Commentary

Barca's Fate Uncertain Amid Catalan Independence Vote

The future FC Barcelona -- and indeed, Spain’s La Liga -- hangs in the balance after Catalonia’s regional parliament on Monday voted in favor of beginning the process of formally breaking away from Spain. According to the legislation, drafted in Catalan and backed by the region’s two pro-separatist movements, Together for Yes and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, Catalonia aims to become a completely separate country and state by 2017.  

“If Spain splits, so too does La Liga,” Spanish league chief Javier Tebas said in September, indicating that Barca would be forbidden from participating in the national league if Catalonia seceded from Spain. “Let us hope we never reach that absurd situation.”

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Well, less than two months later, that “absurd situation” is closer than ever to becoming a reality. 

Of course, a few things still stand in the way. For starters, Together For Yes and (the smaller and further left) CUP do not necessarily get along, yet they will have to come together to formulate a new government by Jan. 9, or the recent election would be null and void. Among other things, that means creating an independent social security system and tax authority, as well as picking a president. But Artur Mas, the acting president of Catalonia who is currently seeking a third term that would make him head of the brave new union, is backed by Together for Yes but not the CUP. And the infighting between the two pro-separatist groups does not stop there, either.  

As one Madrid-based political science professor explained to the Guardian, this needs to be sorted out or the separatist movement will fall flat: “The crucial moment of this week is seeing whether the two separatist parties will be capable of forming a government,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, Spain Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was not impressed with the results of Monday’s vote. “I’ve said it continuously and I reiterate it today -- the government will not allow this to continue Catalonia will not disconnect itself from anywhere, and there will be no fracture.”

In fact, Rajoy’s government is already appealing the legislation in Spain’s constitutional court. If, as expected, the court accepts the government’s appeal, then the Catalonia resolution would be suspended while judges hear the arguments on both sides and reach a decision.

But that could also be null and void -- as far as Catalonia is concerned, its regional parliament is now no longer bound by decisions made by Spain’s constitutional court. With that in mind, what happens next is unclear.

However, what is clear is that the Spanish league has already said that it would no longer house Barcelona in its league in the event of Catalonian secession. So, if the defending Spanish and European champ hasn’t already, it should start looking into a contingency plan.

Apparently, Ligue 1 is a possibility. Late last month, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the French league would take Catalonia’s capital club in the event of secession -- after all, it already hosts AS Monaco, a principality club, and Barca and other Catalan clubs could be granted similar standing, per its rules.

But, surely, it wouldn’t be as easy as registering Barca for the 2017-18 season in France, would it? Would the Catalan giant automatically begin life in France’s first division? Would it be granted automatic qualification for the UEFA Champions League? And what about TV contracts -- such as those already sold for the next several years in both France and Spain -- how would broadcasters, clubs and sponsors alike be compensated for the gigantic sums of money that could go missing as a result of the switch?

And then what about the giant void left by Barca’s departure from La Liga? Who wants to watch Real Madrid clean up every season? The league would palpably lose a huge chunk of its following. Given all the uncertainty, you can be sure that the Spanish government, the Spanish league, and Barca officials alike will be working on some kind of resolution if indeed Catalonian independence comes to pass—because dumping Barca from La Liga is a giant lose-lose for everyone. 

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