Catalan Independence Movement Regains Momentum

(Bloomberg) -- Carles Puigdemont, the former head of Spain’s Catalonia region living in exile since a failed 2017 independence bid, is about to make life difficult for acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Back-to-back rulings this week have put Catalonia back on the map by essentially allowing two separatist leaders to take their seats in the European Parliament. It could not come at a worse time for Sanchez, who is desperately trying to stitch together a government for the second time and can’t do so without the support of one of the smaller parties in the restive region.

That gives both Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras, his former deputy in the Catalan government, a lot more leverage. The two men are also political rivals and suffered different fates after the botched attempt to break away from Spain. One fled, the other stayed and served time in prison.

Catalan Independence Movement Regains Momentum

How they will work together or against each other to advance their cause and complicate matters for Sanchez remains to be seen.

They are back in play thanks to the European Court of Justice, which on Thursday affirmed Junqueras has immunity as a member of the European Parliament. It then decided on Friday to allow Puigdemont and Antoni Comin, a former Catalan government official, to take up their parliamentary seats. Spanish TV showed images of the two men arriving at the assembly, brandishing their new temporary badges allowing them to enter the building.

The timing could not be worse for Sanchez, who was trying to seal an agreement with Junqueras’s Esquerra Republicana to back his latest attempt to form a government. His Socialists have a coalition agreement with the left-wing Podemos but that still leaves him short of a majority in the 350-member chamber and courting smaller parties like those in Catalonia. Esquerra has now suspended talks.

With the balance of power in the region upended, any compromise with Madrid could be delayed, if not derailed.

A seat in the European Parliament will give Puigdemont a pulpit to keep criticizing what he terms Spain’s “repression” of the Catalan independence movement. Meanwhile, Esquerra’s leaders will be monitoring developments closely as they weigh whether sealing a deal with Sanchez might cost them support within the wider independence movement by boosting Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya force.

As Puigdemont held court with journalists outside the parliament, a new poll published by the Catalan government’s own pollster show the separatist movement still has some way to go in convincing the region’s voters of their case. The poll showed 47.9% are against a Catalan republic compared with 43.7% in favor.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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