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

  • 20th July 2018

    Richard Parry reviews a fast-evolving situation as the march of time and need to reconcile rhetoric and practicality constrain policy-makers

  • 13th July 2018

    The White Paper published this week talks about the UK Government making ‘sovereign decisions’ to adopt European rules but, as we know from the experience of Norway and Switzerland, this can be an illusory sovereignty when the costs of deviating from the rules is exclusion from the single market or European programmes. CCC Director Professor Michael Keating looks at whether the UK is ready for this kind of deal.

  • 12th July 2018

    Last week the government released its fisheries white paper. While most of the fisheries and Brexit debate centres on quotas and access to waters, there is also an important devolution dimension. Brexit already has profound consequences for the UK’s devolution settlement and fisheries policy is one example of this. So, in addition to communicating its overall vision for post-Brexit fisheries policy, the white paper was also an opportunity for the government to set out how it would see that policy working in the devolved UK.

  • 4th July 2018

    At the same time as Parliament prepares to ‘take back control’ from Brussels, the executive is in fact accruing to itself further control over the legislative process. CCC Fellow Professor Stephen Tierney addresses a number of trends – only some of which are a direct consequence of the unique circumstances of Brexit – which suggest a deeper realignment of institutional power within the constitution and a consequent diminution of Parliament’s legislative power.

  • 27th June 2018

    Faced with a choice between splitting her Cabinet into winners and losers, Theresa May has sought to keep the Brexit crap game going. She does this by avoiding betting on either a hard or soft Brexit. Professor Richard Rose of Strathclyde looks at the high stakes outcomes facing the Prime Minister. .

Read More Posts