Catalonia to declare independence as soon as Monday?

If the reports coming from Reuters are true, all you can really say is… that escalated quickly.

After the people of Catalonia held a referendum on independence, it was quickly declared to be illegal by Spain. Other nations were edging away sideways, not wanting to get too deeply involved in Madrid’s internal affairs, but also seeking a diplomatic path to avoid what could amount to a civil war. It briefly sounded as if new rounds of negotiations were going to head down that more desirable path until the Catalonian regional government seemed to switch gears and announce that a declaration of independence would be coming in the next four to five days.

Catalonia will move as soon as this weekend to declare independence from Spain, the region’s leader said, moving the European Union country closer to a rupture that threatens the foundations of its young democracy.

The constitutional crisis has hit the euro and Spanish stocks and bonds and Volkswagen’s (VOWG_p.DE) Spanish unit SEAT warned of disrupted activity on Tuesday due to protests. Catalonia’s Caixabank (CABK.MC) and Spain’s economy minister have meanwhile sought to assure bank customers that their deposits are secure.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told the BBC in an remarks published on Wednesday that his government would ask the region’s parliament to declare independence after tallying votes from last weekend’s referendum, which Madrid deems illegal.

So what does this mean for not only the people of Spain but the rest of the world? Ishaan Tharoor has a fairly comprehensive analysis at the WaPo which is worth a read, but even the short term implications aren’t clear to most observers.

The worst case scenario is out and out civil war, which everyone in the EU seems very eager to avoid. There were already some Catalonia independence voters bloodied by the Guardian Civil (the national paramilitary police force) last weekend, but there have fortunately been no signs of a significant armed resistance among the Catalonians. Still, even if violence is contained to local scuffles, Tharoor predicts that the best we can hope for is a “profoundly messy” situation.

Both Spain’s King and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have come out and spoken strongly against a formal independence bid and they do have a few cards left to play short of a military crackdown. Under the country’s constitution, Rajoy can invoke the “nuclear option” of dissolving the Catalan Parliament. This would essentially erase the semi-autonomous status they now enjoy, but it could also splinter his support in Madrid and possibly lead to new vote removing him as Prime Minister.

There’s also the question of just how popular the secession movement is in Catalonia. The turnout for the referendum actually was fairly low and a significant number of their citizens appear to want to avoid a conflict and keep their current autonomous status. Some of them say they are being silenced by the secession leaders. But if Madrid cracks down too hard on them they might wind up changing their minds and joining the resistance.

We’ll keep an eye on this over the weekend. EU leaders such as Merkel and Macron are being curiously silent on the question. But if this turns into a military conflict, they (along with Brussels) will be forced to weigh in on one side or the other.