Catalonia and the referendum phenomena

, by Georgia McKinson, Michael Vogtmann

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Catalonia and the referendum phenomena
Independence supporters celebrate the outcome of the regional elections in Catalonia © Daniel López García (Flickr)/ CC BY 2.0-License

What was permitted to Scotland was denied to Catalonia: A referendum regarding its independence. As a reaction the Catalonian separatists described the regional vote as a quasi-referendum with uncertain exit. Yet is the Catalonian wish for independence only another symptom of a renationalisation of Europe or could the European idea and the desire for more regionalism develop positive synergies? An alternative perspective.

The regional elections change everything. The regional elections change nothing. This is the conclusion after the elections of the regional parliament of the autonomy society Catalonia from 27 September. For Artur Mas, the top candidate of the separatist election alliance “Junts pel Sí” the election result is a mandate to lead his country until 2017 into the independence from Spain. The election alliance exists mostly out of the liberal conservative CDC and the left republican ERC as well as smaller parties. The alliance formed itself with the sole purpose which was made thematically to the centre of the election campaign: the independence from Spain. For the political actors Spain’s this is merely a regional election which has no influence on the Spanish constitution in which the “insoluble unity of the Spanish nation” is written down. Similarly the Spanish justice leaves no doubt regarding this and leaves out no opportunity to clearly express this to the Catalonian separatists.

Separatist grave struggles

In November last year Artur Mas the former minister president of Catalonia held a referendum regarding the independence of Catalonia. The Spanish federal court had declared in advance the referendum for invalid, which is why the separatists declared it as an unbinding public opinion poll. Despite this unbinding nature the federal court prohibited also this poll, which still occurred, for which Mas has to now face charges of improper use of tax money before court.

Catalonia says yeno

The voter turnout of the regional election this September was over 77 percent. With a little under forty percent Mas election alliance received the most votes, however they missed the clear majority.

The partly left extremist CUP did not want to participate in the election campaign with the Mas alliance, however speaks clearly out for the independence of Spain. Together with the seats of the CUP the independence supporters would have had a majority of 72 of 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament. If the election result was read as a referendum it would be interpreted as: The independence of Spain is a controversial topic, which moves the citizens of Catalonia which was seen in the high participation in the elections. Half of the voters support the independence, the other half does not. However also many out of economic reasons migrated ethnic Spanish had an influence on the election.

On the highway to independence?

A secession of Catalonia as a consequence of the close majority of the supporters in Parliament is no implicitness. If the separatists of the alliance and the CUP achieve to overcome ideological differences and form a stable government, it is still uncertain if such regional government could move forward an independence. All organs of the Spanish central state express themselves in this question confrontational and refuse to look into the topic of the independence of Catalonia - different as for example the British government in the Scotland question. What the future brings for Catalonia is completely uncertain. If the actors on both sides continue to show each other unrelenting, an escalation of the conflict which could bring violence cannot be excluded. The Basque country should here be used as a reminding example.

Separatisms - Why?

Often it is difficult for outsiders to understand the motivation of the separatists. It is misjudged that separatism in general and in Catalan separatism specifically a fight for survival of a culture is expressed. A culture which through an assimilation in a national central culture is in danger to lose its individuality. Not without reason is one of the goals of the European Union the preservice of the many European languages, also the languages of national minorities.

The history of an endangered language

Catalan is no Spanish dialect as many suspect. For a speaker of Catalan, which is often described simply as Spanish, it is a foreign language, which is related with its own language, such as for example Portuguese or Italian. Thereby the Catalan language is widely spread in the region of the western Mediterranean Sea. It is spoken in parts of South France, in wide parts of northwest Spain and on the Baleares and even in a region of Sardinia. In the princedom Andorra Catalan is even the official exclusive language. Thereby it is a language which over wide parts of the history fought a battle for survival. From the time after the Spanish succession wars until the time of the fascist Franco dictatorship, the Catalan language was oppressed. And even today there is a suppression of the Catalan language, which partly is also a political goal of the separatism opponents.

Separatism in Europe

Many of the outside observers see the regional separatism as a form of the resurgent nationalism or anti-global or anti-European provincialism. Indeed there are definitely xenophobic and also anti-European regional movements such as the Lega North in Italy or the Vlaams Belang in Belgian, but this is only part of the overall picture.

As well as the examples of Catalonian as Scotland illustrate is that the perception cannot hold up to an exact view. The Scottish SNP which had the independence of Scotland as its declared goal is at the same time the most pro-European party of the whole of Great Britain, which timewise even supported the admission of the Euro in Scotland. Also Artur Mas liberal CDC and his alliance partner ERC are clearly pro-European. For pro-European separatist movements the European combination is in the best case even a replacement for a national combination, which would have advantages for example in the area of the foreign and defence politics, in which no region or small nation in Europe really can act sovereign.

The Europe of the regions

It is easy to mistake separatism with scattered regionalism which the European Union was supposed to overcome. But the separatism of Artur Mas from Catalonia or Alex Salmond from Scotland, within the European Context has nothing to do with scattered regionalism. Maybe in a Europe of regions it is easier to realise a European federalism than as in today’s Europe of the big nations? Whereby region at the same time could mean nation in the case of small states such as Bulgaria or Slovenia. What does the state independence of a region within a Europe mean, in which we have a common currency, can travel, work and live everywhere without border controls? It means certainly that we need to think about subsidiarity, over power, competencies and the meaning of the national state in Europe of the 21st Century and not lastly also about a common European identity. Insofar the separatists are no enemies of the European thought, but rather allies, which can thereby help to critical question the national state dominating status quo. Thus one could find solution which are combine common European as well as citizen near and regional politics.

Your comments
  • On 24 October 2015 at 20:48, by Giuseppe Marrosu Replying to: Catalonia and the referendum phenomena

    I agree. Catalonian independence from Spain could be good for the EU. Spain has no moral right to oppose a free choice by Catalonia on this issue. European democratic values are incompatible with the policy of preventing the self-determination of peoples. Anyway what do the spanish want? As a member of the EU independent from Spain Catalonia would share with them the same currency and external borders, the same EU budget (Catalonian money would still be flowing to Spain although less than now) and probably the same alliances (NATO). That is not OK with them, it seems that what they really want is to dominate the Catalans, force them to speak spanish, obey their king, depend on them. Is that for practical reasons (taxes) or for a need for self-assertion?

    Sure enough, if Catalonia somehow broke free of Spain it would be against the will of the spanish governement; then Spain would keep Catalonia from joining the EU and other international organizations. We should then expel Spain and welcome Catalonia. If Spain prevented that too, we should all leave the EU and the Euro and refound them with Catalonia and without Spain; and the new EU should not be bound to unanimity regarding accession or expulsion of member states. If some members do not like a new member they can always leave. The spanish would then eventually come to their senses and ask to join the new EU.

    This is how we should deal with all the countries who act contrary to european values and common interests. We should not negotiate with them. If they accept these very broad standards they’re in, if not, no one can oblige them, but no one can force us to keep them either.

    Freedom and independence work both ways.

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