View towards the plaza in front of Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Art of Catalonia)

Introduction – Democratic system and territorial integration: the effects and consequences of Catalonia’s quest for independence

Published: 29 July 2022

Catalonia series

Author: Francisco Javier Romero Caro, Institute for Comparative Federalism, EURAC Research

Francisco Javier Romero Caro of the Institute for Comparative Federalism, EURAC Research, introduces a new blog series on the domestic political implications and international echoes of the independence bid in Catalonia. The series is a collaboration between the Centre on Constitutional Change and the Institute for Comparative Federalism at EURAC Research in Bolzano/Bozen, Italy. Look out for further blogs in this series in the following weeks.

The accommodation of national diversity is one of the most formidable challenges that complex societies face.  Multilevel government (either in federal or regional form) plays a key role in managing and accommodating territorial diversity. However, while some territorial arrangements have withstood the test of time – 2022 for example marks the 50th Anniversary of the Second Statute of Autonomy of South Tyrol - others have seen increasing territorial tensions and even the strengthening of secessionist movements. Spain seems to be in the second group, at least with respect to the secessionist claims coming from the Basque Country and – most recently - Catalonia. These claims – and especially the process that led to the 2017 referendum in Catalonia in defiance of the ruling of the Constitutional Court, the subsequent illegal declaration of independence, the temporary suspension of Catalan institutions and imprisonment of serving ministers - resulted in a deep territorial crisis and have diminished space for reform

Against this background, the Institute for Comparative Federalism of EURAC Research in Bolzano-Bozen (Italy) hosted a webinar to explore the effects and consequences of Catalonia’s quest for independence in terms of democracy and territorial integration [1]. The webinar aimed at investigating the effects of the territorial crisis in Catalonia from a multidisciplinary and comparative perspective featuring both lawyers and political scientists as well as incorporating the international dimension with the experiences of Quebec and Scotland, the two models in which the Catalan sovereigntist movement tends to see itself reflected.

This blog symposium, hosted by the Centre on Constitutional Change, aims to continue the debates begun during the webinar by giving our speakers the opportunity to summarize and extend the main aspects of their presentations. The webinar participants were Núria González Campañá (University of Barcelona, Spain), Ana Carmona Contreras (University of Seville, Spain), Alberto López Basaguren (University of the Basque Country, Spain), André Lecours (University of Ottawa, Canada) and Nicola McEwen (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom).

Professor González Campañá addressed the issue from the point of constitutional democracy and rule of law, highlighting the populist traits of the pro-independence movement in Catalonia and how they have conditioned their secessionist bid. Professor Carmona Contreras presented the effects that Catalonia’s quest for independence had on the democratic institutions in both Catalonia and Spain. He emphasizes that these effects endure in the Spanish political landscape, making it difficult to find a way out of the crisis. The differences in strategy between the Catalan and Basque nationalist movements were brought out by Professor López Basaguren, who pointed out that while the former is firmly committed to independence, the latter has opted to seek a confederal relationship with the Spanish State based on historical rights. Professor López Basaguren also discussed the mistakes made by both parties and how they resulted into a political deadlock that seems to be leading to a dead end. The comparative perspective was introduced by André Lecours whose presentation focused on the media coverage of the Catalan self-determination process in Canada. Professor Lecours illustrated the impact that the Catalan secessionist bid had on the Canadian press, with particular emphasis on Quebec. From Quebec, the webinar moved to Scotland as Professor McEwen focused on the political responses to the Catalan developments and cautious approach adopted by the Scottish government which quickly stressed the differences between the two realities. Professor McEwen also explained the legacy that the Catalan process had in shaping the issues of process that surround a further potential referendum on Scottish independence.

Finally, the event featured concluding remarks by Francesco Palermo (University of Verona and Head of the Institute for Comparative Federalism). Professor Palermo stressed the difficulty to identify a common terminology to frame complex identity issues and the need for constitutional law to learn from the comparative experience to modulate referenda as instruments of decision in secessionist contexts to avoid ending in a conundrum without solution.

Before concluding this brief introduction to the symposium, I would like to reiterate my gratitude to the speakers for their thought-provoking interventions, to the more than one hundred participants that attended the event and to the Institute for Comparative Federalism and the Centre on Constitutional Change for hosting the webinar and the blog symposium.

[1] This webinar was part of the DATE project -funded by Department for Innovation, Research and University of the Autonomous Province of Bozen/Bolzano in the frame of the Seal of Excellence Programme, that deals with the role of equalization mechanisms as tools of territorial integration in multilevel systems that has experienced secessionist claims


Francisco Javier Romero Caro is a Senior Researcher at the EURAC Research Institute for Comparative Federalism. This blog is part of a new series on the domestic political implications and international echoes of the independence bid in Catalonia. The series is a collaboration between the Centre on Constitutional Change and the Institute for Comparative Federalism at EURAC Research in Bolzano/Bozen, Italy.

Read other blogs in our Catalonia series


Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash.