Interview: Will Catalonia be independent in 2015?

Interview: Will Catalonia be independent in 2015?

Catalonia’s political leader, President of the Generalitat Artur Mas i Gavarró, has urged a snap local vote on independence from Spain this September, despite the latest decision by Spain’s supreme court ruling that the region’s symbolic referendum vote last year in November was unconstitutional.

Mas’ attempt to give Catalans their own sovereign state this time around will not be limited to a vote.

Indeed, the nationalist leader is also working on wide array of measures beside a snap election, including diplomacy, social security restructuring and setting up a tax system. However, pressure from Madrid and from the other pro-independence parties will not make his task an easy one.

To better understand whether secessionist Catalan politician stands a chance to succeed this time, GRI sat down with Sebastian Balfour, Professor Emeritus of Contemporary Spanish Studies at the London School of Economics.

Q: After the Constitutional Court has declared the November’s vote on secession illegal, with regional elections in May and a snap election in September, will pro-independence parties be able to further increase support for an official referendum or the granting of more powers to the region?

This depends on the results of the general elections of September. According to opinion polls it is likely that the next Spanish government will be a coalition. Whatever the composition of the coalition I don’t see the likelihood of a new referendum sanctioned by the national parliament nor further powers being granted to Catalonia.

Neither the PP [Partido Popular, Spain’s ruling party] nor PSOE [Partido Socialista Obrero Español, the centre-left opposition party] nor the rising star of the centre, Ciudadanos, are in favour. Podemos [currently Spain’s 2nd-largest party]  is in favour of a referendum but it is unlikely to have enough seats alongside the Catalan nationalist parties to ensure this.

Q: Could the rise of Podemos, which supports Catalonia’s ‘right to decide’ over independence, pose a challenge for pro-independence parties ahead of the 2015 Catalan elections?

This is difficult to judge. Podemos has declared it respects local parties of the Left and it will support Barcelona en Comú (formerly Guanyem Barcelona). The question could be to what extent will nationalist voters of the Left such as ERC [Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya] in Catalonia vote for Podemos in the general election?

Q: Mas has named a commissioner for national transition, has hired inspectors for a Catalan tax agency and is drawing up plans for a new social security system. He seems to be putting in place all necessary conditions for a split. Will the September elections be his and the region’s last chance to get it right?

In such a fluid and uncertain political situation, this is difficult to predict. I doubt If these measures will make a spilt more likely. A unilateral declaration of independence is improbable. I would see these measures mainly as a means of maintaining the momentum of the independent movement.

Q: Catalonia contributes more to the national budget than it receives from Madrid and the regional government predicts GDP will grow by 2.5% in 2015, higher than country’s expected growth. Could economic and fiscal issues alone be considered as the main driver of Catalonia’s demands for independence?

These issues are not the main driver of the independence movement but part of its rationalisation or justification. The main drivers are the economic crisis, the loss of legitimacy of Spanish political institutions and elites, the attractions of identity politics, and comparative grievances.

Q: Finally, Secretary of State for European Affairs, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, compared Greece’s request for a debt write-off to Catalonia’s push for independence, suggesting EU officials won’t accept either. Under Barroso’s leadership the EC firmly supported Madrid’s stance against independence, would a possible U-Turn be conceivable with the new Commission recognising the right of self-determination to the region?

I doubt this very much. The EU is unlikely to put regional nationalist demands ahead of national governments.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Giovanni Puglisi

Giovanni Puglisi is a freelance journalist, media analyst and communications consultant. He writes for a number of publications in Europe, while his experience in managing clients streches accross continents. Giovanni holds an MSc in European Social Policy from the LSE and a PG Diploma in Communication, Journalism and Public Affairs from Il Sole 24 Ore Business School.