The sovereignty of Spain's Catalonia region is a legal non-starter, Spain's Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday, a decision likely to add more fuel to the autonomous region's popular drive to split from Spain and join the European Union as its own country.
While self-governing with its own parliament and and president, Catalonia remains part of Spain and subject to Spanish laws — and taxes. Catalonia was its own nation until 1714 when it came under Spanish rule. The Catalan region was granted autonomy by Spain in 1932, only to lose it under the fascist regime of Francisco Franco seven years later. When Franco died in 1975, the new, democratic Spanish government reinstated Catalonia autonomy.
But autonomy is well short of sovereignty and that complete independence is what Catalonia, with its own language and culture, has long sought.
Spain has a lot to lose if Catalonia declares sovereignty and breaks away, The region produces about 20 percent of Spain's wealth, and is home to Spain's largest energy and financial firms, as well other powerful Spanish corporations.
Catalans largely believe the Spanish tax system treats them unfairly. If it were to declare sovereignty, Catalonia would instantly become the eighth-largest economy in the EU.
A referendum vote on Catalonia sovereignty is set for November 9, but the Constitutional Court Tuesday decided that even the vote itself violates Spain's constitution. The Catalonia Parliament in the region's capital city, Barcelona, sent a petition to Spain's central government in Madrid earlier this year, but Spain's legislators have yet to vote on it.
Yesterday's court decision would appear to deal a setback to that Catalonia sovereignty vote drive. The question now is whether Catalonia will go ahead with the vote anyway, as Catalan President Artur Mas has promised it would — setting up a showdown between Mas and Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, who declared the sovereignty vote unconstitutional even before the court handed down its ruling Tuesday.
"If you believe you're sovereign, that means you are so, and whatever the Spanish courts say doesn't necessarily affect that conviction," stated Alfred Bosch, a Catalan member of Spain's parliament and backer of Catalonia sovereignty.
While the Spanish court did not eliminate Catalonia's "right to decide," it held that any referendum on sovereignty would have to be non-binding.
"Within the framework of the constitution, a region cannot unilaterally convoke a referendum on self-determination to decide on its integration with Spain," the court wrote, in a 36-page opinion.
According to recent polls, an overwhelming 80 percent of Catalans want to hold the Catalonia sovereignty vote, with a majority also favoring independence from Spain.