Early election called in Catalonia as proxy referendum on independence, doubts remain

Vote to be held on September 27th · Two main Catalan parties CiU and ERC agree to build "state structures" in coming months · No explanation on roadmap towards statehood disclosed · Minor pro-sovereignty parties yet to explain what their stance is on new scenario

Catalonia will be heading to polls later in 2015 in a bid to turn an early election to the Catalan Parliament into a de facto referendum on independence. Catalan President Artur Mas (CiU, liberal-christian democrat) yesterday announced a deal with head of opposition Oriol Junqueras (ERC, social democrat) to hold a snap vote on September 27th.

Both parties say they are seeking a "democratic mandate" for secession. If pro-independence parties get an absolute majority of seats and votes, they argue, it will be then clear that the next Catalan government will be entitled to create a Catalan state.

CiU and ERC currently hold 71 out of 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament.

The deal also includes a commitment to "propel and finalize state structures" before the election. In this context, "state structures" means the establishment of a Catalan tax agency, a Catalan social security and an own diplomatic service, separated from Spain's.

The CiU-ERC deal was reached with the support of pro-independence civil society associations Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium and pro-independence municipalities' federation AMI.

Doubts remain on substantial issues

The two Catalan leaders stroke a deal that has taken two months to be reached after more than 2.3 million Catalans voted in a non-binding vote on independence on November 9th, the majority of them supporting secession from Spain. Yet, several important things remain to be seen, including the following ones.

What the roadmap will be like. This is possibly the central unknown issue as of today. Mas and Junqueras said they have been negotiating over a "joint roadmap" towards Catalan statehood. They argued talks are well advanced, but gave no details. It thus remains to be seen what should happen after September 27th if pro-independence parties get a majority. Will they seek again to negotiate an official referendum with the Spanish government -Spain is heading to polls on December 20th at the latest? Will they ultimately declare independence without agreement with Madrid? CiU and ERC are expected to shed light on those issues over the next days or weeks. Junqueras today said he expects Catalan independence in 2016.

What the role of municipalities will be. Local elections are expected for May 25th in Catalonia and the whole of Spain. Mas yesterday said that the CiU-ERC deal could be "expanded" to municipalities after the election. This could signal that CiU and ERC expect to involve the local governments -including powerful provincial governments and the city of Barcelona- in the drive towards independence.

Which other parties will agree with CiU and ERC. From 2012 to 2014, two other leftist pro-sovereignty parties (ICV-EUiA and CUP) were involved in all the agreements towards a referendum on independence, together with CiU and ERC. Now it is unknown what will be ICV's and CUP's stance on yesterday's deal. CUP will explain later today what they think on the whole issue, but the party had signaled it wanted the election to be held in March 2015. ICV leader Dolors Camats said ERC and CiU have rebuilt their particular agreement, but general "unity" has not been yet re-gained.

What the consequences will be for CiU. On the one hand, opinion polls say CiU is set to lose 10 to 20 seats in the Catalan Parliament (they now hold 50), with ERC growing from current 21 to some 35. But President Mas leading a transition to statehood could help his party to recover some ground. And it is yet to be seen if CiU will go to the polls under that name or maybe under a broader coalition including non-partisan civil society members. On the other, CiU is a two-party federation, made up of Mas's CDC (the liberals) and minor party UDC (the christian democrats). UDC leader Ramon Espadaler today said his party still needed to decide whether they would run jointly with CDC to the September 27th poll.

(Image: Mas and Junqueras shake hands after deal / picture by the Catalan Government.)