Alberto Mingardi  

The Catalonian secession and the EU

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The Catalonian regional election was won by the separatist parties, which are now heading towards independence following their leader, Presidente Arturo Màs. This would create much trouble at the national level. The Partido Popular of Mr Rajoy perhaps hasn't reacted in the smartest way. The Wall Street Journal reports that Xavier García Albiol, regional leader of the Popular Party, commented that "The vote, with a very high turnout, has made it very clear that a majority of Catalans don't want to break with Spain". And yet the success of the secessionists appears unambiguous.

Jan Marot at Politico.eu has some interesting take-aways from the Catalonian elections.The most intriguing point, to me, is the fourth:

Since there is no EU roadmap for the independence of regions within member states, a swift secession of Catalonia would automatically exclude the new nation from the European Union and the euro. However, looking at the economic strength of Catalonia, as well as its democratic, hugely pro-European society, it is likely that neither Brussels, nor many EU-member-states, would have the appetite to punish a Catalan Republic. There will be vigorous pressure for compromise, and creative solutions. As far as nationality is concerned, Spain's constitution highlights that citizens "living abroad" can keep their Spanish passport. Thus, it is likely that the citizens of a Catalan Republic -- even without membership of the EU -- would still keep their EU-citizenship in an unprecedented anomaly.

This would be very interesting to watch. The Catalonian secessionists have long been saying that they want to remain part of the EU and of NATO. But the Spanish government is holding the line that secession would mean de facto expulsion from the EU.

This might well be true, since the EU is, after all, basically a cartel of existing nation states. EU Commission President Juncker has come out on Catalonia, taking a position that actually favours, surprise surprise, the Spanish government. Interestingly enough, Juncker's remarks were far more sober in their English than in their Spanish version.

One interesting question is whether being so steadfast on secession would actually be good, taking the viewpoint of the EU ruling class' own self-interest. I wonder if actually openly recognising the right of self-determination within exiting European member-states won't help the eurocrats in getting what they really want: that is, more transfer of power to Brussels, in the context of a "federal" Europe. Could it be that newer smaller states are okay with renouncing some of their prerogatives more easily than old nation states?

Of course, with the exception of Scotland, what most secessionist movements are opposed to is the drainage of resources from their pockets to the benefit of other areas within the same national boundaries. This rhetoric of "exploitation" may be exaggerated but if there is some truth in it, it is easy to see that Catalonia (or Lombardy or Bavaria) seceding may entail a few headaches for profligate national governments.

There would be room here for the EU to act as a mediator, to propose guidelines for ordered secession, to guarantee impeccable democratic procedures in the process. The secessionists should be all for it, as making sure one is renouncing his Spanish passport but not to Schengen is also a good way to assure the world that there are not looking forward to establish a parochial, xenophobic small state. The eurocrats should be for it, too. They always claim they do not have enough of a political role. Will they try to gain one?


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CATEGORIES: Eurozone crisis




COMMENTS (4 to date)
_NL writes:

I had an international politics professor in the early 00s who was confident that the rise of transnational institutions, specifically the EU, would also promote secession and more local communities. He thought this was good.

If your country exists as a practical route to achieve political ends related to prosperity and security, and then suddenly the EU is more crucial to that goal than being part of the country, then your sense of national or ethnic identity can be asserted at less cost.

I think his examples were things like Brittany and Belgium, but I'm sure he would've considered Catalonia and Scotland to fit perfectly in his theory.

Jose Romeu Robazzi writes:

The EU phenomenal has created another "government level". What political organization needs 4 government levels? EU, national governments, provinces and cities... Either EU level or national level is redundant. Take a look at what is going on at Belgium... The national government is becoming less and less important . The EU bodies should become more and more a normative body, and actual government should be the provinces or small states level, the redundant "national" bodies should disappear ...

J Hanley writes:

It's not clear to me why Catalonian independence without EU membership would mean Catalonia would be excluded from the Euro. There are already several states that already use the Euro without being an EU member, as well as a number that have adopted the U.S. dollar as their currency.

Of course all those states are economically smaller than Catalonia, so perhaps it would not be the best course for them (although it might reassure investors), but my point here is not about wisdom, but possibility.

EB writes:

First, it is not clear what the outcome of the regional election will be at the regional level. The separatist parties have yet to form a new government and negotiations may bring about interesting surprises.

Second, although a majority of Catalans may not want to break with Spain, too many parties are included in that majority and some may negotiate with separatist parties a solution close to independence. Never trust a socialist, in particular one associated with PSOE (Spain’s Socialist party).

Third, there are at least two important differences between Cataluña and País Vasco. In PV a majority want to break with Spain (say 60% in PV vs. 45% in Cataluña). And in PV there are two main separatist parties with opposing ideologies. Most likely, these two parties will never be able to reach a common position to negotiate independence with Madrid (in the last regional election one party got 35% of the vote and the other 25%). Thus, one can simplify and say that in País Vasco the vote is divided in three thirds and it is difficult for any two of them to negotiate with Madrid a change in the current status, whereas in Cataluña, there are too many parties in each of the two sides to form a coalition large enough to govern the region and to negotiate a new status (not necessarily independence) with Madrid. Those differences make difficult for the separatist parties of the two regions to coordinate strategies to negotiate with Madrid.

Fourth, most likely neither the Basque government nor any new Catalonian government will be able to take advantage of whatever happens in Spain’s general election (either December 13 or 20, 2015). It is expected that in January, Spain will have a coalition government —either one including the Partido Popular (the one with absolute majority today) or the PSOE but not both. In the past four years, at least two other parties emerged led by young people that were not allowed to compete within the two largest parties. But none coalition government will be able to draft a new Constitution to accommodate the demands of separatist parties in Cataluña and País Vasco. At least for 2016, the probability that the new government will be able to draft a proposal is close to zero and the probability of negotiating a change in the status of the two regions without reforming the Constitution is zero.

Fifth, the conflict between Cataluña (or País Vasco) and Madrid will continue for a long time. Change will not take place through another Civil War and none outsider (in particular EU) can bribe the parts to negotiate a solution. In addition, the prospects of high economic growth are not good at all so we should expect the old conflict to escalate and become increasingly focused on how income will be redistributed across regions.

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