News from Celtic League
Election results in Catalonia last week have given further support to the Catalan nationalist cause and increased the likelihood that a referendum on independence will be called in the country at some point in the future. But, as the general secretary (GS) of the League explores in the article below, the Spanish state is doing all it can to resist attempts of the Catalans to exercise their democratic right to self-determination. The GS argues that Catalonia’s fight for independence is part of a growing movement of the peoples of Europe who have the potential to redraw the European Union (EU) and shift the balance of power to a more equal footing.
The Spanish state have argued that a referendum on independence in Catalonia is unconstitutional and successive Spanish governments have repeated time and again that they are not willing to amend the constitution to allow the people a right to self-determination. The Spanish Parliament is so concerned that the people of Catalonia want to run their own affairs that Spanish military leaders have even publically threatened the Catalans in recent years with violence if they continue to pursue this particular political goal.
The concerns of the Spanish authorities that Catalans do want independence are more than justified. There have been several highly organised, privately sponsored and voluntarily run referendums over the last few years that have shown the potential support for independence among the Catalan people. In a recent poll, the Barcelona-based Centre d’Estudis d’Opinio, showed that 51 per cent of Catalans would vote in favour of full independence. The results of the poll was a motivating factor for the Catalan parliament to vote in favour of holding a referendum on independence for the first time in its history, but whether the Catalan parliament will realise this aim in an official capacity remains to be seen.
The Catalan elections that were called last month, two years before the elections were due to take place, was an attempt by the Catalan president Artur Mas of the ruling right of centre Convergència i Unió (CiU) political party, to capture the popular support that the independence debate is attracting among the general population, especially since the deep economic crisis that Spain currently finds itself in. However, the CiU actually lost 12 seats in the election showing that independence is not a political football that can be used by political parties as and when convenient. The CiU has not always advocated independence (and Mas has previously stated that he is not in favour of full independence for Catalonia), but Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) who saw their representation almost double in the election, has always been a strong supporter of independence. CiU remains the largest bloc in the parliament, winning 50 seats out of the 135 available, but the ERC has achieved an enviable second place and are in a position to start demanding concessions of their own, if the CiU want their parliamentary support, which may be necessary.
The Catalans are resentful that their request for greater financial autonomy -similar to what the Basques enjoy – has been rejected by the Spanish government. Similarly a request by the Catalans for a greater share of the 18bn-euro (£14bn) Regional Liquidity Fund that was given to Spain by the EU to cushion its economic down turn earlier this year was also refused. In protest a massive 2 million people marched through the streets of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, in September 2012 demanding independence. Soon after the march the Catalans voted to hold a referendum on independence. The Catalans argue that a disproportionate share of its wealth, through taxes, goes to Madrid than is received from central government spending in return, which has affected their economic growth. Catalonia is a country of 7.5 million people, a 200 billion euro (£161bn) economy and its own police force. Catalonia is bigger than Belgium and richer than Portugal and Andorra combined, which are all independent states recognised by the European Union. If Catalonia became independent, the effect on the Spanish economy would be significant.
If preparations for a Catalan referendum took place there would be a risk that the Spanish authorities would attempt to block it, either through the courts or with force. The Catalans could attempt to take the case to an international court to get justice or appeal to the EU, but the EU is unlikely to give much support. The issue of ‘internal enlargement’ for the EU could turn into a huge political headache, triggering as it could a domino effect in Italy, Belgium and the UK. The EU will want to avoid discontentment among many member states and, despite its ‘richness in diversity’ motto, may want to make independence as unattractive an option as possible for countries exercising their right to self-determination. EU states are not ethnically homogenous and comprise at least one national minority group. If each national minority decided to pursue their right to self-determination, the EU of the future will be a very different place to the EU of today. Suggestions last month from Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, were that Catalonia as an independent state will not be automatically granted membership of the EU nor the monetary union, but this has not yet been stated categorically.
The SNP will be watching closely as events unfold in Catalonia and similarly Catalan nationalists have been enviously following the developments in Scotland. It was rumoured that president Mas wanted to emulate the success of the Scottish National Party (SNP) by calling early elections, even if the tactic did not pay off for the CiU. In Scotland the terms of the referendum may be agreed between the Scottish and UK government for 2014, but the Yes campaign has still to convince the majority of the electorate that an independent Scotland is preferable. It is not just Catalonia and Scotland that are perusing political independence. Support for greater autonomy among the peoples of Europe has been steadily growing over the last decade, with moves towards self-determination gathering pace over the last few years year. The islands of Guernsey and Jersey both toyed with the idea of declaring their independence last summer with Jersey’s assistant chief minister saying in June that the island “is ready to become independent if it were necessary”. Rumours abound that the Flemish parliament will soon hold a referendum with the Flemish nationalist Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA) party retaining a strong political position following the provincial and municipal elections in October 2012, which included the significant win of the Mayorship of Antwerpen. In addition Süd-Tirol is hoping to organise a referendum on independence in 2013 and the Veneto regional parliament plans to vote soon on whether to hold an independence referendum of their own. It seems inevitable that at some point one of these European territories will declare independence, but nobody knows what will follow. If a territory in Western Europe declared its independence in the same way as Kosovo did recently, its impact would reverberate throughout the EU and the rest of the world.
The peoples of Europe are on the move and hold the future in their hands. Their fight is older than that of the EU member states to which they currently belong and their voice is steadily growing and won’t go away. The fight for political independence for the historic nations of Europe is no longer a nationalist dream of progressive democrats, but a serious political goal that cannot be kicked into touch anymore for minor political gain. The political, social and economic needs of the peoples of Europe need to be addressed fairly and thoroughly and if this right is being denied by the governments of EU member states then they should be shown up to be the bullies they are. The key to a fairer and more democratic EU lies with the peoples who comprise Europe and not with artificial political states that hold all the power in too few hands. If the EU cannot exist within a more democratic model then change needs to occur or the system needs to be confined to the scrap heap of history. It is the responsibility of the people to address the balance and that is precisely what the Catalans, Scottish, Basque, Welsh, South Tyrolean’s, Cornish, Venetians, Bavarians, Bretons, Kaszubians, Manx, Corsicans, etc. … are trying to achieve.
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The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.