The political situation in Spain is complicated. Today might be the day that the head of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, will declare Catalonia an independent state. 

Despite that the Spanish government considered the 1 October 2017 referendum illegal and tried to repress it through the use of police, 90% of those who voted answered “Yes” to the question of whether Catalonia should become an independent republic. With the “Yes” vote having won, the Catalan government is expected today to declare independence. Is this going to mark a positive change for Catalonia, Spain or the rest of Europe, or something bad?

The Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, in an interview to El País, said that he would do anything he can to stop Catalonia from leaving Spain. Rajoy said: “We are going to prevent independence from occurring … I can tell you with absolute frankness that it will not happen.” Rajoy added: “It’s obvious we will take any of the decisions allowed by the laws, depending on how the events keep unfolding.” For him, as he said a few days ago, after the Catholic Church, Catalan civil society and political parties tried to mediate, “The unity of Spain is not subject to any mediation or to any negotiation.”

Catalexit and Catalonia’s wealth

It is possible, that if Catalonia got its independence without any pre-existing negotiations taking place between the EU, Catalonia and Madrid, Catalonia would end up “automatically outside the European Union and the Eurozone. All EU members would have to approve an eventual re-admission of Catalonia into the union. This could be boycotted by Spain, which would then have to share some kind of hard or soft border with newly independent Catalonia.” As the New Statesman’s Jose Miguel Calatayud wrote, Catalonia would also be left  out of all trade agreements the EU and Spain, or outside the United Nations. Catalexit, as the exit of Catalonia is called, would also affect the state of Spain itself: “Spain would lose 19 per cent of its gross domestic product and 16 per cent of its population.” Since Catalonia has lower unemployment rate and higher GDP per capita, as well as a higher PISA student score, this would make Spain poorer, financially, socially and culturally. Calatayud pointed out that the Catalan region is not only rich but also a very attractive destination for tourists, a quarter of those who chose Spain, chose Catalonia. Catalonia is also the “source of a quarter of all Spanish exports” and has received “31 per cent of foreign investment in Spain since 2011.”

Article 155

Rajoy said that he wouldn’t hesitate to use article 155 of the Spanish constitution which would allow Madrid to cancel the Catalan system’s self-government: “The mock referendum was bad for everyone. The more time passes without withdrawing the declaration of independence, the worse for all.” For Rajoy and generally the Spanish Right, the law is the law and it should be upheld. Any change is impossible and any possibility of considering the demands or differences of other peoples and nations is incomprehensible. Alternative territorial models or even negotiations are just out of the picture. Rajoy sees himself as the powerful Spanish representative of the Law and everyone else should abide with him. This kind of attitude has been criticised by Podemos MP Txema Guijarro, a Spanish economist and politician, who sees Rajoy’s position as unproductive: “they have no strategy except to continue ratcheting up the pressure on Catalonia. They are operating at a tactical level, reacting to the moves of the Catalan government and hoping eventually to exhaust the independence movement. Rajoy believes time is on his side but, for me, this is a serious miscalculation.”

Guijarro sees that the only alternative to defeating the kind of inflexible logic that has solidified into the position that Rajoy represents is “a broad alliance of progressive forces and regional nationalists. Periods of conservative restoration have tended to come after the failure of such an alliance. This is a constant in our history, it was true of the collapse of the First Republic at the end of the 19th century as well as the failure of the Second Republic, which led to General Franco. In contrast, it was the alliance between progressives and nationalists in regions such as Catalonia that underpinned the post-Franco transition to democracy.”

Transitioning out of this impasse would be a long and arduous process and one that would have to take into account both the voices coming from those demanding independence and from those opposing it. Developing a discourse which will defend civil rights and democracy would strengthen the bonds between the Spanish and the Catalans, without reverting to the fear of the Spanish past and Francoism.  What happens in Catalonia, won’t stay in Catalonia, but would inevitably affect the future of Spain and Europe, for the better or the worse. If Catalonia and Spain manage to negotiate and reach some form of common ground, then this would be beneficial for them but also for the future of Europe itself, since they will be responding to German hegemony through political unity.