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Whose Line is it Anyway? Catalonia's Struggle

CATALONIA’S PERSPECTIVE The 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, a political pact between Spain and the region of Catalonia, recognized the right of the Catalan people to self-governance. [1] The law gave the Catalan government exclusive power to preside over the region by establishing a local legal system, implementing local taxes and calling for referenda. [2] After the law was passed, however, Spain’s governing party, the Popular Party, challenged the constitutionality of the statute before Spain’s Constitutional Court. [3] In 2010, after a four-year deliberation, the Court held that 14 of the statute’s articles were unconstitutional and 27 were problematic, paving the way for the current independence movement within Catalonia. [4]

First, the Court ruled that the phrase “Catalonia as a nation,” was necessarily devoid of legal value, in order to preserve the “indissoluble unity of Spain.” [5] Second, the Court held that the Catalan language could not take precedence over Spanish within the region, since students have a duty to speak and write in Spanish. [6] Last, the Court declared many of Catalonia’s self-governing powers, including taxation and administration, unconstitutional in order to “guarantee uniformity within the state”. [7] After the Court’s decision, the Catalan government vowed it would not adhere to the ruling and called for an independence vote. [8]

International law has no governance over matters of secession or conflict of domestic laws; indeed, the European Union officially deferred to Spain to settle matters. [9] The success or failure of Catalonia's campaign for independence depends on the strength of its claim versus Spain's arguments and any international recognition that may ensue.


Spain argues that Catalonian officials held the October 1, 2017 independence referendum without authorization and only the national parliament may amend the constitution. [10] By holding the referendum without Madrid’s approval, the Catalan government did not follow constitutional procedures. [11]

Article 155(1) of the Spanish Constitution says that “[i]f a Self-governing Community does not fulfill the obligations imposed by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain . . . [the Government may] take all measures necessary to compel the Community” to comply. [12] Thus, the Spanish government has constitutional authority to impose direct rule over the region.


The Catalonia independence movement is a dispute that centers on a conflict of laws: Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy versus Spain’s Constitution. Unfortunately, with no legal mechanism in place to determine which law prevails, the United Nations and international community can only wait and see who will win this internal battle. History tells us, however, that whichever side succeeds in garnering support from major foreign powers will ultimately win.

This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.