BELGRADE (Reuters) - Catalonia’s president has no choice but to suspend secession since it is unlikely anyone will recognize the Spanish region on the basis of a disputed referendum, a former British diplomat who has advised the Catalans and other secessionist movements said.
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 European Union partners, Ross told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“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,” said Ross.
“At the end of the day, if you’re to be independent, you need to be recognized 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 specter of Madrid suspending the region’s autonomy.
Catalonia’s Oct. 1 referendum was declared illegal by a Spanish high court and mustered only 43 percent turnout as many independence opponents stayed at home. Hundreds of people were injured by baton-wielding police as they intervened to close polling stations.
Ross said many Catalans had been “radicalized” by Madrid’s resistance and police behavior. “Fuel has been added to the fire,” he said.
“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 that clear majority. And as things currently stand, Catalonia does not have that clear majority.”
Ross formerly headed the Middle East section of the British mission to the United Nations but resigned from the civil service in 2004 over the invasion of Iraq. His work with Independent Diplomat was the subject of the documentary Accidental Anarchist that was broadcast in July on the BBC.
Ross, who advised the Catalan government between July 2013 and September 2015 and is a committed advocate of self-determination, said it was “unrealistic” to expect a mediated solution resulting in, for instance, greater autonomy for Catalonia.
He cited the examples of Montenegro and Scotland, in which referendums were held on the basis of negotiated terms in 2006 and 2014 respectively. Montenegro narrowly voted to leave a state union with Serbia, while a majority of Scots opted to remain with Britain.
“I think that the international community should be calling for Madrid to do what Britain did with Scotland, which is to allow a legal referendum to resolve this once and for all.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has rejected a call by Puigdemont for EU mediation, but Ross said the bloc should state clearly to Madrid “that it needs to find a more consensual solution”.
Asked if the Catalans had erred in holding a referendum that Madrid did not agree to, Ross replied: “They had no other option to build up the pressure for that dialogue.”
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Richard Balmforth