Catalonia: On a collision course with Madrid?

Opinion polls show most Catalans will vote for pro-independence parties as the Catalonian parliamentary election will take place on November, 25.

Questions:

1. If pro-independence parties will score well would you say that it will be serious threat for the integrity of Spain or impact would be limited?

2. We are witnessing some secessionist movements around Europe. Is the any role the EU can play to calm them down?

Answers:

Alejandro QuirogaReader in Spanish History, School of Historical Studies, Newcastle University

1. They will do well. The question is to know whether the Catalanist right (CiU) would get an absolute majority. In any case, the threat is very real, although CiU just joined the previously minority pro-independence front. All surveys suggest that a pro-independence parliament will emerge from this elections. The main issue is how to articulate the path to independence. An agreement by the political elites a la Czechoslovakia in 1993 is out of the question, as the Spanish parliament would reject secession.

2. Surely and in many ways the EU is already trying to calm them down, by not endorsing any of these movements. Artur Mas, the Catalan President, recently traveled to Brussels but got the cold shoulder by EU politicians. The EU message is clear: no new state would be automatically a new member of the EU. And this is crucial, as the majority of Catalans oppose an independent Catalonia outside the EU.

Carsten Humlebæk,  Assistant ProfessorDepartment of International Culture and Communication Studies, Copenhagen Business School

1. With regards to the Catalan regional elections and the internal Spanish situation: Well, the current president, Mas, is playing a high stakes game and the outcome is uncertain both in nominal terms (it is a question of majority or not to secessionist parties, since absolute majority to CiU seems out of the question) as well as in strategic-structural terms. It is likely however, that the secessionist parties gain a majority in the regional parliament, and that Mas therefore continues governing. His attitude so far has been rather confrontational as has the attitude of the Government in Madrid (Rajoy). There is no easy constitutional solution to the problem of secession or granting a region the right to secede. The only thing that – twisting the constitutional text somewhat – might be accorded is a referendum on secession called or authorized by the government/parliament in Madrid (somewhat like the Scottish solution), but very probably the constitutional problem would return after a referendum as polls show a majority of Catalans in favour of separation. To answer your question: the is a real risk or chance (depending of the point of view) of Catalonia taking a road towards independence. But there is also a chance of some kind of accord, the history of CiU would seem to support this view. The generally arrived at solutions with the governments in Madrid.

2. This is question that interests me a lot: As we are talking about internal conflicts within the member states, whichever the position of the EU/the Commission in the conflict will be destabilizing, unless, of course, it decides to stay out of the conflict. The current Catalan conflict serves as an example: Rajoy has been looking for support on several occasions and the pronouncements of commissioner Reading and others have seem to lend support to the Governments side in the conflict (that an independent Catalonia could not take membership for granted and that the country would have to apply for membership as any other new member state. As this is one of the few areas still governed by the principle of unanimity there is an implicit threat in this to Catalonia: other countries with similar problems as Spain are likely to veto Catalonia’s membership. This kind of action is not exactly helping to solve the problems or – even less – to calm things down. So the position of the EU is highly delicate and it really is difficult to see how the EU can play any active role in solving the problems or even just in calming them down. I am pretty sure they are watching the developments in Catalonia/Spain with anxiety in Brussels, not knowing really what to do. A bold kind of action would be to call for some kind of intergovernmental conference on how to solve these issues, but such an initiative is likely to be blocked by the countries in question, since they don’t want to give up their sovereignty on how to solve these issues, or really how not to solve these issues. And the EU has enough other problems to take care of right know with the destabilizing of the EURO-systems due the economic crisis and the resulting crisis of sovereign debt, a conflicts which is threatening to divide the EURO in two and threatening even the stability of the European Union as such, to really have the political will to engage in this kind of problems.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo, Lecturer, King’s College London

1. I don’t think that there is a serious threat to the integrity of Spain. But I think there will be a change in the allocation of tax revenue affecting not only Catalonia but the whole of the country. In that sense, it could be argued that the result of the regional election in Catalonia might have a long-term impact.

2. I think that the EU cannot really play any role in calming separatist movements across the EU. This is due to two reasons. Firstly, member states do not want the EU to interfere in what they consider to be domestic affairs. Secondly, the EU has to concentrate on solving the Eurozone crisis and other, more pressing issues, so it has little time and political capital to spend on dealing with separatism.

Luis Bouza Garcia, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of East Anglia

1. Well, the threat is not for integrity but rather for political stability. The central government is opposed to independence and it is very likely to refuse negotiation on secession, so independence will not happen the day after the elections. I am not convinced that it is the real aim of the usually moderate nationalists of CiU likely to get re-election. This may also be a push for even more autonomy. However on the long term the Spanish government cannot keep permanent rejection to consider the constitutional future of Catalonia within Spain, so there may be a discussion about that sooner or later, but I don’t think independence is likely to happen soon.

2. That’s a good and paradoxical question. Yes the EU can and is doing things to oppose national secession: the Commission has said that any new state resulting from secession of member states will find itself outside the EU and having to obtain agreement to get back from all the states (including the one it has just quit). The Commission has just confirmed that by turning that a citizens’ initiative asking that new states seceding from EU members be granted EU membership automatically.

However, on the other hand, the EU is the strongest indirect promoter of secessionist movements. If the EU did not exist, secessionist regions would find themselves having to build a state among unfriendly neighbours, and doing traditional things like building a new army and producing currency (I guess, as SK did in the 90s). However today the EU is at peace internally at assured externally by NATO, and most of its states have surrendered their monetary policy. So the option of independence seems less dramatic than it may have been a few years ago (again, when SK gained independence). EU integration changes completely the perception of borders, and ideas of sovereignty and independence, in favour of shared governance and mutual dependence.

William Chislett, Associate Researcher, Elcano Royal Institute

All the opinion polls say that the centre right CiU, the party that governs Catalonia, will not get an absolute majority on its own but that together with the Catalan Republican Left party, which is a more radical party and has long been at the forefront of independence, it will have a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament. Assuming this happens, the next step will be to hold a referendum, which the central government in Madrid has already declared illegal. The constitution gives the central government exclusive powers over the callings of referendums and the constitution also declares the ‘indissoluble unity’ of Spain. So clearly the central government and the next government of Catalonia will be on a collision course. The push for independence will also give wings to the independence movement in the Basque Country where Bildu became the second-largest party in the Basque parliament in that region’s elections held in October. No one knows where all this will end.

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