Catalonia wants independence and Europe
The decision on a date for the referendum on Catalan independence, 9 November 2014, hijacked the headlines since last Thursday — the Catalan papers highlighting a "massive support of citizens", the national Spanish papers quoting statements by the government in Madrid about the unfeasibility of the vote from a constitutional point of view.
The decision on a date for the referendum on Catalan independence, 9 November 2014, hijacked the headlines since last Thursday — the Catalan papers highlighting a “massive support of citizens”, the national Spanish papers quoting statements by the government in Madrid about the unfeasibility of the vote from a constitutional point of view.
Come what may, it has a long way to go, even if the first step was taken — partly, thanks to the momentum gained in September after a million people locked hands to form a 400 km human chain that snaked along the “border” between the richest region of Spain and the rest of the country, partly to deliver to Catalans, who very well know what they want.
“We would be the 4th country in Europe by GDP per capita,” said Jordi Prat, an electrical contractor. “Catalonia has no funds anymore for services or schools, and Madrid refused a fiscal pact like the one it signed with the Basque Countries. The parties of the Catalan government had not agreed on a vote yet, because it’s a break it or make it decision: if it fails, their leadership will be out, and they feared this,” explained Jordi.
The President of the Generalitat (the government of Catalonia), Artur Mas of Convergence and Union (CIU), a center-right “Catalanist” party, bought himself a year now to negotiate with Madrid. He also managed to hold together a “grand” coalition government ranging from the Republican Left (ERC), the Greens (ICV) and participatory democracy group (CUP), and to ensure the support of the ERC to pass the 2014 budget. He managed to square the circle, say observers in Barcelona.
After Franco’s dictatorship abolished Catalonia’s autonomy forbidding the Catalan language, and whatever would keep the culture alive, Catalan left parties have biased towards separatism, while conservatives have sided with a national Spanish stance. The two main national parties, the Partido Popular of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Socialist Party are now in a very uneasy situation. The chill between the central leadership of PSOE and the Catalan one, and among Catalan leaders themselves seems to be there to stay, if the former don’t back up and stop opposing the referendum. Some very active members of the Catalan PSOE consider opposing the vote as suicidal.
“Would you like Catalonia to become a state?” is the first question Catalans might be answering next year, and “Do you want this State to become independent?” is the second one. Observers were initially perplexed, but at a closer look, the purpose of getting the vote of PP and PSOE members becomes obvious — that is, the support of those Catalans who no longer want to transfer to Madrid 17 billion a year in taxes, and who believe that with a per capita GDP of € 27,430 — higher than the EU27 average of € 25,200, and than Spain’s, which amounts to € 23,100 — the region could exit the crisis long before Spain does. Independence, which is at the heart of the problem of respect and identity recognition, which this is all about, regards other issues, such as administrative constraints, the strategy for the port and for the airport, language and culture, and last but maybe not least for some, the opportunity to field an own Catalan football team at the World Cup.
“The date chosen, November 9, is not simply a random one,” noted Ed Hugh, an economist with a deep in-sight into Catalonia. “It is in fact the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, and the 300th anniversary of Catalonia’s incorporation into Spain. We can now anticipate a year of commemorative activities culminating in the September celebrations, and then the home straight run into 9 November. The mood here yesterday was one of excitement and anticipation. Almost jubilation. It’s a long time since I saw so many happy faces.”
“The referendum will not take place. The Constitution does not allow it,” cut short Prime Minister Rajoy. In addition, nobody knows if it will be successful. According to a survey commissioned by the national newspaper El Mundo, which opposes the dismemberment of Spain, only 43% of Catalans want Catalonia to be a state, and only 35.2% would like it to be independent.
At any rate, this is a totally new scenario for the EU, and it has many fundamental, regulatory and economic implications. An independent state of Catalunya would not be part of the EU, as Joaquin Almunia, Vice-President of the European Commission, promptly stated speaking to the Wall Street Journal. Catalans, vice versa, believe that an accession process is feasible (if Spain does not oppose it). After all, many say, in the end all states will be members of the Union.
The risk, however, is to open a Pandora’s box. Other regions of Europe are also clamouring for independence – Flanders, Scotland, Bavaria, Scania, not to mention the rest of Spain. The lively debate that is developing at the European level can only be welcome.