Today 1,6 million people occupied 400km of the streets of Catalonia in a human chain imitating the Baltic way of 1989. Exactly a year ago 1,5 million Catalans demonstrated in Barcelona calling for independence. This is proportionaly equivalent to geting 16 million Germans in the streets. The size of the mobilisations of the Catalan process are unprecedented in Europe.
In former articles I explained why Spain is not a federation and why it is unlikely to become one, I also warned that if Spain doesn’t embrace reform the only possible way forward is break-up.
In the meantime many words have been writen about the Catalan “issue”. Questioning whether it is legal, ilegal, legitimate, democratic, sensible… one can easily get lost in the many reasons pro and against Catalonia becoming the newest state in Europe. I think that today this debate is interesting but irrelevant; the inaction from the side of the Spanish political elite together with the self-confidence built by the social movements in Catalonia make very difficult any option other than spliting the country. As long as the process was in the hands of politicians one could trust that negotiations could be resumed, however when the process has been taken over by the citizens any compromise will be almost impossible. I believe it is too late for Spain to stop Catalonia from leaving. However the loss of one of its main economic engines can have the positive aspect of triggering political reforms in Spain that so far have been impossible.
The recent story of the relationship between Spain and Catalonia is sad, for a short summary of the mefiance from the Catalan side is worth reading the article published in the NYT by the president of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas. I can confirm that the feeling he expresses in this letter is very much shared by a majority of the catalan people.
How did we get to this culdesac? Why is the Spanish government closing any door to negotiation, using dirty tricks to gain time whilst continue to treat a good amount of its own citizens with such disdain and lack of respect? To me, this is the key of the question, a question that the process of Catalan independence can help to fix, albeit at the price of losing this prosperous region for the Spanish cause.
Spain’s political arena is blocked since 30 years. Shortly after the approval of the Spanish constitution and with the arrival of bipartidism to Spain the country saw some years of economic and political progress. The 90s started to show the limits of the system, the first years of the century the system needed an urgent reshuffle and during the last years the lack of reform has brought endless cases of corruption, nepotism, clielentelism, bad legislation, power abuse and others. Both the conservative and the socialist parties have been alternating majorities in the Spanish parliament and both have had an interest for this to continue to happen. Changing the electoral system is challenging but reform was and continues to be unavoidable, yet both parties use the constitution to shield themselves from reality. Not even the current economic and social crisis has managed to trigger political reforms in this country.
As a result, Catalonia after having tried for decades to reform the system has had to find its way out of it as the only solution capable of addressing their legitimate concerns. If a system doesn’t work you try to change it, if you can’t change it you decide to go play somewhere else with different rules that fit you. I have the feeling that it might be too late to reverse the Catalan will for independence; for it is difficult to awaken a large community but once she starts moving it is even more difficult to stop it. However one can look at the break-up of Spain as the opportunity to finally reform Spain and save it from itself.
The separation of Catalonia doesn’t mean that Catalonia goes away, she will stay exactly where it is but minding her own businesses and keeping the taxes for herself. In a common market, trade between Spain and Catalonia will continue to work well and cooperation between the two countries will need to be good because it is through Catalonia that most of Spanish products will find their way into Europe.
It is a fact that Spain will be poorer without Catalunya. But with the current utterly inneficient and unfair Spanish system of political and economic governance the future will only bring a ruined Catalonia inside a ruined Spain and this is not good for either of them. Instead, if Catalonia manages to make the best use of its resources thanks to having its own state, whereby increasing the demand of products from Spain and supplying with better products, it can prove to be more useful as a prosperous economic partner than as a bankrupt subdit. Moreover, without Catalonia Spain will run out of excuses to reform its mechanisms of fiscal solidarity and will need to find real solutions to develop proper plans for some of its lagging regions other than subsidies.
At the end of the day what a break-up does mean is that the Spanish constitution will finally have to be amended, that a new electoral law will need to be written, that the fiscal policy will need to be redesigned and that, all in all, there is a possibility of a new beginning for Spain. For a long time the Catalans have been trying to reform Spain and the quest for independence is a clear sign that they failed. This failure doesn’t mean that they were wrong, Spain needed reform and it seems it will only get it when Catalonia leaves.
It is in the interest of the Spanish, the Catalans, and Europeans in general to see Spain finally having to reform. Losing one of its economic motors is a high price to pay but for the moment it looks like this is the only medicine that can have an effect on Spanish partitocracy.