October 1st saw a day marred with violence in Spain as Catalonians voted in an independence referendum with over 2.2 million people casting their vote.
The referendum, condemned by the Spanish government as illegal, saw scenes of widespread violence between police and voters as officers attempted to smash their way into polling stations and remove ballot boxes. Over 850 people were injured in the violence, many seriously, marking a black day for the European Union. It’s worth noting here that so far, EU leaders have yet to make any comments on the police violence or the referendum as a whole, with the notable exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel who has demanded answers from the Spanish authorities about the heavy-handed tactics of the Guardia Civil.
The Spanish government has vehemently denied there was any violence or unnecessary use of force. Despite video footage (which quickly went viral) of police officers clashing with elderly voters, many of which were left bleeding, Vice President Ms. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría defended the measures taken by the security forces, saying the police did not use disproportionate force:
Actions were taken against electoral material, never against people
Despite what was an obvious event (a bit difficult to ignore over two million people voting), the official Spanish position is that the referendum never happened, with Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insisting:
There was no independence referendum today!
In the run-up to the referendum, the Spanish authorities had tried to block the event by forcefully occupying polling stations, most of which had been set up in the region’s schools. In an attempt to overcome a court decision ruling use of schools as polling stations illegal, residents organized sporting events at the schools, effectively occupying the buildings.
The question posed in the referendum simply asked:
“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent
state in the form of a republic?”
The answer came as an overwhelming YES with 90% of votes cast in favor of independence. From a registered total of 5.34 million votes, 2.36 million cast votes for a turnout of 42.3 percent, prompting Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, to declare the region had:
Won the right to an independent state
The region has a history of bad blood with the government in Madrid over what it sees as disproportionately high taxes. Despite its status as an autonomous region, Catalonia pays taxes to the central government which many Catalans view as being prohibitive.
Consisting of the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona, Catalonia (Catalunya in Catalan) accounts for over 19 percent of Spanish GDP. The region is the top exporter in Spain with over 25 percent of good produced going to export markets.
This comes at a bad time for the European Union, mired as it already is in all things Brexit related. Questions regarding the status of any new entities resulting from independence referendums remain unanswered since the recent Scottish referendum, adding to the mounting headaches in Brussels.
The currency markets reacted adversely to the referendum results with the Euro falling over 0.4 percent in early trading in Asia today.