The Catalan vote: which consequences for Spain and European Union?
After the Scots set up a referendum on their possible regional secession, Catalans expressed their opinion on the debated issue of independence from the rest of Spain. However, while Scotland has officially “cast its vote”, what has happened in the Spanish wealthiest region will not have any real consequence for the moment. The ballot, which was supposed to be an official referendum, was actually turned into an “illegal” informal consultation. The oppositions from the Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (Partido Popular) and the halt of the Constitutional Court have blocked this initiative, considered as unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Nonetheless, grassroots pro-independence organizations with the official support of the Convergència i Unió (CiU) and the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) set up a non-binding ballot on November 9th, which was ultimately outlawed by the Constitutional Court. According to the officials, there were more than 2 million voters and they were asked two questions: whether they want Catalonia to be a state and whether they want to be independent. According to opinion polls, 80% of Catalans would like to have more autonomy and 50% are in favor of a full independence.
Rajoy minimized the massive turnout by stressing the fact that it would be unfair if Catalonia took a decision which could affect the rest of Spain. “It’s false that the right to vote can be assigned unilaterally to one region about a matter that affects all Spaniards”, the Spanish Prime Minister said in a statement. “It’s profoundly anti-democratic”, he added.
Central government’s harsh attitude against a possible secession has been criticized for not being respectful of different opinions, in other words for not being democratic. It is true that the Prime Minister has shown inflexibility on this matter and his firm approach could be questionable. Besides, it is also important to note that his intransigence could lead to a radicalization of Catalan’s political parties, transforming Artur Mas – leader of CiU – into a hero who has fought for the future of Catalonia.
However, what could happen if Catalonia decided to become a separated state? What would be the consequences for Spain and for the rest of European Union?
It is well known that this northern region accounts for one fifth of Spain’s economic output, therefore secession could bring disastrous consequences for one of the countries most affected by the debt crisis. Solidarity seems needed now more than ever. EU is facing a moment of dramatic economic instability and the solution could be a stronger unity and a reinforced cooperation between Member States and between regions within the Member States. Catalonia’s secession could encourage other European regions to follow its example, leading to a balkanization of Europe.
During recent years of deep depression, breakaway parties have gained a new momentum in Europe, especially in those countries with big regional differences in term of culture, income and population. Just look at EU elections’ results. While the traditional parties (Partido Popular and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español) lost votes and seats in the European Parliament in comparison with 2009, the ERC won for the first time in 80 years in Catalonia. The resurgence of the Catalan regional identity dates from the mid-1970s when Spain returned to democracy following the fall of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. However, the current economic situation in Spain could have exacerbated Catalonia’s breakaway feelings. What Catalans argue is that they pay more billions of Euros in taxes than they actually get from the central government. Having said this, if Catalonia became independent, it could concentrate its own resources on the improvement of sectors such as health and education. In other words, this could lead to better life conditions for its citizens.
On the other hand, Catalonia represents one of the greatest beneficiaries of EU solidarity, receiving billions in the form of structural funds and the regional government is in debt of €62 billion, according to the Spanish central bank’s figures for the second quarter of 2014. Therefore, a separated Catalonia will probably be forced to apply for the EU’s bail-out mechanism. In this scenario, will Europe be supportive towards a region which has shown a dubious solidarity towards its own country?
Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)
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