A Catalan Referendum – Threat or Opportunity for Europe?

On October 22nd 2014, the PDU invited speakers to discuss the implications of a possible Catalan referendum on the European Union.

The debate, chaired by Kwasi Kwarteng MP, took place at the House of Commons in London. In front of an audience of around 50 Professor Joan-Pau Rubiés of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Professor Montserrat Guibernau of Queen Mary University of London and Christian Schulze of Berenberg Bank discussed the origins of the renewed surge of the Catalan independence movement, the current political response in Spain as well as its implications for the European Union.

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The speakers identified three main factors contributing to the rise of the Catalan movement over the last 10 years as well as its transition from a movement seeking devolution to one demanding full secession. Firstly, they highlighted the lack of negotiations and serious debate on the question in Madrid and its clear rejection of the referendum because of its alleged illegality under the Spanish constitution. This has led to a lack of credibility of the Spanish government in dealing with Catalan aspirations. Secondly, the consolidation of democracy in Spain has created expectations and a sense of empowerment, which were frustrated by the calling off of the referendum. The comparison with Scotland, where a referendum on independence was held, also highlighted the different conceptions of democracy in the EU. Finally, Catalan nationalism was strengthened by the economic crisis affecting not just Catalonia but the whole of Spain.

The speakers also discussed the potential financial and political risks of Catalan independence. Firstly, it was noted that, irrespective of potentially successful long-term prospects for an independent Catalonia, investors might react adversely to the uncertainty surrounding a referendum. Secondly, the question was raised whether an independent Catalonia would continue to be a member state of the European Union and would be able to continue using the Euro. On one hand speakers agreed that the Catalan independence movement’s goal is for Catalonia to continue as a part of the EU and the Eurozone. On the other hand, they noted that Catalonia’s continuing membership potentially also depends on Spain’s position concerning this question.

P1030812As regards the next steps in the process, the speakers believed that a referendum on independence was now an unlikely prospect. Due to the wording of the Spanish constitution leaving little scope for further autonomy or independence a more likely approach would be to seek a reform of the Spanish constitution.

The debate highlighted the complex reasons for the rise of Catalan nationalism and showed that while the movement is in favour of remaining in the EU and the Eurozone, there are potential financial and political risks of a referendum for the European Union.

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