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Spain and Catalonia: Reflections on the Crisis

Chatham House, London


Dr Ignasi Guardans, EU Policy and Law Advisor, K&L Gates; Member of the Spanish Parliament (1996-2004); Member of the European Parliament for Barcelona (2004-09)
Dr Sandra León, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of York
Dr Ignacio Molina, Senior Analyst, Elcano Royal Institute; Lecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Professor Sergi Pardos-Prado​​​​​, Associate Professor and Official Fellow, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford
Chair: Dr Uta Staiger, Executive Director, UCL European Institute; Pro-Vice-Provost for Europe, UCL


The referendum organized by the Catalan regional government on 1 October - after it had been suspended by Spain’s constitutional court - has brought the secessionist cause sharply into the international spotlight. A large majority of those who voted chose to secede from Spain, though less than half of Catalonia’s electorate of 5.5 million made it to the ballot box. The Catalan parliament subsequently made a unilateral declaration of independence, supported by 70 out of 135 members, which prompted the Madrid government - with the backing of 80 per cent of the Spanish Senate - to invoke article 155 of the constitution, leading to the removal of the Catalan executive and the calling of regional elections for 21 December 2017.

In the aftermath, Spanish courts detained eight members of the Catalan government on remand awaiting trial and ordered the arrest of the regional president Carles Puigdemont. How did this extraordinary chain of events come about?

Our panel will attempt to unpack the history to this crisis, while reflecting on its current incarnation. Does the issue of Catalan independence stem back to the Spanish Constitution of 1978, which awarded the region unprecedented autonomy, or does it have more recent origins? Will the upcoming Catalan regional election lead to further conflict, or is a peaceful, negotiated outcome still possible? And what are the implications of this crisis for Spain, the European Union as well as other secessionist movements around the world?