Catalan referendum is another sign of disintegration tendency in the world. With all its controvercial iisues, it presents a new possibility to change borders in the post-Cold war Europe. Why do people unite in their small communities and search for enemies within their former allies?
For someone Catalan referendum might seem puzzling. Catalonia has already its own language, flag, autonomous government and police. Catalan school books differ from the Spanish ones and teach different variant of history to children, stressing the occupation of Catalonia by Spain. Why do Catalans want even more independence?
In reality, presently, Catalonia has less autonomy as it had once. Strong autonomous requests from Catalans in 1930s influenced the start of the Spanish Civil War. Later Franco regime started repressions against Catalan nationalism, decreasing their civil rights and forbidding the Catalan language. After Spain returned to democracy, Catalonia was getting more freedoms back, however not all of them. As now Catalonia is the most developed region of Spain with its unique culture, it would like to have its voice heard both at Spanish and international levels.
From the other side, the idea of overwhelming majority of Catalonians dreaming of full independence is definite.
The economic crisis in Spain raised the independent tendencies in Catalonia as the region did not want to send all its money to support less developed regions of the country. Later pro-independence support was falling. According to the survey made by the Catalan government’s Center for Opinion Studies, in July this year only 35% of Catalonians supported independence. Therefore, the 90% ‘yes’ vote from 43% turnout can be explained by ‘no’ voters expressing no interest in referendum and staying at home. The referendum data comes from Catalan government as the referendum was not supervised by any independent unit. During the whole Catalan crisis there were constantly pro and against independence demonstrations in Catalonia, both gathering numerous participants.
Coming to numbers, 7.5 million people live in Catalonia, which is 16% of Spanish population. The region is responsible for almost 20% of country’s GDP and 26% of its export (most of which goes to the EU). 20% of Spanish FDI ends up in Catalonia. Barcelona stays an important cultural, economic and scientific center, which easily competes with Madrid. Being a historically important sea port, Barcelona is one of the most dynamic and innovative cities in Europe.
However, all of the mentioned above could not make Catalonia a successful independent country in the short run. Many experts are sure that independent Catalonia will not survive. By some estimates the region would lose minimum 300 thousand jobs. Economists cannot agree whether independence would hurt the region or the rest of Spain more. But everyone understands that there would be a short-term economic cost for both sides in adjusting to new political and economic realities.
What do we have at the moment? Referendum took place on 1st October and Spanish constitutional court suspended law on Catalan referendum. On 10th October, Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Catalonia, unilaterally declared independence from Spain, however urging its parliament to wait with the decision to enter into force. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy asked Puigdemont to explain what he meant by declaring independence, giving 5-days’ time.
Spanish Prime Minister threatened Catalonia to impose direct rule over the rebel region by activating Article 155 of the Spanish constitution after the given time passes. The Article 155 would allow Madrid to use “all measures necessary to compel” a region to meet its obligations to the central government. However, it was never used and no one can predict how it will work. It is hardly possible to imagine Catalonia organizing a strong military offense against regular Spanish army. Neither Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, nor Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Catalonia, wants to take the responsibility for an escalation that could hurt both sides, and prefer to take refuge in complicated legal and political sophistry.
What about the European Union’s response? Many European leaders and representatives of the EU condemned Catalan separatism and expressed their support for united Spain. The lack of the EU’s condemnation of police violence, which tried to prevent people from voting and wounded 900 people, shocked citizens of the whole Union. The European Union definitely supports Spain’s position, even if some politicians and nongovernmental organizations have questioned the police crackdown on voters during the referendum.
Although, most Catalans are pro-EU, the Union made it clear that by getting independence Catalonia would have to apply for a membership. In such a situation, Spain could use its veto voice to prevent Catalonia from integration. Due to the fact that huge amount of Catalan export goes to the EU, the region’s economy would experience a strong hit leaving the Union.
While Catalan leaders have called for EU mediation, the Spanish government totally opposes it. Madrid could not accept having an external player, legally staying a part of Spain according to Spanish legislation, but being on the same level as Spain.
Following Catalan referendum, reaction of Spain and the EU, there is a strong feeling of misunderstanding and confusion. Why do Catalans want independence if they already have a huge level of autonomy? Why Spain and the EU were so consistent and strict in their unacceptance of the referendum and Catalan independence? All parts are seeking for more escalation, making new moves keeping spectator intrigue that the whole situation looks like a well-written theater play. In politics, the governments often catch the attention of citizens with emotional national issues, while doing bigger steps hidden from the public. Therefore, citizens should try to see the bigger picture and not focus on what governmental media presents to them.