Growing nationalism and desire for independence have turned the Spanish region of Catalonia into a political “hot potato”. With the emerging possibility of a Catalan independence, many have questions regarding what will happen. The future of 7.5 million Catalans and one of the most famous football clubs is at stake.
On the 27th of September, “Junts per Si” (“Together for Yes”) won 62 seats in the Catalan regional elections. Together with the smaller, nationalist and left-separatist CUP party, they hold 72 seats and an absolute majority in the 135-seat regional parliament. Consequently, if tensions were not high enough with the Spanish central government, they are now even higher. The Spanish government was quick to respond to the election results and dismiss any plans for secession as “nonsense”. The pro-independence parties’ aim of setting up an official referendum is consistently met with resistance from Madrid.
Despite disapproval from the government, visions of a Catalan Republic are grand among many Catalans. The President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Mr. Artur Mas, has repeatedly expressed his desire to create essential institutions such as diplomatic service, a central bank, armed forces and tax authority. On October 26th, the new speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, addressed the parliament by exclaiming “Long live the Catalan Republic” and was met with applause. With such announcements, there is a momentousness that should be taken seriously. The reactions from Madrid show how gravely they look at the situation and how concerned they are with the recent developments. With national elections at the end of the year, the situation has now become crucial.
That Catalan independence would one day become reality seems like a genuine possibility. However, many obstacles still need to be overcome. The creation of the new state naturally raises many questions and challenges. How Catalonia, as an independent nation, would stand in relation to the European Union is a difficult problem. So far every nation in the EU had to apply and meet the criteria needed to take part in the union. However, some Catalan politicians appear to think this procedure would not apply to Catalonia. Raül Romeva from the “Junts per Si” coalition was questioned on the matter by Stephen Sackur in “BBC Hard Talk”. Mr. Romeva explains that he believes that Catalonia could remain a member of the EU. His argument is that all Catalans are currently Spanish citizens and therefore also European Union citizens. Thus, if Catalonia would become independent, it should not be possible to just exclude 7.5 million former citizens from the EU. However, this is an unprecedented circumstance and how solid this argument is remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that an independent Catalonia could have to stand outside the EU for quite some time, which could damage the new nation both politically and economically.
From the European perspective, the creation of the Republic of Catalonia could also have other long-term consequences. An independent Catalonia joining the EU could also trigger other independence-seeking regions in countries such as Italy, Belgium, United Kingdom and Germany into following suit. Not least the Basque country, which is another Spanish region with a history of nationalism and desire for independence. With several potential micro-nations struggling with EU memberships, Europe could end up being a bunch of fragmented nations. This has the potential to severely harm the EU, which has been weakened by recent events such as the economic crisis and the refugee crisis.
As the Spanish central government opposes any move towards secession they focus on explaining the possible consequences of secession to the Catalonian people. A very tangible consequence to the Catalan society is that officials from the Spanish football league Primera División, the LFP, have warned that the most well-known and successful football club from Catalonia, FC Barcelona, might not be welcome to play in the league anymore upon independence. This would be a disaster for FC Barcelona as a club. The rivalry with Real Madrid C.F is mutually beneficial in both economic and competitive ways and an end to this would weaken both teams, especially “Barça”. This could potentially lead to the end of F.C Barcelona’s great history as one of the top clubs in the world. There are interesting alternatives though. The prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, has invited the club to play in French Ligue 1 if they are excluded from La Liga in Spain. Although some clubs from smaller nations have chosen to play in another league, this would still be a unique situation considering the history of F.C Barcelona and their greatness in international football.
The upcoming year will be interesting for Europe, Spain and the region of Catalonia. The national elections at the end of year should be observed with great seriousness as Europe could witness the beginnings of a new nation, a situation which would be unique for the so-called “European project”. Whether the Catalan people’s desire for a national identity will be enough to reach a referendum remains unclear. Some dismiss Catalan independence as unrealistic, others claim it could become a reality in any moment. Those who follow the Spanish national election will soon find out who is more right.
Alexander Edberg Thorén