Saturday, November 24, 2012

The case for and against Catalonia's independence

Against independence, The Economist:
Under Spain’s constitution of 1978, Catalonia enjoys more self-government than almost any other corner of Europe. It runs its own schools, hospitals, police, prisons and cultural institutions. It lacks only tax-raising powers and the Ruritanian trappings of statehood, which nationalist politicians appear to be hungry for. As for the self-deception, this is sometimes farcical: Catalan public television offers a weather forecast that includes provinces that have been part of France since 1659, but no meteorological information for Zaragoza or Madrid. And most Catalans still seem happy to be both Catalans and Spaniards. Support for independence has risen mainly because Catalans think it would offer relief from recession. 
It would not. An independent Catalonia would have more fiscal revenues, but it would also have a higher debt burden than Spain. The argument that Catalans should not subsidise feckless Andalusians is a dangerous one: apply that more widely and the euro zone would fall apart. Indeed, far from welcoming Catalonia as an independent member, the euro zone’s leaders hardly yearn for an extra nation-state.

All that said, the Catalan problem cannot be wished away. Roughly three-quarters of the next Catalan parliament is likely to vote for the right to decide. The constitution says only the Spanish parliament can approve a referendum—and it will not do so. The constitution has in general served both Spain and Catalonia well—but there is a case for updating it. 
The Catalans’ complaints come down to two things (see article). First they feel that Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government in Madrid refuses to recognise that Spain is a plurinational and pluri-linguistic country. Second, they think that, set beside the other 16 regions, they pay too much. 
The neatest answer to these grievances would be for Spain formally to embrace federalism, with a federal senate and clear rules about who collects which taxes. Federalism would mean each region was equal, with the same rights and obligations. But it has been a dirty word in Spain since a failed federal government in 1873-74. A messier, but more feasible, alternative would be to accept that some regions—Catalonia, the Basque country and perhaps Galicia—should have more autonomy than the rest and be recognised as cultural nations within Spain. Doing this would require a national pact to revise the constitution. After the Catalan vote, Mr Rajoy would be wise to set that process in motion.

For it, Jordi Galí in The Guardian:

In the case of an independent Catalonia, we are dealing with the unique opportunity to design the institutions and regulations of a new state from scratch. A wide array of economic policy instruments that are currently under the exclusive control of the Spanish government and parliament would suddenly be at the Catalonians' disposal. It would allow us to define our own policies and a new regulatory framework for the labour, fiscal and financial sectors, as well as public administration – with no more additional restrictions than those coming from European regulations. It would thus be a good idea to enrich the current debate with proposals that answered the following question: independence, to do what?
To summarise: I believe it is important to recognise that the independence of Catalonia, in and of itself, could make us richer (because we would end the fiscal deficit), but not necessarily more productive. This second aspect would require us to make good use, the day after the celebrations are over, of the unique opportunity and the enormous possibilities offered by the building of a new state. Whether we are prepared for this challenge or not will depend exclusively on us Catalonians, and we will no longer be able to lay the blame on others. In the end, maybe that would be the best gift that independence could bring us. 

I must admit (full disclosure, I am Catalan myself) that The Economist makes the better case here. By and large, my impression is that the renewed vigor of Catalan secessionism is a byproduct of the deep recession that Spain is in. Fiscal grievances have been simmering for centuries. The Catalan nationalist leaders have merely seized on the moment to push for an agenda of more self-governance.

I also believe that the secessionist position of Artur Mas (the leader of Catalonia's majority party) is merely strategic. He and most of his party, I think, would be as happy as a clam if Spain moved on to fiscal federalism, even if Catalonia was never granted the right to a independence referendum. Ironically, the only party in the election that has taken federalism as its banner, the Socialist Party (PSC), is the one that is slated to lose the most votes in tomorrow's elections relative to 2010, according to the latest polls.

Either move from the status quo --independence, or mere fiscal federalism--, however, requires a modification of the Spanish constitution, which is a big no-no for the ruling party in the Spanish parliament. I am, therefore, quite skeptical that any of those changes will take place before the end of the current political term, which is in 2015. If the current government in Madrid manages to hold on to power until then, it probably will be because the economic situation improves. By then, Catalonia's secessionist fever may have cooled off.

1 comment:

Joan Valls said...

"Under Spain’s constitution of 1978, Catalonia enjoys more self-government than almost any other corner of Europe."
I would like here to ask whether the above-mentioned self-government is real or not. Should an individual be allowed by law to purchase any article in the market, it could be stated that he/she enjoys the topmost resource self-management that can be granted. If, however, that person's wage is limited to less than 1.000€ due to a budgetary limit established by the same body which issued the law, no matter how hard one plays with an Excel file - that car one needs will forever be out of one's possibilities. Lest I'd be accused of corrupting the argument by malignantly biasing the data, a clear example is found in Barcelona's airport: after years of political fight in order to obtain permission for an extension which would guarantee that one of the most dynamical and fast-growing hubs in Europe would be able to absorb the demand, AENA (the Spanish centralized public owned operator) diverted almost 90% of long flights to Madrid Barajas, leaving Barcelona as a secondary airport for short flights and cheap companies.
"As for the self-deception, this is sometimes farcical: Catalan public television offers a weather forecast that includes provinces that have been part of France since 1659, but no meteorological information for Zaragoza or Madrid." (Really?)
Self-deception is something we can be accused of, I can't deny it; but whatever harm it causes is inflicted upon ourselves. Yet purposeful deception is a whole different matter. All regions in Spain have their own TV channels; some are better, some are worse. In Catalonia a great deal of care was taken in order to offer the best possible content in order to use TV to counteract the result of forty-year dictatorship which tried as much as possible to eliminate Catalan as a language. (By the way: this model, called "immersion", has been praised by the European Union). But stating that our self-deception is farcical while forgetting to mention that self-deception in other regions is not a joking matter since it involves constant abuse and indoctrination of hate towards everything Catalan is undoubtedly a serious breach of either profesional standards by feeding misleading information or a much worrying case of massive carelessness. Two weeks ago a three-minute video was released in TeleMadrid. It showed, in succession, images of Hitler, Stalin, ETA and... the elected Catalan President. Need I say more? Should any of the Catalan stations issued anything remotely comparable, the Constitutional Tribunal would have taken immediate action. However, the thing that struck me the most was that, come the following day, Catalan newspapers devoted but a moderate space and a less-than-moderate importance to what could easily be define as instigation of hate. What should've been a public uproar was met with indifference... since, after years and years of abuse, we've grown used to it.
I've only added some context to two subjects mentioned in the article. I could go on. And on. And on. And on.
I obviously have stated my opinion. I'm Catalan, live in Catalonia, was for a Federal State but a few years ago, and have drawn my line in the sand. It is now for the readers to question and answer who is to issue a judgement on the case for and against Catalonia's independence: us who live our daily lives here, or an English journalist extrapolating information out of who knows where.