Catalonia: A new state in Europe?

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Localization of Catalonia in Spain and Europe

On the next first of October it will be held in Catalonia the referendum to its independence. This referendum was considered illegal by the Spanish government but the outcome of this referendum can be very important for the future of Spain and of the European Union. To better understand this referendum we need to understand the reasons that are behind it.

Catalonia is an autonomous region located in the Northeast of Spain, bordering both France and the Mediterranean Sea as you can see in the map above. It has several distinctive factors from the rest of Spain most notoriously the Catalan language (that is also spoken in other regions of Spain, Andorra, and in small parts of France and Italy), and several cultural traits like building a human tower, called castell (meaning castle in catalan) or the ‘sardana’, a type of circle dance. Historically the region was part of the Crown of Aragon, which even had a Mediterranean empire including a Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Southern Italy and even a portion of Greece. However in 1469 the Aragon and Castilian crowns united under Ferdinand the first, and this led to a centralisation of power in Madrid that led to the Catalan Revolt in 1640-1652. Afterwards in the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1715) they supported the Austrian Habsburg pretender Charles VI against Phillip V from the French house of Bourbon. Eventually they lost the war and the region became under Spanish or more exactly Castilian control. During the XIX century Catalonia endured a process of industrialization while Catalan nationalism developed. Later, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Catalonia fought alongside the republicans that eventually lost the War against the fascist Francisco Franco. His dictatorship was particularly harsh for Catalans since their culture was heavily repressed and Catalan language banned from public use. Despite that, industry and services developed a lot during this period attracting many migrants from other regions of Spain. Since 1975, after Franco’s death, Catalonia recovered its autonomy, restoring the parliament in 1977. It’s also important to note that Catalonia, and the Catalan countries, are not the only regions of Spain with important differences from Spain, like the Basque Country and Navarra, two regions in the North of Spain with a language that has no other known relative as well as other cultural differences. They have also been fighting for independence and more autonomy, including violent acts done by the terrorist organization, ETA.

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The ‘estalada’, the flag of catalan separatism

There are two many reasons that justify the independence of Catalonia, the economic reason and the sociocultural reason:

Regarding the economic argument, Catalans state that they are being treated unfairly by the Spanish state. The region has 16% of the Spain’s total population but accounts for 19% of its GDP. Data from 2011 showed that the region paid €8,5bn more in taxes than what it got back, a tax deficit from the Spanish state of around 8%. State investment in Catalonia is also decreasing, from nearly 16% in 2003 for 9,5% in 2015. They also have the third largest trade surplus in EU being Luxembourg and Ireland. So despite Catalonia being the fourth Spanish region with an higher GDP per capita and the richest Spanish region in terms of total GDP, many Catalans feel that the region could be even better economically if it was not integrated in Spain. Public infrastructures that are under central government jurisdiction are also in worst conditions than others in other regions, like it happens with the connections to Barcelona Airport, that don’t have a metro connection, has a poor train service and old roads while Madrid Barajas Airport has a metro and train connections and more recent roads. So there is a feeling that Catalonia is being forgotten by the central government.

Regarding the sociocultural argument, Catalonia is indeed a territory with unique characteristics when compared with the rest of Spain. The Catalan language is spoken by 9,5 million people the majority of them in Catalonia. Unlike what many people think, this is not a dialect of Spanish but rather a true Romance (Latin) language that is the brother language to Occitan, a minority language spoken in the South of France. Catalans have a lot of pride on their language, the 14th most spoken in European Union, specially because they were forbidden of doing so during Franco’s dictatorship, and they think an independent Catalonia will make it easier to protect it as well as other traditions like the castell or the sardana. Catalonia has also some quite distinctive aspects like the fact that Bullfighting, a big tradition in the rest of Iberian Peninsula, was banned in 2010.

Politically Catalonia autonomous community is governed by the Junts per Si (Together for yes in Catalan), a coalition that joins centre-right (the Catalan European Democratic Part, the biggest party and the Democrats of Catalonia) and leftist parties (like the Republican Left of Catalonia and the Left Movement). All of this parties favor, albeit with some differences among them, the independence of Catalonia. In the last regional elections they gained a total of 62 seats and a percentage of 39,6%. In second place it came, the Ciduadanos ( Citizens) with 17,9% and 25 seats, a liberal party that is against the independence of Catalonia, but curiously founded by a Catalan, Albert Rivera. In third place, came the PSOE (Socialist Party) with 14,4% and 16 seats won, in fourth the Catatlunya Si que és Pot, a leftist party linked to Podemos, with 8,9% and 11 seats won, in fifth the Partido Popular (Popular Party), the right wing party that governs Spain had 8,5% and 11 seats. Finally in fifth place it came the CUP, with 8,2% and 10 seats, a radical left part that defends the idea of a Great Catalonia which means not only the independence of Catalonia but also of other Catalan speaking regions (Països Catalans), the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands.

Among the main Spanish political parties, the Popular Party is clearly against the independence of Catalonia as well as the referendum and also giving more autonomy to the region, they rejected a proposal of fiscal autonomy by the Catalan government. The socialist party also rejects the independence and the referendum to the independence of Catalonia but they are willing to give them more autonomy, integrated in a federalist Spain. The Citizens is anti-independence and anti-federalist as it can be seen is this statement from its leader Albert Rivera: ‘Catalonia is my homeland, Spain is my country and Europe is our future’. They also defend strengthening the powers of the Spanish central institutions and decreasing the powers of regional administrations. Meanwhile Podemos does not officially support the independence of Catalonia, although some members are in favor like their Catalan wing, the Catalunya Si que és pot, but they support the referendum to the independence and more powers to autonomous governments across Spain.

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Map of the Catalan speaking regions

Regarding the possible outcome of the referendum the Yes and the No seem to be neck and neck on the last polls. Out of the four polls done this year, three of them give the victory to yes and the other gives the victory to the no, although the maximum difference between the two outcomes is just 4,6% and there are still a sizeable amount of undecided voters that can change the final outcome, so the final result should be very close. Some important remarks that are important to make are the following: the Catalans that have a Catalan origin tend to support more the yes independent Catalonia while the Spanish origin people that live in Catalonia, tend to support more the no and the yes tends to have more support in rural areas where live older people that still remember the oppression their culture suffered under Franco’s dictatorship. Another interesting thing is that the refusal of the Spanish government, unlike the UK one, to accept this referendum is probably increasing the number of people that wants to vote yes because Catalans can see that Spain is a democracy with many flaws. However, even if the yes wins in this referendum that will not automatically mean an independent Catalonia, because this referendum was considered illegal by the Spanish state. If the yes does indeed win, this can lead to Catalan institutions trying to separate the region from Spain which could mean, Spanish central government giving more autonomy to Catalonia, like the long-sought fiscal autonomy or if central government doesn’t yield this can end with the Spanish military being used to suppress the Catalans will to self-determination which would be a grievous attack to the international law.

Another very important question is that if an independent Catalonia would have to apply to EU membership or if because it’s already a region of European Union, it would still continue to be a part of the European Union, now as a country. It’s important to reach a conclusion about this because this question could be decisive to the final outcome of the referendum, having in consideration that the vast majority of Catalans are pro-EU. Unlike what some international press says the self-determination process in Catalonia as in other nations like Scotland is not a danger to Europe, and not a sign of its division, but a clear demonstration of healthy democracy. This referendum, especially if the yes wins can also give more strength to other pro-independence /self-determination movements like the Basque, the South Tyrolean, the Northern Irish, the Flemish and the Bavarian.

 

Wrote by Pedro Diogo, Economic’s Bachelor graduate

 

Bibliography

Texts

La Vanguardia

http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20170514/422577266884/europeos-independencia-espana-catalunya.html

El Món

http://elmon.cat/noticia/209219/el-40-dels-espanyols-vol-que-sapliqui-larticle-155-si-es-convoca-el-referendum

BBC

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29478415

The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/09/catalonia-calls-independence-referendum-for-october-spain

The Telegraf

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/09/tensions-grow-spain-catalonia-independence-referendum-confirmed/

Images

Catalonia in Spain and Europe

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34787795

Catalan independence flag

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estelada

Catalan speaking territories

http://politica.e-noticies.cat/la-cup-encara-creu-en-els-paisos-catalans-71916.html