Daily Management Review

What does Catalonia's independence mean for Europe and the world?


On the eve of the referendum on Catalonia's independence scheduled for October 1, the confrontation between Barcelona and Madrid reached its climax. The Government of Spain intends to prevent the referendum, both legal and by force, including bringing the organizers to criminal liability. From the Madrid point of view, the referendum is illegal and violates the constitution, and also undermines the territorial unity of the country. In turn, the chairman of the Catalan government (Generalitat) Carles Puigdemont said that the voting will take place in any case, bulletins will be printed, an election commission will be appointed and international observers will be invited. This is not the first attempt of this kind. In 2014, the previous head of the Generalitat Artur Mas held a referendum on independence, but the Supreme Court of Spain found the results illegal and deprived Mas of the right to engage in political activities for two years, as well as imposed a fine of 36.5 thousand euros.

Liz Castro
Liz Castro
Regardless of whether it will be possible to hold a referendum this time, and what will be its results, one thing is clear: Catalonia has headed for independence, and this process is irreversible. Independence of Catalonia can be declared in a historically short time. This will have far-reaching consequences for both Europe and the world. Dozens of regions are potentially ready to declare independence, and the example of Catalonia will give them the strongest incentive for secession.
The independence of Catalonia will mean actual collapse of the Spanish state, which will lose its most important region. In addition, Catalonia’s example can be followed by the Basque Country, Galicia and other regions under the control of the central authority in Madrid. The separatist process, as the experience of the USSR, Yugoslavia and other federal states shows, develops as a chain reaction: in the event of the emergence of one region, others will follow.

Catalonia’s independence, according to the French publicist Arnaud de La Grange, will provoke a "parade of sovereignties" throughout Europe. Nationalist and separatist movements exist in most countries of the old continent. Supporters of independence in Scotland, Flanders, South Tyrol, Bavaria, Brittany and Corsica await their hour (in varying degrees of readiness). 

What is happening in Catalonia is part of the world process of self-determination of peoples and regions. And this process does not bode well for the current states. There are dozens of regions in the world that are potentially ready to declare independence. In South Africa, South Sudan has already separated from the "big" Sudan, but the "fighters for independence" continue to struggle in Ceylon, the Philippines, in Kashmir, in the Xinjiang Uygur region of the PRC, etc. Separatist sentiments exist even in the American states of Texas and California, not to mention Canada (the province of Quebec).

Do the Catalans themselves want the separation? According to the latest polls, only 41% of citizens are for independence (49% are against), but they are politically more active. If voter turnout is low (around 50% of voters), more than 80% of voters will vote for independence. Thus, an aggressive nationalist minority will be able to impose its position. This has already happened in Yugoslavia and Ukraine, where a relatively small group of national radicals was able to subordinate a silent majority to their will, not even thinking of severing ties with the big country. Nationalists argue that the Catalans are paying too much to the central treasury, that they will live better after separating. Ukrainian nationalists also said that they would heal better outside the USSR, but the opposite happened. The economy of Catalonia is firmly integrated into the Spanish one, and the severing of ties can have catastrophic consequences, as well as frighten investors off.

A Catalan political scientist believes that the main problem of supporters of independence is international recognition. So far, no state in the world or Europe is ready to do this: the recognition of Catalonia is tantamount to becoming the enemy of Spain. The leadership of the European Union, the French president and leading European politicians said that the unity of Spain as a state is not subject to discussion, and independent Catalonia will never enter the European Union. However, politics is the art of the possible, and approaches change over time.