What’s going on in Catalonia?

The Catalan case is an internal affair of the EU and should be an issue of concern for European institutions, explains Isabel-Helena Martí

News / 13.6.17

Centre Maurits Coppieters, together with the Catalan advocacy organisation Sobirania i Justicia, organised a briefing on What’s going in Catalonia, which gathered independent voices from academia, civil society and business for an update on the Catalan situation before an independence referendum, now scheduled for 1st of October 2017 and widely expected to test and redefine the boundaries of Europe’s understanding of democracy.

Isabel-Helena Martí, President of Sobirania i Justicia, opened the event by saying that if there was an offer for a Scottish-like referendum from the central government in Madrid there would still be time for a negotiated solution.  Yet, she points out, the likelihood of a Spanish change of strategy is very low. In her opinion, this should be an issue of concern for the European institutions: they should not consider the Catalan case an internal affair of the Spain, but rather an internal affair of the EU. Specially because, as Salvador Cardus pointed out, Catalans want to remain in the EU with their own voice.

Günther Dauwen, Secretary General of Centre Maurits Coppieters, addressed thoroughly the role of the EU in the Catalan-Spanish row. To him,  a solution is needed and the European Institutions will find a pragmatic one, most likely a process of internal enlargement, since a net contributor highly pro European and it’s 7 million citizens won’t be “left in limbo”. It is obvious the EU cannot afford to close its door to a traditionally pro-European actor.

The relevant question is then: who is afraid of Democracy? Why is the Spanish government preventing Catalans to vote in a democratic and transparent way on their independence? Roser Clavell, former head of the Catalan foreign office, who thinks democracy should be embraced, not feared even when there is no will to find a negotiated solution.

Catalan pro-independence push is fuelled bottom up, through large demonstrations of 1 to 2 million people over the last 5 years. The ruling of the Constitutional Court (2010) against the devolution law, known as Estatut d’autonomia, agreed between Catalan and Spanish Parliaments and later approved by a referendum in Catalonia in 2006, was one of the main triggers for such a massive claim for independence, according to sociology Professor Salvador Cardús.

Antoni Abad, Head of the Catalan trade association CECOT, gave a slightly different outlook. His main concern is how to guarantee social, stability and growth. To him, no reform is no longer an option, unsustainable corruption levels, blurred lines between executive & judicial powers and lack of public investment in key infrastructures jeopardize economic development. He sees the referendum and independence as an opportunity. He summarized it with a strong statement: “Either we change the country or we change countries”.