Catalonia: The first jenga block of Spain
Words by Felix Eldridge
Catalonia is one of many regions within Spain. It’s well-known for its beaches, football, and its contribution of roughly twenty percent of Spain’s taxes. Slight problem though, it wants to leave. There are various reasons why Catalonia wishes to gain independence from Spain. Some reflect Catalonia’s unfair share of tax redistribution, others focus on Catalonia’s unique culture, while even more concentrate on Spain’s increasingly strong central government. In some ways, Catalonia may seem justified in leaving Spain, but it isn’t and it shouldn’t.
The secession of Catalonia will sound the death knell of Spain. Catalonia is not the only region in Spain which has wanted independence. Spain is comprised of several distinct cultural identities which have functioned as independent countries in the past. Over time, these countries were unified by conquest, however the cultural distinctions remain. If Catalonia leaves Spain, it will trigger newfound independence movements in the other regions, which will lead to the dissolution of Spain and the formation of various weak states from its carcass. If Catalonia selfishly abandons Spain, this will cause tremendous financial damage as well as furthering instability in the region. Incidentally, the last independence attempt within Spain was the Basque movement, a struggle that quickly descended into terrorism and brutal government reprisals.
Nations created out of unification are not likely to survive secessions. The federation of Yugoslavia is a key example. Yugoslavia, situated in the western Balkan region of Europe was a collection of six countries including Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia. None of these countries had existed independently for hundreds of years. Each country had substantially different culture, language and ethnicities. When given the opportunity, four out of the six nations within Yugoslavia left the country within two years. That country no longer exists. The dissolution of the Soviet Union is another example. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the outlying states in the USSR all decided to leave. Defence, economics and political stability failed to keep them united. The USSR broke up in less than one year. Some countries like the Baltic States prospered, while others withered away into insignificance like Tajikistan or civil turmoil like the Ukraine. Is this the best future for Catalonia or Spain?
Independence is a bad idea, because while Catalonia is a wealthy region within Spain, it’s wealth is tied to multi-regional and multi-national businesses. An independent Catalonia would not be allowed into the EU because Spain would veto its membership. If it couldn’t join, it would face huge tariffs and investment barriers, locking it out of the European Common Market and other EU perks. Other European nations such as France, Germany and Italy would also like to see an independent Catalonia suffer, to discourage independence movements within their own borders.
Furthermore, the referendum which gave ‘legitimacy’ to the Catalan government’s actions was illegal and unconstitutional. The Catalan constitution forbids any change to the status of the region unless a two thirds majority of the local parliament approves it, however this was not achieved. When taken to the national level, Spain’s Constitutional Court also deemed the vote illegitimate. Thus, not only should Catalonia not secede, but it legally cannot. Pushing ahead with actual independence at this point would mean that if it physically split from Spain, it would not be recognised as an independent country and will face economic and political sanctions from other EU countries, not to mention the probable retaliation from the Spanish military.
Many independence supporters draw attention to the national government’s brutal crackdown on voters. That is an important issue, but it is a domestic issue and a common one at that. This sort of thing goes on almost everywhere, including within stable democracies like the UK and Australia. Margaret Thatcher cracked down on British unions in the mid-1980’s and Joh Bjekle-Peterson ran a police state in Queensland with numerous instances of police brutality. These were occasions where riot police were clearly being used to defend government policy against dissidents. Terrible occurrences, but ones which have not led to talk of secession. Reform should always precede revolution.
Finally, the world needs stability more than ever. Mutual defence, political cooperation and economic integration are key in maintaining that stability. The desire for an independent Catalonia is also a desire, however unintentionally, for a fragmented Spain and a fractured Europe. Supporters of independence often point out that this is about Catalonia’s right to exist as a recognised country. If this is the case, does Catalonia have any more right to exist than Spain?
The birth of a free Catalonia will be the death of Spain. Is that a price worth paying?