home Opinion For & Against: Catalan Independence

For & Against: Catalan Independence

Context: On 1 October, a disputed referendum was held in Catalonia, asking whether the region should be an independent state. Spanish police forcefully closed many polling stations, with photos of voters, beaten & bloody, frequently appearing in the media.  This vote was suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court, which later declared the result – which organisers said was a resounding “Yes” – void. A little more than a week later, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence, but immediately suspended its implementation. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by asking the Catalan government to clarify whether or not it had declared actual independence, setting a final deadline of 19 October for a response. After the expiration of this deadline, the Spanish government began moves to dissolve the Catalan government, hold fresh elections and to take control of the Catalan police force.

Today, on October 27th, the Parliament of the Catalan voted on independence, again declaring itself an independent state. The Spanish government have passed resolutions to formally dissolve the Catalonian government and install direct rule.

In favour of Independence:

Firstly, in favour of independence, Catalan separatists argue that Catalonia is its own nation, having a distinct language and culture which is different to that in the rest of Spain, and as such is entitled to its own independence. Secondly, Catalonia already enjoys a great deal of its own autonomy from the Spanish government, but the Spanish government has strongly resisted attempts for greater autonomy for the region, which has led to separatists believing that Independence is the only means of achieving complete control over Catalan’s infrastructure, finances and resources. Those in favour of independence push this point strongly, as it has often been pointed out that there is an unequal partnership between Catalonia and the rest of Spain: Catalonia pays more in taxes into the Spanish government that it receives in spending and subsidies, for example. It has also been argued that as a result of this the region has been pushed into debt as Catalonia essentially bankrolls other parts of Spain. This is due to Catalonia being one of the wealthiest regions in Spain, enjoying a massive tourism industry, receiving over eighteen million visitors last year alone, which was over a quarter of all tourists to Spain. Catalonia also contains the second largest airport in Spain, which is the seventh busiest in Europe, along with the ninth largest seaport in Europe which allows Catalonia to export goods to all over Europe, not just to Spain – pro-independence campaigners have cited statistics showing that Catalonia exported more goods outside of Spain than within. All of these things have allowed the region to become an economic powerhouse, responsible for more than half of Spain’s investment in start-up businesses and industries. This, pro-independence campaigners argue, would allow the region to both survive and to thrive as an independent state, given that an independent Catalonia could better manage its finances to aid its own economy and to plan its own economic future, given that Catalonia’s GDP is currently higher than that of Spain’s, and higher than the EU-27 average. Finally, there are the arguments over self-determination: Pro-independence campaigners argue that there is a clear majority in favour of Independence in Catalonia today, as high as 57% by some polls, further reinforced by the recent referendum on the issue on October 1st. As such, Catalonia has its own right to independence and self-determination, or at the very least a proper and open discussion on the issue, which the Spanish government has done everything to prevent and discourage.


Opposed to Independence:

On the opposite side of the debate, those opposed to independence argue that there is a risk of precedent being set with Catalan independence, which could result in the “Balkanisation” of Europe. Catalan independence could prompt others in Europe, such as nationalists in Scotland, Flanders, Madeira, Scania and Bavaria, to declare independence, transforming Europe into a patchwork quilt of small and diminishing micro states. Secondly on this point, Independence is unlikely to be positive for the region: it would require them to surrender EU membership, a membership they would possibly not regain given that the EU is generally against separatism. Spain could also block any attempt for Catalonia to rejoin the Union. Similarly, losing access to the single market could cripple Catalonia’s economy and the region would lose out on billions in EU funds and grants, likely leaving the new state either unviable or in need of a bailout. It is also likely that the confusion and uncertainty caused by independence would further harm the region, as there would likely be a drop-in tourism, investment and possibly even a withdrawal of investment from the region given the state would have no access to the single market. Furthermore, on the economic front, a newly independent Catalonia would need to either mint a new currency or continue to use the euro as Montenegro and Kosovo do, with no right to print money nor any seat at the European central bank, which would leave the region with poor credit ratings and a struggle to borrow money as a result. Finally, Catalonia already enjoys a considerable amount of autonomy, and Catalans strongly endorsed the Spanish constitution in 1979 which gave them such autonomy, which diminishes the arguments over self-determination. Furthermore, those opposed to Catalan independence have argued that, on a cultural level, while Catalonia enjoys its own culture and language it still has much in common with the rest of Spain, and benefits massively on a cultural level from this interplay of cultures – mono-culturalism resulting from independence could only serve to diminish or dull the Catalan culture.