The scenarios for the resolution of the Catalan crisis

                                                               source: ΒΒC

Written by Makis Christof 

The Catalan referendum held on 1 October created a lot of thorny ramifications that threaten the integrity of Spain, one of the recently economically hit countries of the European Union (EU) that finally managed to stand up on its feet.

Why does the president of Catalonia, Mr. Carles Puigdemont, want to declare Catalonia as an independent state? Based on cultural, historic, political and linguistic differentiations, the regional president supports the idea of declaring Catalonia as a separate state from Spain. Moreover, the recently economic crisis that hit Spain, in conjunction with the political implications that this crisis caused, made Catalonia pay the burden, albeit it did not want to. This situation is clearly depicted due to the fact that Catalonia has become the autonomous community in Spain with the highest debt since the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis, reaching €13.476 million, but hopefully for the community, it came back to the prosperity with the economy recovering quickly, giving a GDP growth of + 3.3% in 2015. Catalonia is proven to be the industrial centre of Spain, especially because of its maritime power and its capacity in trading goods and other products, making the region the wealthiest one in Spain. The power that the region possesses plays an important role in making the regional president invoke the verdict of the citizens’ majority (which is misleading as argument by the way) for the independence of Catalonia.

But the reasons do not stop there. Political conflict between the central government of Spain (the conservative People’s party of Mariano Rajoy) and the regional government of Catalonia with Carles Puigdemont of the “Together for Yes” party, that dominates in the Catalan parliament (backed by the “Popular Unity Candidacy” (CUP) that is in the parliament as well) creates a lot of issues between Madrid and Barcelona. The fear of re-derailing the Catalan economy into chaos has led the nationalistic side of Catalonia to advocate the unilateral declaration of the province’s independence. The reaction of Spain is generally based on law and constitutional order, although Rajoy finally made use of police forces to block the access of Catalans to the ballots, making the gap between the two sides even broader.

This crisis is really crucial given that there are a lot of minorities or groups with special interests (if we could say so) in many EU countries and thus this incident could lead to a domino effect. In order for the European Union to avoid other secessionist movements in Europe, a diplomatic solution needs to be found with the contribution of the EU. On the one hand, the European Union needs to totally respect the law it has ratified in the Article 4 paragraph 2 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty stating: “The Union (…) shall respect their (meaning the States’) essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security”. According to this article, the EU should not and is not legalized to intervene in internal, national issues of Member States. On the other hand, the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union clearly underlines the “prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 4), making the reaction of the Spanish police forces unlawful and condemnable, especially when it comes to the exercise of the top democratic right, voting.

There are two main scenarios that can determine the situation is Spain as well as the future function of the EU.

Scenario No1: Mr. Carles Puigdemont neglects the judgment of the Spanish constitutional court and goes further with the referendum outcome (even though the turnout was only 43% and thus the result is biased – as supporters of the Spanish unity were advised not vote at all) and unilaterally declare the total independence of Catalonia.

In this case, there are 2 sub-scenarios:

1. Spain does nothing to prevent Catalonia from seceding. The shock for the EU would be even deeper than Brexit, but still it has to help make this secession smoothly and with the less costs possible. And of course, the EU should go over the Copenhagen criteria for Catalonia EU membership, if the region wants to stay in the EU, something which at the moment is – hopefully – not questioned at all. Politically, minorities in other EU Member States are going to announce independence referendums and thus the European integrity will be fragmented. Economically, Spain will lose a very big amount of income that Catalonia used to bring in the country and thus the support from the EU budget is going to be necessary again, at a time when EU spends in a wide range of sectors (i.e. humanitarian aid, counter terrorism, cyber security etc).
2. Mr. Mariano Rajoy implements Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, allowing the police forces to act again by stepping in and taking control of Catalonia (or as the Constitution states: the “autonomous region” that “does not fulfill the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other law, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain”). This could lead to a huge escalation of the tenses in the country.

Scenario No2:
Under the political and fast-track meditational assistance of the EU, the two sides agree on clarified terms that are going to be mutually beneficial. For example, repeating the referendum under the necessary law and order, could give both sides a realistic answer of citizens’ will. Otherwise, the solution from the EU should be dynamic, meaning that Articles 2 and 7 of the Treaty of the European Union should be triggered for Member States that do not abide by the prerequisites of “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”. So if Spain seems to undermine citizens’ will in any way, then the European Commission should examine a possible infringement procedure.

In any case, what is important for the EU to keep in mind is what Mr. Alfonso Valero, principal lecturer for the College of Business Law & Social Sciences in Nottingham Law School at Nottingham Trent University has said: “Allowing disintegration of a country would only increase nationalism elsewhere, forgetting that Europe has historically been ravaged by nationalism”.


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