Catalonia: A Case Study for Secessionism

The issue of Catalan secession is a matter of of great political importance in the 21st century, as this region seeks to become an independent state from Spain. For years, Catalonia has been a culturally diverse region from the rest of Spain, through its economic activity, regional identity, and even its distinct language. Still, is that enough to achieve separation from Spain in legal and political terms?

Secession is a process that was quite common during the past centuries, and is still occurring today. On many occasions, the secessionist act has been justified by the region's political, economic, social, or even geographic situation separating from its parent state. A vast nation where its central government cannot maintain the necessary control and attention over all its territories also justifies the secessionist impulse simply because the rest of the state's costs, welfare, and security become too great to manage. The American colonies' separations from the British Empire during the late 1700s was a prime example of this, which naturally justified the right to secession.

According to the principles of Isolation Moderation, an act of secessionism requires two conditions in order for this to take place: 

1) A specific part of the country must identify a reasonable need to leave the nation. This can be for some of the following reasons: administering the territory in question is too expensive for the national government to manage. On the other hand, the territory may be in a situation in where they pay more to fund the national government than they receive back in the form of benefits and services; Geographical barriers (such as mountains or large bodies of water) create a separation between the territory and the nation; the culture or values of the territory are so different from the greater nation that remaining unified is not a practical or desirable option. 

2) The people of the territory in question should agree by a majority vote to secede from the nation. If these two steps are followed, then the national government should allow the territory to secede.

The case of Catalan secession is an important modern case, which has gone through several notable events in recent years. New legislation was developed, which allowed for the holding of a popular referendum to decide on Catalan independence. In 2017, 5.3 million people came out to vote on this referendum, with 43% of the electorate participating and a 2 million majority voting in favor of independence from Spain.  This bid for independence was of course rejected by the Spanish government, despite the fact that the region met every criteria in order to secede and form their own nation.

Since then, a turbulent process has begun in which both the Spanish national government and the Catalan pro-independence leaders have been unwilling to come to an agreement, which makes any possibility of a prompt resolution to this conflict very unlikely. It can be best said that Catalonia has earned the right to form its own independent nation and should not be forced to give up on this goal. 

Economy

Starting in 2008, Spain (including Catalonia), along with much of the world, underwent a massive economic crisis, which, among other consequences, caused a significant increase in unemployment and drastically impacted the welfare of the middle class across Europe. This has been one of the main economic strongholds of Catalonia and Spain as a whole, a plight which has led to deteriorated relations within the Spanish political system. This has accelerated a desire within many Catalans to seek independence from Spain. Catalonia happens to be one of the wealthiest regions in Spain, making it  one of the most significant contributors to the national coffers in terms of taxes and financing to more impoverished regions of the country; a Catalan separation from Madrid would save Catalonia an enormous amount of capital. According to experts, a Catalan state could be economically viable, as it can use its wealth to invest in the long-term growth of the region. Clearly, with more money, the range of opportunities for Catalonia is immense. On the other end, a Catalan separation from Spain would lead to an enormous loss of tax revenues from one of the most prosperous areas of the country, which will undoubtedly hurt Spain. This is one of the prime reasons that Spain will never legitimately allow the Catalan region to secede.

Greater Sovereignty

By successfully seceding from Spain, Catalonia would be able to establish its own self-functioning government that depends solely on itself, allowing it to enjoy greater sovereignty. This would include having the ability to shape and decide upon its own affairs in the manner that it sees fit, according to its ideals and needs. Like any sovereign state, it would benefit from the recognition of the international community. This would come with benefits such as being able to negotiate treaties with other nations, as well as joining international organizations, like the UN.

Cultural preservation

Since the 1980s, the Catalan authorities have unleashed an ambitious development of national identity, encompassing most social areas, including education, media, politics, and the economy. All of these efforts have served as a means to establish a new state in the region.

Independence would allow the preservation of Catalan culture. Many believe that this has been historically undervalued by the Spanish state. A large part of the Catalan population identifies itself more as Catalan than Spanish, so the idea of an independent Catalan state, where its traditions, culture, and customs are preserved and shared, is ideal. After all, what country would not like to live with full identification with its traditions, culture, and beliefs?

It is worth remembering that the Spanish nation originated after the voluntary unification of the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, where the Catalan region is located.

Main obstacles to Catalan Secessionism

Despite secessionism having many strong benefits for the region, the Catalan independence movement has continually faced a series of challenges coming from many different fronts.

First, there is the legal matter pertaining to Spain’s constitution, which generally does not allow for acts of secessionism to take place. The Spanish government from the beginning has been against any form of Catalan independence, arguing the unconstitutionality of any dissolution or separation from Spain. In order to achieve any division, restructuring, or separation from Spain would require constitutional reform. The Spanish State has hindered this process from the beginning, labeling Catalan secession as illegal, while Catalonia argues that it has every right to do this. 

From the point of view of international law, there is the obstacle in the justification of the pro-independence referendum that was approved in 2017. Among its main arguments in favor of Catalan secession is basing this action on the Right to Self-Determination of Peoples. This has been used as a primary argument for independence, when by definition this right is reserved to colonial territories, a characteristic that Catalonia does not represent. Additionally, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, in 2015 disavowed the possibility of using the Right to Self-Determination of Peoples in the Catalan cause by the arguments already exposed.

Conclusion

Catalan secessionism will be an ongoing tumultuous process that will not likely be resolved anytime soon. The conflicting desires of Spain to keep Catalonia intact, while nationalist groups continue to seek an independent Catalan state will continue to cause bitter tension. The Catalan desire to unify under its customs, culture, and language is an ambitious goal for many people who live in this region. Many Catalans see in Madrid a set of never-ending obstacles and limitations through the various power structures hindering the growth and great potential of one of the country's wealthiest regions.

The desire for freedom, independence, and the capability to determine their own destiny, is a powerful representation in Catalan identity. The Catalan people understand the many benefits that they can gain from seceding from Spain. Catalonia and its population are looking for the chance to form a new nation, with their own culture, economy, and language; Barcelona would then become the capital of the newly-formed Catalan state. As seen before in past revolutions, new countries are created when they release themselves from the governments and monarchies that hold them in submission and forced obedience. The struggle of the American Colonies in separating from Great Britain to form their own country exemplifies this perfectly.

For many years, Catalonia has seen its full potential blocked by Madrid. Those in favour of independence believe that this wealthy and influential region will never reach its full economic, cultural, and political potential as long as Catalonia remains part of Spain, which is why Catalonian secession must move forward.  

The Committee for Isolation Moderation fully supports the right of the region of Catalonia to secede from Spain and form its own nation. 

If you are interested in learning more about these ideas, please order your own copy of Isolation Moderation.


Vanessa Semprun

Vanessa Semprun currently serves as the Director of Communications for Politiks, a political consulting firm. She has a Bachelor's degree in political science from the Universidad Rafael Urdaneta in Venezuela.