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Posts Tagged ‘catalonia’

Last week I was in Barcelona for two days, giving a talk at an event on “the right to decide,” sponsored by the Centre Maurits Coppieters (nonprofit arm of the European Free Alliance, the European Parliament group for ideologically mainstream minority nationalist parties) and by the Fundació Josep Irla (nonprofit arm of the Catalan Republican Left [ERC], largest pro-independence party in Catalonia). I also did some media interviews. You can see some excerpts of my interview with Catalonia’s TV3 evening news here (in Catalan).

I was interested in going to find out more about Catalonia’s independence movement and its prospects. For background on the Catalan movement, see my post here on Pileus from September 24, 2012, two weeks after the massive Catalan National Day demonstrations that kicked off the current process. (That post, including its forecasts, has held up pretty well, I’d say.)

Now that the Spanish Constitutional Court has invalidated the consulta (consultative plebiscite) that the Catalan Government had authorized with the support of over two-thirds of Catalan MP’s and three-quarters of the Catalan electorate, the way forward is murky. An official consultation will not now happen. Instead, tens of thousands of volunteer poll workers are signing up to help with an unofficial poll that will involve ballots and ballot boxes and occur on November 9.

It remains to be seen how successful the November 9 consultation will be. The pro-independence parties and civil society organizations are trying hard to mobilize voters and volunteers for the event. The anti-independence parties are boycotting the vote, as indeed are some far-left types who hate Artur Mas, such as the leader of the ex-communist, ecosocialist party ICV-EUiA, which otherwise supports the “right to decide” and remains agnostic on independence.

If the November 9 consultation is successful, then the pro-independence parties will try to negotiate a “unitary party list” for early elections to the Catalan Parliament. They will treat this election as a plebiscite-by-proxy, and if an absolute majority of seats and votes go to the pro-independence list, Artur Mas will take it as a mandate for independence.

However, several difficulties remain. The more radically independentist party, ERC, wants to declare independence right away after a successful “plebiscitary election.” Artur Mas’ party, Convergence and Union (CiU), is divided between independentists and those favoring a solution like confederation. (Technically, the party is a long-standing alliance between two separate parties, the now-independentist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia and the autonomist Democratic Union of Catalonia.) Generally, the last few days have seen more division and acrimony among secessionist leaders than the previous two years, and if it continues, that division will alienate voters. Civil society groups continue to call for unity among the pro-independence leaders.

Another difficulty is that while a majority of Catalans with an opinion on the matter favor independence (a recent El Mundo poll had the anti-independence side ahead within the margin of error, but their polls have always been biased in an anti-independence direction), polls suggest the pro-independence parties would not together gain a majority in early elections. The reason for this is that many independentists are not in the secessionist parties. For a successful result, the “unitary list” will need to contain important leaders from civil society and non-secessionist parties.

If the Catalan process stumbles now, it will be a shame, because it will show the Spanish government that they can face down demands for more autonomy simply by standing pat and threatening to arrest politicians. Spanish autonomous communities like Catalonia enjoy far less autonomy than American states (they are not allowed, for instance, to vary the overall tax burden from a central standard).

The most likely outcome of the process now seems to be (more…)

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On Friday the 17th of October I will be speaking at the annual conference of the Josep Irla Foundation in Barcelona, Catalonia. The theme of the conference is “Catalonia’s right to decide.” I will be in town Thursday and Friday and would enjoy meeting with any Pileus readers while I am there. Please contact me at jason.p.sorens AT dartmouth.edu. If you are interested in coming to the talk, here is a program in English, and here are the details:

When: Friday 17th October 2014

Where: Barcelona – The Mirador, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona

Address: Montalegre, 5 – 08001 Barcelona

Interpretation: English

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That’s the title of a very good article by Princeton political scientist Carles Boix and J.C. Major. The article provides background to the Catalan self-determination movement but also discusses recent developments and the reasons for them. One takeaway is the enormous role that the Spanish government’s response to the last Catalan autonomy statute, essentially gutting it, played in provoking the growth of the independence movement. As I noted in a piece in Electoral Studies 10 years ago, when the central government spikes decentralization, secessionists strengthen, but when a referendum on independence or autonomy fails (the failure being internal rather than external in origin), secessionists weaken. The article also contains important information on what the Catalan government plans to do if the central government forbids it to hold a referendum, as seems likely. I won’t spoil it; just read the article.

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1) Polls continue to point to a significant “yes” victory in a future referendum on independence in Catalonia.

2) If the Catalan government backs down from a referendum, even if the Constitutional Court declares it illegal, as it certainly will, it will pay a heavy price at the polls. Therefore, it is locked into holding a referendum, unless it can negotiate a sufficiently advantageous fiscal settlement with the Spanish state. A negotiated settlement averting a referendum remains the most likely outcome, although p<0.5.

3) Some Catalans think the Socialist Party of Catalonia, which is linked with the main Spanish opposition party (PSOE) and has been trying to straddle the self-determination issue, will implode soon over the issue.

4) Catalonia and Spain may both be more viable as separate states than together. Spain's political economy is dysfunctional. Catalonia’s would not be (the largest Catalan party is centrist with some classical liberal elements). A functional state can carry a larger debt burden than a dysfunctional one. Therefore, the European Union might pressure Spain to accept a post-referendum settlement by which Catalonia is allowed to go free while taking on a disproportionate share of Spain’s debt. (On this point I am indebted to Jaume Lopez Hernandez of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra.) This is the second most likely outcome.

5) Spain’s threat to arrest Catalan leaders and prevent secession by force is not credible. (Although some autonomists and secessionists in Spain insist that the central government would indeed send in the tanks.) Therefore, it is unlikely that the Catalan government will be deterred. A “yes” vote followed by suppression is the least likely outcome, even less likely than a “no” vote.

6) If the Catalan referendum is held, regardless of the result, it would set a powerful precedent for Basque nationalists. The precedent is not that secession is easy or desirable, but that the possible legal framework will be recognized. The Basque Premier backed down from holding a referendum on his “Ibarretxe Plan” for free association after threats of arrest and a negative vote in the Spanish Cortes. The reason why I argued, in this interview, that Ibarretxe should have gone ahead with the referendum is not so much that I endorsed the Plan itself (on which I am agnostic), but that I fear his backing down set an unfavorable precedent for the “right to decide,” which I do favor.

7) Nevertheless, even if Catalonia secedes, the Basque Country Autonomous Community is unlikely to follow, at least right away. Pan-Basque independentists are a powerful force and would insist on bringing along Navarre (and later the French Basque provinces). But Navarre would vote “no” in a referendum held today or at any time in the near future. No other region of Spain is likely to hold a referendum either, and thus there is likely to be no “harmful precedent” for secession or “contagion” from Catalan secession.

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Today’s election results from Catalonia are in, and the verdict is: status quo. Turnout increased dramatically from 58.8% to 69.6%, but there was little change in the overall position of pro-independence and anti-independence forces. Explicitly pro-independence parties received 74 of 135 seats, down two from the previous parliament. However, if the pro-independence referendum quasi-nationalist Catalan Greens are included, the pro-referendum forces won 87 seats, up one from the previous parliament.

The biggest shift came within each camp, as there was growing polarization along the independence-centralism dimension. The most moderate pro-independence party, CiU lost 12 seats, from 62 to 50. The more radical and left-wing ERC went from 10 to 21 seats. Meanwhile, the most radically anti-independence party, Citizens, went from 3 to 9 seats, while the most moderately anti-independence party, the Catalan Socialists, went from 28 to 20 seats.

So the bottom line is that the apparent surge in independence support we heard so much about apparently came exclusively within the camp that was already nationalist, as reflected in CiU’s adoption of independence — or more properly, “statehood,” as their objective. Moreover, while a full analysis will have to wait until exit poll details are known, it is possible that among the Catalan-born there was a shift from non-nationalist parties to nationalist parties. The reason is that in most regional elections the Catalan born participate at much higher rates than immigrants. The big increase in turnout most likely reflects mobilization by immigrants, who are overwhelmingly anti-independence. Hence the status quo result, which will be somewhat disappointing for the pro-independence side. Nevertheless, independentists did win a clear majority of seats and will easily be able to push through a bill on a referendum if they decide to do so.

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Yet More on Catalonia

I don’t think Catalan secession is an easy issue. There are good arguments on both sides (that is, to the desirability of secession, not whether Catalans should have the right to decide their future status). Precisely because it is a complex issue without easy answers, the haughty dismissal of Catalan independence from Anglo-American elites rubs me the wrong way. Here’s the latest example from The Economist:

At first blush, it is hard to object to what Catalan nationalists call the “right to decide”. In fact, there are many reasons why Catalans should not waste their energy trying to break away from Spain. Start by recalling Orwell’s definition of nationalism as “power-hunger tempered by self-deception”.

Nationalism always involves popular self-deception and power hunger from elites who cater to it. But that is just as true of status quo nationalism (Spanish nationalism) as it is of minority (Catalan) nationalism.

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.

It runs schools, hospitals, police, jails, and museums? Why, Catalonia seems to have as much autonomy as an American township! Complete with limited tax-raising powers. Even so, Catalonia enjoys far less autonomy than, say, Appenzell Ausser-Rhoden (or an American state).

The argument that Catalans should not subsidise feckless Andalusians is a dangerous one: apply that more widely and the euro zone would fall apart.

Catalonia on net subsidizes the rest of Spain to the tune of 8% of GDP, far, far beyond what any EU member state contributes to common institutions in aggregate, let alone on net.

Indeed, far from welcoming Catalonia as an independent member, the euro zone’s leaders hardly yearn for an extra nation-state.

The “timing is bad” argument is one of the best ones against independence — but it’s hardly a trump. It all depends on your discount factor.

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Catalonia Update

The Monkey Cage is carrying an interesting update on the Catalonia situation from Duke political scientist Laia Balcells. Catalonia is heading to elections, called by the premier Artur Mas, from the Convergence and Unity (CiU) party, a moderate Catalan nationalist party on the center-right. The CiU has always favored a “right to self-determination” for Catalonia, but now they favor holding a referendum on independence, unless Spain agrees to a new fiscal pact giving Catalonia broader powers.

She lays out three possible post-election scenarios:

1. A secessionist process scenario: a combination of Catalan nationalist parties (e.g. CiU ERC; CiUERC+SI) obtains a majority of the seats. Mas calls for a referendum. Despite the fact that the referendum is not likely to be recognized by Spain, it gives democratic legitimacy to the self-determination process. The medium-term outcome of this path is highly unpredictable at this point: Rajoy is not Cameron, and the PP government is making threats to deter Mas from the referendum (e.g. declaring it illegal). Some members of the Spanish military have even mentioned armed intervention in Catalonia to defend the “inviolable unity of the Spanish State”. The EU, on its end, delivers ambiguous messages regarding the permanence of Catalonia in the union if there is a breakup.

2. A fiscal pact scenario: CiU obtains a majority of the seats. Mas makes a credible threat of a self-determination referendum to Rajoy, who concedes on an agreement that improves Catalania’s fiscal capacities. CiU then renounces its secessionist demands, and ERC and other minority parties remain as the only ones asking for independence.

3. A stalemate/centralization scenario: Catalan nationalists do not obtain sufficient support in the elections and things remain at a standstill. Mas has a hard time governing given the economic and political gridlock. This scenario would probably imply asking for another bailout to the Spanish state and new attempts at centralization. (Given the results of the polls, this is however the least likely scenario)

Let’s look down the game tree to see what is likely to happen.

I think we can rule out 3 as a likely scenario, if the polls are right. Apparently 57% of poll respondents now say they would vote “yes” in an independence referendum and only 20% no. That’s a dramatic increase in secessionist sentiment even over the last few months. Catalan nationalist parties have frequently won significant majorities in the past, and I see no reason why they would not in the upcoming election with the radical turn in Catalan opinion.

So what happens after the election if nationalists win a majority? I think it likely that (more…)

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