Catalonia – an unsuccessful attempt in becoming independent

By Carmen Murgu, Adviser to the board of the Munich European Forum

The Catalan Crisis is a matter of national identity. To be more specific, the crisis started with the wish of having the Catalan identity recognized as unique and indisputable by the Spanish central government in Madrid. Non-recognized pro-independence Referendums were organized within the 2009-2011 timeframe, but the apogee was met in 2017. However, the strong longing for independence is not new. Catalans’ requests to be known as a distinctive nation within Spain, being able to posses their own independent political and economic power, have been playing an important role for their identity. The region developed between the French and the Spanish borders along history. Wars, social, political and economic relations influenced how their unique traditions and customs and language evolved.

Academics and authors have been debating the importance of borders and cultural frontiers in relation with the national identity. One example is Thomas Wilson and his work on ‘Border Identities’. Thomas Wilson focused on the historical formation of the Catalan identity in the Valley of Cherdanya.[1]. He discusses how the conflicts between the two states shaped both sides of the valley from an economic, political-administrative and social points of view.[2] Other authors, like Henry and Kate Miller,analyzed the linguistic component of the distinctive identity. The Catalan language offers a uniqueness to the region and differentiates it form the surrounding territories.[3] Another angle they approach is the matter of Spain as a decentralized state, consisting of 17 regions, among which Catalonia is the richest, paying more taxes to the central government than any other. As a direct result, prominent nationalism has emerged, being conducted by the political elite in the government of Catalonia, the Generalitat.[4]

 

The Spanish Flag

After General Franco died in 1975 alongside with his authoritarian regime, the level of the Catalan autonomy grew with the Statute of Autonomy under the new Spanish Constitution of 1978. In 2006, a new such Statute was published, and a period of violent pro-independence Referendums started. The apogee of the pro-independence movement conducted by the ruling Catalan political elite took place last 2017, when their leader Carles Puigdemont took the charges and organized a Referendum. Before it could be conducted the Spanish Rajoy government declared it illegal. The pro-independence Referendum for a Catalan Republic was held anyway, followed by interference by the Spanish police. Afterwards, a failed attempt to officially declare the independence was organized by Puigdemont’s Generalitat. Within this period, Carles Puigdemont, observing that his political dream will eventually fade away, began to use a last political tool, his speeches.

Through his words, Carles Puigdemont tried to negotiate with the Spanish government to obtain a better position for his region and to keep the Catalan political project alive. He threatened declaring independence, asked for open discussions between the two sides under the European Union mediation. This political pressure had the purpose of buying some time for gathering the necessary forces to make the political dream of Catalan independence to come true. Eventually, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Catalan Parliament, arrested and put under investigation Carles Puigdemont and his supporters declaring early regional elections in December. Therefore, an important part of the Catalan autonomy was taken away by the central government and the Catalans remained under the Spanish control. Carles Puigdemont fled the country, but he continued to fight for the Catalan cause using his speeches and asking for justice from the European community.

Catalonias next attempt at independence – only a matter of time?

In addition, the EU’s response to Puigdemont’s calls for help and meditation was a neutral one. The European officials have agreed that this conflict is a domestic affair of the Spanish state. Moreover, Donald Tusk advised the Spanish Government to favour the force of the argument, not argument of force[5]However, EU officials declared that the Referendum was not legal under Spanish law. Thus, the European Commission called for respect of the rule of law, of human rights and having as a purpose unity and not defragmentation.  Even though the 2017 attempt of the Catalan region to achieve independence has failed, this does not seem to have dampened the desire of the Catalan people to become a nation of their own. A new campaign for independence seems to be more a question of when rather than if.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

 

References

[1]Border Identities: Nation and State at International Frontiers, ed. by Thomas M. Wilson and Hastings Donnan (Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[2] Thomas M. Wilson and Hastings Donnan – Border Identities, 1998

[3]Henry Miller and Kate Miller, ‘Language Policy and Identity: The Case of Catalonia’, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 6.1 (1996), 113–28 <https://doi.org/10.1080/0962021960060106>.

[4]Elizabeth M DeWaard, ‘Catalonia, An (Unhappy) State Within a State’, 23.

[5] Nazaret Romero, ‘Tusk Asks Spanish Government to “Favour Force of Argument, Not Argument of Force”’ <http://www.catalannews.com/politics/item/tusk-asks-spanish-government-to-favour-force-of-argument-not-argument-of-force, http://www.catalannews.com/politics/item/tusk-asks-spanish-government-to-favour-force-of-argument-not-argument-of-force> [accessed 7 September 2018].

Diving into the European debt crisis – From economic collapse to greater cooperation

By Stefania-Felicia Pavel, Secretary of the Munich European Forum

A crisis that crossed the Ocean

In the recent history of the European project, few have been the upheavals of such magnitude as the sovereign debt crisis. Due to the highly interconnected global economy, the 2008 banking crisis in the United States [1] had a ripple effect that crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sent waves of shock through Europe. Nonetheless, the political echelons, economic sector and academia were all taken aback by the resilience of the Euro Area. Not only that it grew in membership − with Latvia adhering in 2014 [2], followed by Lithuania [3] − but it also witnessed deeper integration. Despite doomed predictions of the Euro being an “impossible dream” [4], the peculiar Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) withstood vicissitudes and rendered a relatively fertile environment for greater cooperation to take roots.

A sea change in troubled waters

Initially, upon the onset of the sovereign debt crisis, the European Union opted for a divisive approach. Withering fiscal contraction was imposed in Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Greece via austerity measures, in a last-ditch effort to re-adjust excessive deficit budgets. However, the German Ordoliberalism of a supply-side growth strategy based on wage restraint, productivity and competitiveness [5] clashed with the demand-led growth strategy based on fiscal expansion and wage inflation from the Southern rim of the Eurozone [6]. In addition, the conflictual economic zeitgeist was also deepened by the panic-driven markets and the desperate bids to restore confidence in governmental bonds [7]. Nonetheless, the high negative interdependence within the Euro Area, the unfathomable prospect of a country exit [8] and the massive sunk costs were compelling enough for the member states to steer in the same direction. Even though creditors were at the helm, whilst the insolvent countries rowed begrudgingly to prevent their economies from sinking in the apparently bottomless pit of sovereign debt, it was a common effort to keep the Eurozone afloat.

Afterwards, following the sluggish economic growth caused by the indiscriminate austerity, the European Union made an about-face and embraced a cohesive approach. Since the crisis unearthed the systemic shortcomings of the European economic governance model, “it became clear that the EMU lack of a unitary fiscal policy was a grave mistake” [9] that had to be addressed urgently. Consequently, new mechanisms of macroeconomic governance emerged. Firstly, there were the means of intergovernmental crisis management. Represented by the European Financial Stability Facility [10], which later matured into the European Stability Mechanism [11], both acted as much-needed bailout funds. Secondly, to hedge the Euro Area against future financial chaos, the supranational mechanisms for crisis prevention came into effect. In these respects, the Six-Pack, respectively the Two-Pack acted as legislative levers to harmonise the budgets. In brief, the incomplete European economic architecture called for either sudden total disintegration or gradual total integration, and these mechanisms prevented the Eurozone from imploding.

Sailing towards…a fiscal union?

After all, not only did the Brussels-based leadership and sovereigns’ statesmanship managed to fare well through the protracted negotiations, but they jointly created means that built wholly on the decades-old institutional record of the European project. Ranging from bailout resorts, an emergent banking union and going to a reinforced surveillance of deficits’ fluctuations, the budgets of the Euro Area countries ‒ but also of most member states of the European Union ‒ are now under a more critical eye, but simultaneously on more caring hands. Indeed, all the major changes brokered in the aftermath of the crisis might have led to countries merging their policies even more, but a fiscal union – formalized and institutionalized at a pan-European level – still seems far-fetched for the time being, if not even politically quixotic. Time will tell how the European Union will navigate these yet uncharted waters of fiscal unity.

 

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

 

References

[1] Havemann, Joel. “The Financial Crisis of 2008.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Published in February 2009. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Financial-Crisis-of-2008-The-1484264.

[2] European Commission. “Latvia and the Euro.” Ec.europa.eu. Published in 2014.  https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/euro-area/euro/eu-countries-and-euro/latvia-and-euro_en.

[3] European Central Bank. “Lithuania joins the Euro Area.” Ecb.europa.eu. Published in 2015. https://www.ecb.europa.eu/press/pr/date/2015/html/pr150101.en.html.

[4] Krugman, Paul. “Europe’s Impossible Dream.” The New York Times. Published on July 20, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/20/opinion/paul-krugman-europes-impossible-dream.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0.

[5] The Economist. “Of Rules and Order.” Published on May 9, 2015. www.economist.com/europe/2015/05/09/of-rules-and-order.

[6] Hall A. Peter. “The Economics and Politics of the Euro Crisis.” German Politics 21, no. 4 (2012): 358‒359. DOI:10.1080/09644008.2012.739614.

[7] De Grauwe, Paul, and Yuemei Ji. “From Panic-Driven Austerity to Symmetric Macroeconomic Policies in the Eurozone.” Journal of Common Market Studies, Annual Review 51 (2013): 31‒41. DOI: 10.1111/jcms.12042.

[8] Schimmelfennig, Frank. “Liberal Intergovernmentalism and the Euro Area Crisis.” Journal of European Public Policy 22, no. 2 (2015): 177‒195. DOI:10.1080/13501763.2014.994020.

[9] Simon, Poirier. “Explaining the institutional outcomes of the European financial and sovereign debt crisis. The case of Germany.” Paper presented at the ECPR General Conference Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada, August 2015: 1.

[10] Verdun, Amy. “A historical institutionalist explanation of the EU’s responses to the euro area financial crisis.” Journal of European Public Policy 22, no. 2 (2015): 225. DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2014.994023.

[11] Council of the European Union. “European Council 16-17 December 2010 Conclusions,” published in January 2010, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/118578.pdf.