez eta Vilawebek osorik itzuli du. Analisia apirilekoa da, baina bete-betean erantzuten dio orain Katalunian bizi den egoerari. Betancorrek […]

  5. […] Cataluña y España: 5 posibles finales (ING) […]

  6. […] exaggerating a little over the threat of Spanish violence, you may be interested in reading Catalonia and Spain: Endgame Scenarios by American political analyst FD Betancor – as far as I know he has no vested in interest […]

  7. […] originàriament en el bloc de Fernando Betancor, Common Sense, i reproduït a VilaWeb amb el permís de […]

  8. […] Anàlisi del procés sobiranista català de l’economista nord-americà establert a Madrid Fern… […]

  9. […] originàriament en el bloc de Fernando Betancor, Common Sense, i reproduït a VilaWeb amb el permís de […]

  10. […] Plusieurs analyses du processus d’accès à la souveraineté catalane ont déjà été faites, et il s’en écrit de nouvelles continuellement. Celle qui suit en est une particulièrement complète; une analyse d’un économiste américain établi à Madrid, Fernando Betancor, fils d’immigrants uruguayens et ayant grandi à Washington. Dans cet article, publié à l’origine sur son blogue, l’auteur développe les possibles voies qui s’offrent au processus souverainiste catalan. Il en identifie cinq qu’il nomme ainsi: l’option collaborationniste, l’option vénitienne, l’option criméenne, l’élection référendaire et finalement, l’option Jefferson. Dans son article, Betancor pèse le pour et le contre de chaque option. Ci-bas, vous trouverez l’intégralité de l’article traduit en français. Vous trouverez aussi l’article en langue d’origine ici. […]

  11. […] Plusieurs analyses du processus d’accès à la souveraineté catalane ont déjà été faites, et ils s’en écrit de nouvelles continuellement. Celle qui suit en est une particulièrement complète; une analyse d’un économiste américain établit à Madrid, Fernando Betancor, fils d’immigrants uruguayens et ayant grandi à Washington. Dans cet article, publié à l’origine sur son blogue, l’auteur développe les possibles voies qui s’offrent au processus souverainiste catalan. Il en identifie cinq qu’il nomme ainsi: l’option collaborationniste, l’option vénitienne, l’option criméenne, l’élection référendaire et finalement, l’option Jefferson. Dans son article, Betancour pèse le pour et le contre de chaque option. Ci-bas, vous trouverez l’intégralité de l’article traduit en français. Vous trouverez aussi l’article en langue d’origine ici. […]

  12. […] Plusieurs analyses du processus d’accès à la souveraineté catalane ont déjà été faites, et ils s’en écrit de nouvelles continuellement. Celle qui suit en est une particulièrement complète; une analyse d’un économiste américain établit à Madrid, Fernando Betancor, fils d’immigrants uruguayens et ayant grandi à Washington. Dans cet article, publié à l’origine sur son blogue, l’auteur développe les possibles voies qui s’offrent au processus souverainiste catalan. Il en identifie cinq qu’il nomme ainsi: l’option collaborationniste, l’option vénitienne, l’option criméenne, l’élection référendaire et finalement, l’option Jefferson. Dans son article, Betancour pèse le pour et le contre de chaque option. Ci-bas, vous trouverez l’intégralité de l’article traduit en français. Vous trouverez aussi l’article en langue d’origine ici. […]

    | Hochelaga - April 27, 2014
  13. […] April 21, 2014 – COMMON SENSE, FERNANDO BETANCOURT – “Catalonia and Spain: End Game Scenarios” […]

  14. […] pubicat al bloc de Fernando Betancor, Common Sense, i publicat a VilaWeb amb el permís de […]

  15. […] pubicat al bloc de Fernando Betancor, Common Sense, i publicat a VilaWeb amb el permís de […]

  16. […] Article published by Fernando Betancor in ‘Common Sense’. […]

  17. […] pubicat al bloc de Fernando Betancor, Common Sense, i publicat a VilaWeb amb el permís de […]

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