EXPLAINER: These are the key dates in Catalonia’s separatist crisis

Voters go to the polls on Sunday in a regional election in Catalonia, which staged a failed attempt to break away from Spain in 2017.

EXPLAINER: These are the key dates in Catalonia's separatist crisis
More than three years after a failed bid to break away from Spain, Catalonia goes to the polls on February 14, 2021 for an election that Madrid hopes will unseat the region's ruling separatists. Photo

Here's a timeline and key events of the northern region's separatist crisis:

Independence bid

On September 6, 2017, the separatist majority in Catalonia's regional parliament passes a law paving the way for an independence referendum on October 1.

It is fiercely opposed by Madrid. In February 2017, Spain's Constitutional Court had declared such a vote would be unconstitutional.

On October 1, security forces operating under a judicial mandate intervene in the referendum process, seizing ballot boxes in many polling stations. 

Images of police violence are beamed around the world.

Turnout is about 43 percent, with nine out of 10 voters backing independence, Catalan authorities say. The results cannot be verified, as there are no independent observers and police disrupted the electronic count.

On October 3, after hundreds of thousands of Catalans rally in fury over police violence against voters, King Felipe VI sternly denounces the independence bid, and calls on national authorities to “ensure constitutional order”.

On October 27, 70 separatist deputies — just over half of the 135 lawmakers in the Catalan parliament — unilaterally declare independence.

READ ALSO: Catalonia goes to the polls on Sunday but has separatism lost its spark?

The central government immediately suspends Catalonia's autonomy, dissolving its parliament and dismissing its separatist leaders. It calls a regional election for December 21.

Madrid gets tough

On November 2, 2017 eight regional ministers are detained. A European arrest warrant is issued for Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Brussels. 

Catalans turn out in large numbers during a December 21 regional election, voting separatist parties back into power, including several candidates who are in prison and others who in self-imposed exile.

On June 2, 2018 Quim Torra is sworn in as Catalonia's new president and the region's autonomy is restored.

That same day a new Spanish prime minister, Socialist Pedro Sanchez, is sworn in.

He adopts a softer tone on Catalonia — resuming dialogue with Torra — but rules out any referendum on independence.

Leaders sentenced

Talks between Sanchez and Torra break down ahead of the start on February 12, 2019 of the trial of 12 separatists for their role in the independence bid.

On October 14, the Supreme Court hands down heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to nine of the separatists, who are convicted of sedition.

Sanchez says it is time to “turn the page” in relations with Catalonia and focus on “dialogue”.

READ ALSO: Catalonia rivals kick off campaign but could coronavirus torpedo the vote?

Thousands of Catalans react to the sentences by pouring into the streets in protest, blocking roads and rail tracks and trying to paralyse Barcelona's airport.

Catalonia is rocked as separatists burn barricades and clash with riot police.


Sanchez is sworn in for a second term in January 2020 with the support of Catalan separatist party ERC.

The party agreed to back him in exchange for the start of talks between Madrid and Catalonia's regional government over the secession crisis.

The talks begin on February 26 but are soon suspended due to the pandemic.

Torra in September 2020 is banned from holding public office for refusing to remove separatist symbols from public buildings, triggering Sunday's early election in Catalonia.

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Spain falls further in international corruption league tables

Spain has fallen in the international corruption index for a second consecutive year, coming in 35th place in the world, behind countries such as Botswana and Cape Verde. 

Spain falls further in international corruption league tables

Spain has fallen for a second consecutive year in the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by NGO Transparency International, a global ranking of countries based on their perceived corruption.

The CPI uses a 0-100 rating system, with 100 being ‘very clean’ and 0 being ‘highly corrupt’.

Spain dropped one point in 2022, from 61 to 60, and it now sits in 35th place in the world, behind countries such as Botswana and Cape Verde. 

Spain’s score represents a three-point decrease from its 2020 score. 

Within the EU, Spain sits in the middle of the pack in 14th position out of the 27 member states, two points below both Portugal and Lithuania (62/100) and only one point above Latvia (59/100).

Leading Europe (and the world) were Denmark (90/100), who took the top spot in the global ranking, followed by Finland (87/100), New Zealand (87/100), (Norway (84/100), Iceland (74/100) and Sweden (83/100).

The European countries with the lowest scores were Romania (46/100), Bulgaria (43/100) and Hungary (42/100).

Comparing Spain to its neighbours, France received a score of 72/100, Portugal 62/100, and Italy 56/100. Morocco scored 38/100.

READ ALSO: Is Spain as corrupt as it was a decade ago?

Ten countries recorded the lowest score in their history, including the United Kingdom (73/100), which has fallen five points since last year.

Downward trend

According to the CPI report, a one-point decrease in a year is not necessarily statistically significant nor indicative of major institutional corruption, but consecutive annual falls, such as in Spain, are a “clear sign of risk and danger of continuing decline” in the following years.

Spain has been affected, the report states because it received worse scores due to irregular public service payments, exports and imports, and judicial decisions in cases of corruption. Broadly speaking, Spanish politics has been riddled with ongoing corruption scandals for some time, ranging from the national level down to small-town ayuntamientos (town halls).

READ ALSO: Spain to publish names of politicians who refuse to declare their assets

In 2022 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez defended two former Presidents of Andalusia for their alleged corruption in the ERE scandal, and the ongoing environmental scandal at Murcia’s Mar Menor has also been stained by corruption allegations.

Police forces across Spain are no better. The Catalan Generalitat has investigated several cases of corrupt Mossos in its police force in recent years, and port authorities and Guardia Civil agents across Spain, including Catalonia and Algeciras in Andalusia, have been arrested for taking bribes to turn blind eyes to drug trafficking. 

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, local mayors across Spain were caught out using their position and influence to queue jump and get vaccinations before vulnerable groups.

Juan Carlos I, the now exiled former King of Spain, has also had his fair share of alleged corruption scandals, including but not limited to the Saudi rail payoff scandal; money hidden in Swiss bank accounts; the mystery credit cards paid off by Mexican businessmen; the €10 million found in a Jersey bank account; and, finally, his goat hunting trip with the President of Kazakhstan in which Juan Carlos left with armfuls of briefcases containing over €5 million in cash.

Despite all that, however, in March 2022 Spanish prosecutors dropped all investigations into his finances.

Worldwide slowdown

The CPI report in general highlighted the fact that the fight against corruption in the world has stagnated, due in part due to the lingering effects of the pandemic at a legal and administrative level, something many governments around the world were able to capitalise on and reduce transparency.

According to the Index, 131 countries have not registered any significant progress in the last decade, and 27 received their lowest-ever scores in 2022.

The countries with the lowest scores in the ranking were Somalia (12/100), Syria (13/100), and South Sudan (13/100).