MARIANA DUQUE D*
Spain has been through one of the most hectic months in its recent history because of the independence movement of Catalonia. Mass protests, financial instability, and critics to the measures taken are just some of the issues that this country is currently facing. However, Catalonia’s nationalism and their fight for independence is not new.
Catalonia is one of the regions that composes the Spanish State. Its federalist system was created due to Spain’s considerable differences in terms of culture and history. Like the Basques or the moors, Catalan people have their own identity and an unique language. These aspects have been a problem in certain moments of the Spanish nation’s past. For example, the succession war (XVI century) when the Catalan institutions were abolished by the Bourbon king Philip V, when the region made strong opposition to the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, or when Francisco Franco interdicted the Catalonian culture and language. The 1978 Constitution, wrote after Franco’s death, created a huge nationalism feeling, thanks to the autonomy power that it gave to Catalonia.
All those historical facts have been used by this region to prove why they want to be an independent country, instead of keeping the autonomy that it already has. Nevertheless, other important situations have also contributed to strengthening their claims. First, in 2006 a statute granted some financial power to Catalonia describing it like a nation, but then, in 2010, the Constitutional Court disapproved most of it. Catalans perceived the situation as an offence of their identity and autonomy. Afterward, the 2008 crisis hit Spain and Catalonia, increasing the community’s annoyance. The region accounts for 19% of Spanish GDP and approximately the 25% of Spanish exports, but it receives 5% of the GDP in spending, which generates a feeling that it is the Catalans who assume the problems of other areas of the country.
The reasons explained above led in part to a controversial referendum last October 1. According to the organizer, 90% of the people supported the independence, and the turnout was 43% (near to 2,050,000 voters). However, Catalan movements that support the secession denounced that more than 750,000 votes could not be counted due to the intervention of the national forces that confiscated urns, and other kind of irregularities that were reported. Other key factor was the role of the parties loyal to Spain: they incentivized people to not take part in the referendum, which means that the ‘No’ vote didn’t necessarily represent the wishes of Catalonia.
Before this vote, regional government held a non-binding vote in 2014, asking people about the independence. In that occasion the ‘yes’ option won with 81% of support, and the turnout was 37%. Although it was only a symbolic event, it reflects the same dilemma: it suggests that there is a big majority backing Catalonia’s independence, but the abstentionism leaves space for doubts about this.
Spain’s government reacted by declaring the vote illegal as of October 1, and the Constitutional Court rejected it by its unconstitutional status, based on the 1978 constitution that stipulates “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. While the prime minister Mariano Rajoy had called for the respect of the state of law, Carles Puigdemont (president of the Generalitat of Catalonia), was looking for the European Union mediation.
Despite the tensions between the central government and the authorities in Catalonia, the Spanish breached some limits of protection of individual’s integrity. The European Union argued that is not its duty to intervene in the situation because it is imperative to respect Spain’s sovereignty. The two principles that are disputing their prevalence are, in one hand, the right to self-determination, and in the other hand, the respect of the internal issues of State nations. Nonetheless, the international community (represented by the European Union) decided to respect the legal framework of this Member State, in this case the Constitution.
What comes next?
Catalonia’s independence declaration is more of a political act, than a strict creation of a new State. First, it is necessary to establish a territory with population governed by just one organism, with their own institutions. It means that Spanish government must give in to the territorial control to Catalonia, which is not that simple. Central government has also the Article 155 of the country’s Constitution as a resource to suspend Catalonia’s authority because of the risks for national unity and its “fails to fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way seriously prejudicing the general interests of Spain”. This could be the first time, since the creation of 1978 Constitution, that this article is invoked.
In parallel, the region must consolidate their own law, judges, armed forces and other institutions that allow them to get the full territorial control, the monopoly of the arms and the tax cooper. In a second moment, the international recognition would have a considerable role. Even if the first challenge is in the internal sphere, other of the fundamental elements for understand a national State is the acceptance of their new order which leads to respect the sovereignty, another key element in the composition of any State. In this point the international community has a new duel, if other territorial issues round the world are considered. The recognition or delegitimization of Catalonia as a new State, could give rise to different national claims which compromise the interests of other States.
In that order, the questions about Catalonia’s independence can revolve around the capacity of their institutions, the acceptance of their own community to obey a new law framework (regarding is not clear if there is a majority back of the independence process) and the recognition of other national States. Can Catalonia get over this challenges and hold on the Spanish actions?
BBC News. (2017, 6 Oct). Does Catalonia want to leave Spain?. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29478415 [Accessed 22 Oct. 2017].
BBC News. (2017, 2 Oct). Catalonia region profile. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20345071 [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].
CASTANO, A. (2017, 19 Oct). Spain prepares to suspend Catalonia's autonomy amid independence disagreement. [online] ABC News. Available at:
http://abcnews.go.com/International/spain-prepares-suspend-catalonias-autonomy-amid-independence-disagreement/story?id=50586234 [Accessed 23 Oct. 2017].
Minder, R. (2017). Article 155: The ‘Nuclear Option’ That Could Let Spain Seize Catalonia. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 24 October 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/world/europe/catalonia-article-155.html
Roden, L. (2017). This is what could happen if Catalonia declares independence. Thelocal.es. Retrieved 25 October 2017, from https://www.thelocal.es/20171010/this-is-what-could-happen-if-catalonia-declares-independence
Spain - European Union - European Commission. European Union. Retrieved 22 October 2017, from https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/countries/member-countries/spain_en
Stone, J., & Cockburn, H. (2017). The EU won't intervene in the Catalonia independence crisis. The Independent. Retrieved 25 October 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/catalonia-referendum-eu-not-involve-spain-independence-crisis-catalan-separatists-police-ballot-a7959696.html
*Estudiante de la facultad de Ciencias Políticas de la Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.