The Government of Catalonia – the Northeastern part of Spain, formed by the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) as well as independents, with support from the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), have proposed a referendum on Catalan independence for October 1st, 2017. Opinion polling in Catalonia appears to trend as marginally pro union with Spain, however polling also suggests the population of the region seems to be overwhelmingly in favour of a formal binding referendum on this matter which they tend to regard as a democratic exercise of their right to self-determination. The referendum is set to include a two-part question in the lines of: “Do you want Catalonia to become a state? If yes, do you want this state to be independent?” Therefore, the vote aims to determine whether Catalonia maintains its status quo – becomes a state while remaining part of Spain – or metamorphoses into a completely independent country.
Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy. It has its own language, history, culture, flag and identity, which seem to have survived numerous attempts of assimilation in the decades after the Civil War. On November 9th, 2015, Catalan lawmakers approved a plan for secession from Spain by 2017, however the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the plan.
The supporters of the region’s independence appear to focus on ensuring their language and identity are respected and offered the right tools to blossom. Every year, the Catalans contribute in the range of 17million euro in taxes to the Spanish government in Madrid – an essential financial element, which seems to be one of the leading factors to voting for independence, since the province seems keen on taking control of its own finances and its economic future.
While some may consider this independence referendum as an internal matter between Spaniards and Catalans, a closer look may unravel different ramifications reaching far beyond Spain’s borders. A decision pro secession may automatically trigger questions regarding Catalonia’s future in the European Union, the Euro area and Schengen zone, as well as its place in the world and may inspire other Europeans nationalists, such as the ones in Scotland, Flanders, Padania, Madeira, Bavaria, Scania and elsewhere, to use this opportunity to pursue their regions’ own independence. This perspective raises the question of how much power may a fragmented to mosaic pieces Europe hold and how much better may European micro-states perform in a global economy. Maintaining political and economic stability versus embarking upon a journey on a new path seems to be one of the main debating points for the supporters of Catalonia’s union with Spain.
Another consideration for Catalonia to remain part of Spain is the financial aid the region receives from the European Union’s structural funds which seems to go mainly towards its banks and pension funds. Secession may trigger a need to finance armed forces, diplomatic service and all the other expenses connected with the region’s independence. It may also entail the Catalans’ rights outside the European Union and the status of foreign investors in the region.
While there may be significant differences between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, there also seems to be numerous similarities of cultural and historical natures. The decisive criteria may ultimately be whether the Catalans share the same national identity with the rest of the Spanish nationals and whether the two sides find enough common ground to work together towards bridging the gaps which separate them over the stream of factors which unite them.
What does Catalonia’s independence referendum put at stake?