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Because of the mountains, Catalans and Basques together could totally block Spain’s access to Europe by highway and railway, whether in the short or long-term:
http://ec.europa.eu/transport/infrastructure/tentec/tentec-portal/map/maps.html © European Union, 1995-2017
Ave train station in Girona during the 8 November general strike
“Pro-independence Protesters in Catalonia Block Roads, Railway Lines
November 08, 2017 10:15 AM, VOA News Pro-independence protesters obstructed major highways, roads and railway lines Wednesday in Spain’s Catalonia region as part of a general strike in protest of the detention of expelled Catalan government officials and secessionist activists.
The blockades caused disruptions on more than 60 sections of railroad and highway, including roads leading to the regional capital of Barcelona, according to the Catalan Transit Service.
National railway operator Renfe said service was stopped on dozens of lines, including several high-speed lines.
Spain’s two primary unions did not support the strike, which did not appear to have a significant effect on businesses and the area’s thriving tourism industry.
The Spanish government took the unprecedented step of taking control of the autonomous region of Catalonia after the regional government disregarded Constitutional Court mandates and approved a declaration of independence on October 27.
Spain dismissed the regional government, disbanded its parliament and called for a new regional election next month.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy predicted Wednesday the elections would “open a new political era” in the region with a return to normalcy and respect for Spanish law.
The strike was called as leaders of the Catalonian secessionist movement attempt to regain political momentum after failing to agree on a joint ticket to contest the election.
Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s center-right PDeCAt and the leftist ERC of former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras jointly ran Catalonia for two years until Spain sacked the government.
Puigdemont and four of his ministers have fled to Belgium, where they are challenging Spain’s arrest and extradition orders.
Eight of Puigdemont’s former ministers and two activists were jailed while the Spanish court considers possible charges of rebellion against them.
Catalonia and its population of 7.5 million people generate one fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product.
Puigdemont maintains a banned October 1 secession referendum gave Catalonia a directive to declare independence.” https://www.voanews.com/a/catalonia-pro-independence-protesters/4106326.html
TODAY: “Catalan parliament speaker appears in court on sedition charge
Carme Forcadell and five Catalan MPs appear before supreme court in Madrid over role in banned independence vote“. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/09/catalan-parliament-speaker-carme-forcadell-due-in-madrid-court-on-sedition-charge
It now appears clear that the crackdown by Spain is mostly to take eyes off of corruption in PM Rajoy’s party (PP), as illustrated in the twitter image further below. However, it is also true that a free Catalonia would have its own police force controlling land borders, and ports, so that Spain would lose control of not only legal transport, but also illegal activities of all sorts. This includes, but is not limited to, drug trafficking. While Catalonia is part of Spain, Spain is controlling the land borders and ports.
Note that while the EU has a customs union agreement and Spain and most of the EU is in Schengen allowing free movement of people, countries can still check for contraband as well as impose border controls/close borders in certain situations. Furthermore, Spain controls port customs. And, it is not a given that Catalonia would be in the EU.