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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Catalans have voted: for what exactly?

It does not happen very often, but the final result of yesterday's Catalan elections was almost completely unpredicted by polling. Artur Mas (in the picture) and his centre-right Convergència i Unió (CiU) party were always going to win - and they did so. However, according to most opinion polls, Mas was, at worst, going to consolidate the 62 seats that his party currently holds in the Catalan parliament - but he failed to do so, and by a wide margin.

CiU only secured 50 seats - 18 short of the 68 needed to command an absolute majority. Needless to say, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's party has immediately described the result as a bofetada (a "slap in the face") to Artur Mas - claiming he has failed in his attempt to lead Catalonia towards independence.

So have the Catalans suddenly given up on independence? Not quite. The exploit of the left-wing independentist, anti-austerity and anti-monarchic Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Catalan Republican Left) won them 21 seats - eleven more than in the previous elections. Therefore, Mas could certainly try to push ahead with his plans for a referendum on Catalonia's independence with the support of ERC. 71 votes from a total of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament (without counting the smaller pro-independence parties) is not the "exceptional sovereignist majority" Mas hoped for - but is a majority nonetheless.

This is exactly what the Catalan President noted in his first remarks after the election results were made official yesterday night. He said,
Those who want to abort the [sovereignist] process should take into account that…the sum of political forces in favour of the [Catalans’] right to decide is very much a majority in the parliament.
However, CiU and ERC are hardly natural allies or the makings of a stable and durable coalition. In particular, the two parties clearly do not see eye-to-eye on the need for Catalonia to continue with fiscal consolidation. At this stage, it is difficult to predict how things will evolve within the next few weeks or months. But the following should be kept in mind:
  • Under the Spanish Constitution (see here, Article 149.1), any referendum needs to be authorised by the central government. During the electoral campaign, Artur Mas has repeatedly suggested that he would get around the problem by holding such a referendum within an 'alternative' legal framework - i.e. a new Catalan law which would provide for the necessary legal base. However, this would be unlikely to stop the Spanish central government from taking the referendum to the Constitutional Court to invalidate it.
  • Great uncertainty remains over how Catalonia would declare its independence in practice - not least because an amicable divorce seems to be out of the question for Rajoy and his cabinet. In any case, it would be wrong to see Catalan independence as a short-term prospect.
  • Finally, and most importantly, an independent Catalonia would find itself out of the EU. Many have argued that the EU would have a strong interest in letting Spain's economic powerhouse back in as quickly as possible. A fair point, but under the current EU Treaties, Catalonia's accession would need to be endorsed by all member states - including Spain. This is arguably the biggest stumbling block for Artur Mas's hope of making Catalonia "a normal nation in Europe". Crucially, previous opinion polls have showed that the prospect of continued EU membership would be a big factor in a hypothetical referendum on independence.
Everything else, at this stage, is far from clear - especially given that the new Catalan government is not yet in place, and forming one may not be the easiest of tasks.  


Rik said...

1. Possibility that it ends in violence is imho pretty small. It would only make the problem larger than it already is but also be a huge PR disaster for the EU. You cannot shoot at your own people, donot react as EU and think the foundation of the EU itself will not become under scrutiny.
2. I am not convinced in this context that the EU membership would be really an issue.
Non of the 3 parties involved remaining Spain, Neo Catalunya and the EU/EZ can afford a hard confrontation.
3. Take Spain. With Catalunya out of the EU it would have huge land transportation problems (plus a lot of Customs to pass that could totally frustrate any trade).
There are I understand something like 800 000 potential remaining Spaniards working there and many more living. Outside Schengen and the EU they could all be sent back. Increasing unemployment with several percent. And they would legally be stuck with all of the present debt as well. It is legally Spanish debt (basically the same rule that makes a new EU-application necessary). Ending up with a 30/60% unemployment, higher deficit and 100+% debt GDP.
It would not survive that.
4. EU making problems from that side would basically put Spain in the under 3 mentioned position and with a huge rescue package coming nobody wants or can afford Spain becoming the next Greece which would be so.
5. So imho it is simply mainly bluff and very bad PR by the Spanish government. By some concessions earlier a lot of the now likely steps could likely have been avoided. Catalans want to be taken seriously in their perception and bringing in the military and this constitutional drivel simply makes them feel like idiots and being ignored. And subsequently the central government has a serious issue at hand. Like now: another homemade problem as if they didnot have enough of them.

Ray said...

It will be interesting to know what the reaction will be in Catalonian France to a successful breakaway.

Jesper said...

Independence wouldn't happen overnight so if the Catalans decided to try to go for it on their own then there would be time to:
-apply for EU membership, can easily be blocked
-apply to join EFTA, Schengen etc, not sure how easy it would be to block nor why it would be blocked?

EU membership might not be what the Catalans want.

Catalonia is a richer region and might find itself in the situation that it might become a netpayer nation in the EU without much say on how much money is siphoned out from their taxpayers/citizens to the benefit of other nations. The difference from the current situation might not be that great...

We'll see how smaller nations are treated in the next round of MFF-negotiations. Divide and conquer was the preferred strategy used by the net-recipients and the 'neutral' facilitating forum (EU-institutions). If the net-payers are treated to the same again (an lose) then it might not make sense for a rich nation/region to join.

Bugsy said...

Leaders of separatist movements in Flanders, Scotland and Catalonia have been lobbying the EU to be able to remain in the bloc if they break away from Belgium, the UK and Spain.
It has been EU policy for while to break up nation states and convert the EU to regions, Trans Manche is an example. Presumably this is so that the EU can replace the Policing, Justice Ministries, Treasuries etc of the nation states and rule as a federation.

Certainly not what people in the UK want.

Rollo said...

They have expressed the will to become a powerless parish in a Europe of regiona and cities. This is the opposite of independence.

Candide said...

In a blatant attempt to promote myself, let me share this text -and its comments- with you.


Anonymous said...

"•Under the Spanish Constitution (see here, Article 149.1), any referendum needs to be authorised by the central government. During the electoral campaign, Artur Mas has repeatedly suggested that he would get around the problem by holding such a referendum within an 'alternative' legal framework - i.e. a new Catalan law which would provide for the necessary legal base."

Does this guy work for the EU?

Certainly sounds like their MO.

Rik said...

Interesting link.
Agree that the EU better steps in in some way but that opens the next set of questions:
-Ashton? Problem of not only having the wrong structure (with decisionmaking extremely difficult and very timeconsuming anyway) but also the wrong people. Ashton will not be able to pull this one off as nobody takes her seriously.
As parties seem totally unable to get to start proper negos (and are outright politically clumsy and more concerned with their own position anyway), outside intervention is probably necessary.
However the EU will have to show it can manage this proces and not let it turn into violence or the little credibility it has left will be gone as well if this turns into a disaster.

Probably better that some of the biggies step in (and being careful with Germany as that likely will have an image problem in Larger Spain). Or at the end of the day in combination with the good ol' US of A, the one that always (with different degrees of success) can clean up the mess.

Anyway also for the bail out issue things have to be cleared up. Having the chance that Spain's debt, deficit and unemployment rises further and considerably plus its already dysfunctional management is simply only busy holding the thing together will not be acceptable to markets (and likely also its voters).
You cannot have this hanging over it for several years.

Joe said...

The pretext of their beef (this time) is that they are being taxed, and due to that wealth, more of their money is proportionately going elsewhere.

Well, surprise, surprise, knuckleheads... that's how socialism works: take from the high-performing and successful and tranfer it to the lower-performing and less successful (AKA slobs).

It will also come to no surprise to anyone that they are also hipocrites, and the Catalan reflexively support any and all manner of socialist intervention and redistributioninst policy which they think of as "free goodies".