By Julio Godoy* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis
BARCELONA (IDN) – Writing about the referendum the Catalonian parliament wants to hold next November to decide whether the region remains part of Spain or not, I wondered in my analysis on February 6 how Europe would react to such demand.
The answer came sooner than expected: In an extraordinary action, which underlines the dramatic impasse in which the Madrid-Barcelona relation is nowadays, a group of important German business people operating in Catalonia published a manifesto, to warn about “the dreadful consequences” that independence would bring for the Catalonian economy.
As I have implied in the report mentioned above, the German business people, who represent among other companies BASF and Thyssen Krupp Materials, in a so-called “Declaration of Barcelona” painted an extremely dramatic scenario for Catalonia: They said that independence would lead to the region’s automatic expulsion from the European Union, and doubted that, were Catalonia to be expulsed from the EU, “the Euro (would) continue being (the new state’s) official currency. There will be no such thing as funding through the European Central Bank,” they added. “Nor will there be any free circulation of workers, goods, services, and capital. All the agreements to avoid double taxation and regarding social security will have to be renegotiated through a lengthy process.”
In other words, Catalonia would pass from being a (Spanish) member of the EU, to be the new Turkey or Serbia – a backward country which would have to wait several decades to aspire to again be a member of the alliance.
The very same day, the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisation (CEOE, after its original name), the largest corporate lobby in Spain, said very much the same thing. Juan Rosell, the Catalonian-born head of the group, argued that “most of us Catalonians don’t want to leave Spain.”
It is quite telling that the European economic elite go this far to warn against the Catalonian independency movement. In the past, i.e. in the Yugoslavian secession wars, the European Union, led by Germany, fomented separatism, going as far as to providing weapons to the regional government of Croatia and to terrorist groups in Kosovo, and ultimately waging war against Serbia. It does again, albeit indirectly, right now, in the crisis in Ukraine, where the risk of the country’s breakdown in two regions, one pro-Western, another pro-Russia region, cannot be underestimated. The EU supports a disparate opposition alliance, composed by oligarchs, human rights activists, and right wing extremists.
So far, official Europe has avoided taking sides in the conflict between Catalonia and Madrid. Every time European Union officials have been asked about an eventual separation of Catalonia from Spain, they have carefully re-joined that it is an internal problem of a sovereign country, and that Spanish political institutions should be left alone to find a solution to it. For instance, Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, said last September (2013) that the European Commission will only issue its definitive opinion about an independent Catalonia on the basis of “a precise scenario” and refuses to “speculate” about the case.
But Catalonia is obviously too important in economic terms for European tycoons; thousands of European companies operate in the region, the most industrialised in Spain. For them, the scenario the German tycoons described in their declaration would be disastrous – unless they put pressure upon the EU to accept a new independent Catalonian state to be immediately accepted as member of the body, and also upon the European Central Bank, to allow the region to continue using the Euro. So far, and to judge after its “declaration of Barcelona”, corporate Europe refuses to consider this option.
However, there is growing evidence that the majority of the Catalonian people is fed up with the present balance of power within Spain, in particular in fiscal and cultural matters, and with the intransigency the central authorities in Madrid have shown so far in addressing, or rather not addressing, the conflict.
According to a survey published February 10 by the Catalonian Centre for Polling, closely linked to the government in Barcelona, a majority of Catalonian people would vote for independency, regardless of whether the region remains member of the EU or not. This so-called “experimental poll” presented 10 different future scenarios to 1,830 Catalonian interviewees. The scenarios went from a simple question (“if the [independence] referendum is finally organised, what would you vote?”) to more or less varying complex circumstances, such as whether Catalonia remains part of the EU or it is immediately expulsed from the body. For all scenarios, independency wins clearly, even though the results vary from one case to the other, ranging from a 62.7 percent to a 45.4 percent support.
It can be argued that the survey is not representative, and that the polling institute has a pro Catalonian bias. In any event, together with the German and Spanish corporative passionate appeals against Catalonian independency, the survey indicates the gravity of the crisis. Artur Mas, the conservative head of the Catalonian government, is also aware of the dead-end his initiative has led the region – he seems to be back pedalling, and early in February offered a new pact to Madrid, to reform the present Spanish state structure – the so called autonomías – into a clear-cut federal structure. Mas has also admitted before political companions that he “is (politically) toasted.” Unfortunately, the central government remains deaf to the crisis: Mariano Rajoy, head of the Spanish central government, said he “has not been asked to discuss” the conflict.
To measure Rajoy’s will to dialogue, it suffices to say that his party, the Popular Party, heir of dictator Franco’s movement, and which controls the Spanish parliament, has just passed a most intolerant law initiative to all but forbid abortion – against the will of the large majority of the population.
It is as if Rajoy wouldn’t be aware of the dimensions of the social and legitimacy crisis the Spanish polity is facing – as if his behaviour were dictated by the haughtiness of absolutist power, exactly the Madrid supremacy most Catalonians are tired of.
*Julio Godoy is an investigative journalist and IDN Associate Global Editor. He has won international recognition for his work, including the Hellman-Hammett human rights award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting Online by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, and the Online Journalism Award for Enterprise Journalism by the Online News Association and the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, as co-author of the investigative reports “Making a Killing: The Business of War” and “The Water Barons: The Privatisation of Water Services”. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 13, 2014]
Image of Catalonia | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Bottom Picture: Julio Godoy – Credit: ICIJ
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