A European season of separatist fervor kicks off Thursday with Catalan lawmakers voting on whether to seek the right to hold a referendum on independence from Spain. The EU will be watching closely as Belgium’s Dutch speakers gear up to push for greater autonomy in May elections, and Scotland prepares to hold its own referendum on breaking away from Britain in the fall. Thursday’s vote is a milestone in years of mass protests by Catalans, who are fiercely proud of their distinct culture and language, demanding the right to decide whether they want to secede. But it is also largely a symbolic one.
Catalonia can ask Spain for permission to hold an independence vote all it wants; Madrid still has the power to say “no” – and it almost certainly will.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said he will not allow a Catalonia secession referendum because Spain’s 1978 constitution doesn’t envision anything but a unified Spanish state, and mandates that referendums affecting Spain must be held nationally and not regionally. He has an absolute majority in Parliament that assures he will prevail, and the main opposition Socialist party also opposes a referendum vote.