Catalonia: Any time left for a consensual way out?

The Catalan people have delivered their verdict but, says Prof Josep Valles, creating political space to translate that into meaningful action will prove difficult.
 
The election of September 27th in Catalonia has had some meaningful effects. But they do not, by themselves, provide any clear solution to the enduring crisis in the relations between Spain and Catalonia. With an unprecedented turnout - nearly 78 percent of the electoral roll- these results have shown the existence of a strong political project devoted to the building of an independent Catalan state. This project gathers the support of several political tendencies, from the anti-capitalist left (CUP) to the neoliberals in CDC. Although they did not get an absolute majority, the pro-independence options secured 48.3% of the vote. Perhaps less than they had expected, but high enough not to be dismissed as an ephemeral accident. 
 
This plurality faces now three major obstacles. The first is its internal heterogeneity. Social and party diversity is advantageous for social mobilization. But it becomes inconvenient when trying to implement a government action plan. Mainly, if some of its partners (CDC) adhere to the neoliberal policies dictated from Brussels while others (CUP) declare themselves anti-capitalist and advocate leaving the euro and the EU. It remains to be seen whether this pro-independence parliamentary majority can easily agree on a presidential candidate and form a steady Executive, responsive to the serious social and economic problems pending in Catalonia. 
 
The second obstacle is the uncompromising opposition of the Madrid government to any radical change in the political status of Catalonia, a country that contains 16 percent of the Spanish population and accounts for 18 percent of its total GDP. This opposition to the Catalan claims is shared by many actors of Spanish politics: the Spanish State’s high bureaucracy, the main economic and financial powers, the most important media and cultural groups and, finally, a large majority of Spanish public opinion. The interests and mindset associated with Spanish nationalism judge an eventual Catalan separation as an unacceptable defeat. Hence their reluctance to admit the possibility of a referendum on the issue, like the ones held in Quebec or in Scotland. This referendum has long been demanded in Catalonia, both by pro-independence groups and by many non-independentists, as a way-out from the present impasse. 
 
Finally, a third barrier to overcome is the lack of international support for the independence project. This support is an essential condition to carry it out. It has been proven in the most recent European cases - in the Baltic and in the Balkans - where the US and Germany did encourage and facilitate these new states founding. Spanish membership of the EU and NATO is a major difficulty for Catalonia to achieve its independence, as the hegemonic powers do not want to alter the current economic and strategic balances in this European area. Recent statements by Merkel, Juncker, Cameron and Obama have made this all too clear.
 
What can be expected from now on? In spite of the winning coalition strength, the conditions for an "independence expressway” – in the 18 months fixed term established by the electoral program - were not given. Besides, polarization between political stances appears to block the opening of any space for negotiation in the medium term. 
 
Next December's Spanish elections may open a window of opportunity for this negotiation if the electoral results bring about the need to form the first coalition government in the Spanish democracy since 1977. A less confrontational and more consensual approach to the hard issue of the relationship between Spain and Catalonia could be a positive step. However, this change would need time to develop, following a gradual adaptation process. Whether the present Spanish political system is able to adopt this process as a way to cope with an issue that has become a serious risk for its own survival, remains to be seen.  
 

Comments policy

All comments posted on the site via Disqus are automatically published. Additionally comments are sent to moderators for checking and removal if necessary. We encourage open debate and real time commenting on the website. The Centre on Constitutional Change cannot be held responsible for any content posted by users. Any complaints about comments on the site should be sent to info@centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk

Josep Valles's picture
post by Josep Valles
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB Barcelona)
29th September 2015

Latest blogs

  • 22nd January 2019

    The UK is increasingly polarised by Brexit identities and they seem to have become stronger than party identities, a new academic report finds. Only one in 16 people did not have a Brexit identity, while more than one in five said they had no party identity. Sir John Curtice’s latest analysis of public opinion on a further referendum finds there has been no decisive shift in favour of another referendum. The report, Brexit and public opinion 2019, by The UK in a Changing Europe, provides an authoritative, comprehensive and up-to-date guide to public opinion on each of the key issues around Brexit. CCC Fellow, Dr Coree Brown Swan contributed a chapter on "the SNP, Brexit and the politics of independence"

  • 22nd January 2019

    In the papers accompanying the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill published at the end of 2018, the UK Government says that it is “exploring opportunities to co-design the final proposals with the devolved administrations.” There are clear benefits in having strong co-operation and collaboration across the UK in the oversight of our environmental law and performance. Yet the challenge of finding a way forward in terms of working together is substantial since each part of the UK is in a different position at present. Given where things stand today, it may be better to accept that a good resolution is not possible immediately and to revisit the issue at a later stage - so long as there is a strong commitment to return and not allow interim arrangements to become fixed. Colin Reid, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Dundee examines the issues.

  • 17th January 2019

    Richard Parry assesses a memorable day in UK parliamentary history as the Commons splits 432-202 on 15 January 2019 against the Government's recommended Brexit route. It was the most dramatic night at Westminster since the Labour government’s defeat on a confidence motion in 1979.

  • 17th January 2019

    What is the Irish government’s Brexit wish-list? The suggestion that Irish unity, as opposed to safeguarding political and economic stability, is the foremost concern of the Irish government is to misunderstand and misrepresent the motivations of this key Brexit stakeholder, writes Mary C. Murphy (University College Cork).

  • 17th January 2019

    Brexit is in trouble but not because of the Irish backstop, argues the CCC's Michael Keating.

Read More Posts