Carles Puigdemont. Picture: REUTERS
Carles Puigdemont. Picture: REUTERS

Belgrade — Catalonia’s president has no choice but to suspend secession since it is unlikely anyone will recognise the Spanish region on the basis of a disputed referendum, says a former British diplomat who has advised the Catalans and other secessionist movements.

Carne Ross, who as founder of the diplomatic consultancy Independent Diplomat has worked with Kosovo, South Sudan, Western Sahara and Catalonia on their respective bids for sovereignty, said there would be no solution to the crisis without a legal plebiscite agreed to by Madrid.

To get there would require pressure from Spain’s EU partners, said Ross, who advised the Catalan government from July 2013 to September 2015 and is a committed advocate of self-determination.

"A full declaration of independence would have been very problematic, would have led to obvious confrontation with Madrid and he [Catalan President Carles Puigdemont] was under enormous pressure not to declare independence, including I assume from the countries that Catalonia would look to for recognition," he said.

"At the end of the day, if you’re to be independent, you need to be recognised as such. I think they are only likely to get international recognition if there is a legal referendum that Madrid accepts."

Puigdemont declared on Tuesday that Catalonia had the mandate for independence but proposed suspending sovereignty to allow for talks with Madrid on an agreed solution.

On Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for clarity as to whether or not Catalonia had declared independence and raised the spectre of Madrid suspending the region’s autonomy.

Fuel on fire

Catalonia’s October 1 referendum was declared illegal by a Spanish high court and mustered only 43% turnout as many independence opponents stayed at home. Hundreds of people were injured by baton-wielding police who intervened to close polling stations.

Ross said many Catalans had been "radicalised" by Madrid’s resistance and police behaviour.

"Fuel has been added to the fire. In my view, legitimate independence can only be legitimately declared when it has a clear majority of the population. I don’t think it is right to declare independence when you don’t have a clear majority. As things stand, Catalonia does not have that clear majority."

Reuters

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