No Homage to Catalonia’s Referendum

Another challenge to the EU

Suddenly the EU has found itself presented with a new challenge, very different from that posed by the UK’s vote to leave the EU, but one also posed by a referendum, this time an illegal one in the country Spain in which it took place. Any breaking up of countries is destabilising and cannot be welcome to the EU. If a region does break away and declare itself independent, the EU cannot be expected to recognise that independence unless the country from which it has broken away also does. Because, at a point in time, just over 50% of those voting vote for independence is not a good reason to change decades or centuries of history, since on a likely turnout it would not represent anywhere near 50% of the electorate. In the case of the Catalan referendum the 90% result in favour from 42% of the electorate has to be set against the fact that those who disagreed with the referendum did not vote at all and regional election results have given less than 50% of the vote to parties calling for independence. The referendum on independence has divided Catalonia roughly in half, while there is an alternative—pressure for greater autonomy within Spain–which could unite much of both sides of the divide.


Stand firm on Spanish unity but encourage negotiation

Other EU countries, the EU Commission and EU members of parliament should be firm on not recognising the referendum or any declaration of independence.

However, while holding firm to the unity of Spain, the EU can informally advise the Spanish authorities on their approach. There is no point in physically trying to prevent voting taking place – doing so only incites those in favour of independence to become more committed to their cause and makes it look as though Spain is acting as a colonial power, which is not the case since the 1978 constitution was voluntarily agreed by Catalonia as by the rest of Spain and the region has equal rights with other regions. Unfortunately there are different interpretations of the constitution. Not only the Catalans but also the Socialist Party (PSOE) clearly considered that the constitution allowed greater autonomy than initially provided to be given to Catalonia since they negotiated an  agreement for greater autonomy and had it passed by both national and regional parliaments in 2006 when the Socialists had a majority. However the Spanish Popular Party (PP) did not agree and challenged the agreement in the Constitutional Court. After years of deliberation (if the answer was clear from the wording surely the deliberation would have been much shorter) in 2010 the Court ruled against the main provisions for increased autonomy. The best political answer to the problem would be for there to be a negotiation on changes to the 1978 constitution which would allow a greater degree of autonomy to Catalonia than to other Spanish regions (except for the Basque region which already has special provisions).

This should be the informal advice that other EU countries and the EU institutions should give to Spain and Catalonia. The unity of Spain should be firmly upheld but any attempt at physical repression will weaken not strengthen Spain.

One thought on “No Homage to Catalonia’s Referendum

  1. After an interest – although contradicting – conference, yesterday, I have the impression in the best case scenario the referendum was the means to obtain the status of Basque country and certainly not the independence. This would make sense and capable negotiators from both sides might defuse the storm. Hopefully the leaders have ignited the historic hard feelings of the people with the intention to bark maybe to bite, but without fighting in order to get a victory to regret. However Catalonia will not bear ending like the loosing villain. Nothing to do with the hard American Independence or the Scottish soft Referendum, ended in peace.

    The worst scenario for Catalonia would indeed be to succeed in obtaining the independence from Spain, as it would turn immediately in a self inflicting disaster. Banks are already starting to suggest their customers to remove their savings in Saragozza, 300km from Barcellona. Foreign investments would drop and rapidly withdrawn. The only currency on the horizon to replace the Euro would be Bitcoin to start with. No hope for the rescue form EU, inhibited to interfere in internal affair of any state members. Maybe France or Germany may transfer their friendly concern via diplomatic channel, but only in favor of Spain. The outstanding debt denominated in € will be impossible to repay causing the default of Catalonia to start with. As a consequence creditors will trigger legal claims against Spain having allowed, reluctantly or not, an irresponsible secession. Etc etc. Basically Independence if any, will end in a Hara-Kiri.

    These are my personal opinions based only on solid and rational pragmatism, without no pulse of daydreaming like Alice in wonderland. Eye opening should start gradually.

    Far better fo Catalonia to cool down the foolish stance and obtain what you said since the beginning. Essential for Spain to use wisdom and intelligent diplomacy,

    Marcello Mancini

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