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Is the Call for Catalan Independence Legitimate?

On October 27, 2017, while millions of Catalans gathered in Sant Jaume square,

Barcelona to celebrate the declaration of independence, a few elderly people sat at a table in a

small café just a kilometer away from the parliament. These people had lived in Barcelona all

their lives and were shocked by the independence movement around them. A guy named Gustavo

led the conversation, talking about how misinformed the young generation was and how

politicians were exploiting the youth. He went on about how he felt Spanish and Catalan and

none had the right to question his loyalty for Catalonia just because he was against leaving

Spain. This he said was a result of a false sense of nationalism and pride that was blinding the

people. While he was speaking a pro-independence slogan was called out from across the street

and those at the table smirked and for a moment there was a hint of sadness in their eyes

followed by frustration. Gustavo started hurling abuse at pro-independence supporters who

wanted secession from Spain but was stopped short suddenly by the sound of fireworks and

celebrations in response to the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence. In anger

Gustavo kicked his chair over and stormed out of the café.

Catalonia is an autonomous region in Spain and apart from being one of the most

politically active regions in the Europe, is a thriving economic region in northeastern Spain. With

16% of the population of Spain “Catalonia has much of the paraphernalia of statehood: it has a

flag, a parliament, its own police force and broadcast regulator, and it provides some of its own

public services such as healthcare and education.” (Henley) Catalonia has a rich culture defined

by their own language, Catalan in which they take great pride in. The idea of independence

originated in 1922 when a political party was formed with the purpose to achieve independence

for Catalonia but could only achieve an autonomous region within Spain. From 1938 to 1975
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Spain was ruled by a dictator named Franco who abolished the use of the Catalan language and

their culture which to this day angers the people of Catalonia. Franco’s death in 1975 restored

democracy in Spain and ended the oppression on Catalonia. efforts were directed at gaining

autonomous powers for the Catalan region post-Franco. In 2006 the statute of autonomy was

agreed with Spain and passed as law by a referendum of the Catalan people but in 2010 the

constitutional court of Spain made amendments to some of the laws which caused widespread

protests that quickly turned into an independence movement. From Franco’s oppressive regime

to the reversal of the autonomous powers by a Spanish court, the people of Catalonia found

themselves constantly being undermined by Spain and focused all attention towards their

struggle for independence as they find it to be the only solution. From 2010 onwards, support for

Catalonia’s independence increased. Referendums were held in 2014 and 2017, both resulting in

landslide victories for independence. The government of Catalonia declared independence after

the recent referendum which resulted in a 90% support for independence out of the 42% who

voted. Spain is trying to stop Catalonia from seceding from Spain as the Catalan region is an

economic powerhouse for Spain, contributing 20% to the GDP of Spain. With the kind of history

Catalonia and Spain have shared, does Catalonia hold the right to self-determination? Although

the Catalan people have a different language and culture however Catalonia shouldn’t be allowed

to form an independent state because the call for independence is based on illegal referendums

which may prompt other regions in Europe to do the same causing unrest and separation from

Spain will lead to an economic crisis for Catalonia and the European union.

Starting off as an independent republic for Catalonia based on illegal referendums is not

the right way to start a new nation state. As an American leader and politician, Brigham Young

once stated that true independence and freedom can only exist in doing what’s right. After the
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Spanish court’s ruling made amendments to the laws regarding Catalonia’s autonomy many

regions in Catalonia have held referendums trying to get support for independence. Apart from

being declared illegal the voter turnout ratios were lower than 50%. There were two major

referendums in 2014 and 2017 that separatists base their call for independence on. In 2014, the

government of Catalonia announced a non-binding referendum to be held to determine support

for independence, but it was suspended by the Spanish court. The court ruled that regional

governments didn’t hold the right to self-determination as it defies Spanish constitution. Since

these referendums were declared illegal there was no monitoring of election day and only the

government of Catalonia who were leading the independence movement announced results. voter

turnout was 35%. “Two questions were on the ballot. The first asked voters if they thought

Catalonia should be a state, and the second, if so, should that state be independent. According to

provisional figures, 80.76% (1,861,7536 people) of participants voted yes to both questions.

10.07% voted yes-no, 4.54% voted no.” (Nardelli) An unconvincing referendum was followed by

another one in 2017. “Catalan nationalists, who held only a wafer-thin majority in the regional

parliament, pushed the legislation for 2017’s vote through it against considerable opposition;

Catalans who wanted to remain in Spain were unlikely to vote. The Spanish constitutional court

ruled it illegal and called for it to be halted. The central government seized 10m ballot papers;

arrested key officials; dismantled the technology to connect voting stations, tally votes and vote

online; blocked and removed voters from polling stations; and confiscated ballot boxes. Catalan

officials told voters to print off ballot papers at home and said they could vote wherever they

wanted. Whatever they may claim, the results are neither legally nor morally binding: whatever

votes are tallied cannot truly represent Catalonia’s wishes.” (Editorial) “The referendum saw

90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted, chose yes, according to results released by the
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region’s government. The region has 5.3 million voters. Officials said 770,000 votes were lost

due to disruption which resulted in polling stations being raided by Spanish police.” (Russell et

al) This referendum showed an increase of voter participation up from 35% to almost 43% but

it’s still nowhere near a clear majority of the population. Irregularities in the voting process

overshadowed the authenticity of the results which both ended in land slide victories for yes to

independence. These referendums shouldn’t be allowed to hold any authority to dictate the future

of the region based on the decision of a minority. 2017’s referendum was a decisive step in the

regions movement for independence and not having a majority of the population turn up to vote

shows that despite the independence movement getting stronger but its left the Catalan people

more divided than ever. A minority of the population through illegal referendums shouldn’t be

allowed to dictate the lives of most of the Catalans who are against seeking secession from

Spain. Allowing these referendums to hold value is dangerous for the political world as other

smaller regions will launch movements in their countries to try and achieve independence.

Allowing Catalonia to secede based on illegal referendums will open a Pandora box. Catalonia’s

freedom could give other secessionist states to get the confidence they need to breakaway.

Nationalists in Scotland, Flanders, Bavaria, Padania, madeira and Scania are also all clamoring

for independence Europe could end up into fragments and the existence of the European union

would be put at risk. Catalan independence is as much a European problem as it is a Spanish one

and allowing Catalonia to secede based on invalid referendums will set a dangerous precedent

for other regions in Europe that could lead to wide-spread ramifications for the European Union.

Since Catalonia is a European problem as much as it is a Spanish one, the effects of

secession from Spain will lead to an economic and financial crisis for both. Despite all the

nationalism and emotions that exist around independence there is little thought of about the
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future of Catalonia. There is no blueprint for what a future Catalan republic would be like. If

there’s anything uncertain it’s the economy of the region. Despite being the region that pulled

Spain out of the 2008 financial crisis and being one of the richest regions in Europe with an

economy the size of Ireland’s there is little guarantee if the economy in an independent Catalan

would be the same. An exodus of companies from Catalonia because of the uncertainty that

surrounds the political future of the region has seen companies preferring to work in Spain rather

than in an independent Catalonia. Two major banks, Banco Sabadell and Caixa bank, with

billions of euros worth of reserves in the Catalan region, are moving headquarters to Madrid,

Spain. With a large exodus of major corporations ranging from real estate firms to bio-tech

research centers, Catalonia is already losing thousands of jobs. With one in five Catalan

companies exporting, Catalonia contributes 26% of the total exports of Spain and if major

companies keep moving out of Catalonia, exports will fall. Gaining independence is going to

lead to an automatic exit from the European Union (EU) and admission back into the EU is

highly unlikely as Spain would prove to be a stumbling block. 70% of Catalonia’s exports are to

the European Union and not being a member of the EU would have negative effects that

“proportionally exceed” those of Brexit and would plunge the region into long-term uncertainty.

(ING) Catalonia would also see 65% of its foreign investment from EU countries redirected to

Spain or elsewhere. An exit from the EU would mean Catalonia would have to decide whether to

stick to the euro or start a new currency. “In economic terms Catalonia will be fully viable and

there is no practical reason why it should not continue to use the euro, even if technically it were

outside the EU. One of the lessons of the past couple of years is not just that politics have

become unpredictable; it is also the economic consequences of a political event are unpredictable

too. By rights the decision or non-decision of 7.5 million people ought not to unsettle Europe.”
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(McRae). “As Britain’s experience with Brexit shows, leaving the EU is not a straightforward

process. An independent Catalonia, however, would face an altogether greater problem: it would

also have to exit the eurozone, at least temporarily. Several small states, including Andorra,

Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City, have signed agreements with the EU to use the euro, but

their economies are minuscule compared with Catalonia’s, which is nearly the size of Ireland’s.

The region’s main business lobby, Cercle d’Economia, last week said a unilateral declaration of

independence” “would plunge the country into an extraordinarily complex situation, with

unknown, but very serious, consequences”: “Brexit, but with bells on.” (Henley) With every sign

of an economic and financial crash in the aftermath of independence, it is suicidal for the

economic well-being of the Catalan people.

The argument of pro-independence supporters that

they have a different language i.e. Catalan, and given the

history under dictator Franco who banned the use of

Catalan in public institutions gives them reason to secede

from Spain but even though this may be true, conditions are

not the same anymore. Like Gustavo there are many

who’ve lived through Franco’s dictatorship, but point out

they were the acts of one man and they won’t be repeated.

This argument isn’t valid because every country has

regions that have a different set of cultures and language.

According to the Eurostat there are 98 regions in the

European union if we classify regions by different cultures

and language. Pakistan is a country known for its diversity


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in culture and language. With 5 provinces each having its

distinct language and culture the country remains one. If

Catalonia was to gain independence based on a distinct

language, then countries like Pakistan will break into

smaller countries. Allowing every region that has its own

language will disintegrate the world into fragments of

smaller countries and make trade and relations between

countries complex. It would create more divisions between

people and leave little room for unity and tolerance

between people. The most recent statistics that were

released about the Catalan language in 2013 showed that

only 56% of the Catalan people can write Catalan which

weakens the argument about Catalan language being

important to the Catalan people. Economists say that the

independence of Catalonia has more to do with money than

it has to do with cultural differences.

Pro-independence supporters find their call for

independence legitimate because they believe they’ll be

better off economically without Spain since they contribute

20% of Spain’s taxes yet only receive 14% back for public

expenditure. This is the because of economic diversity.

Statistics show that diversity in economic conditions and

distribution of income has more to do with regions than at


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country levels and Catalonia isn’t the only region in the

world that carries the burden of the rest of the country. “It’s

in an undisputed fact that northern Italy carries the main

burden of regional equalization. All the regions south of

Rome are net recipients. Taxpayers in Lombardy see about

30% of their taxes go to the poorer regions via transfers.

Conversely the residents of Calabria, southern Italy receive

55% more than they pay in taxes themselves.” (Klein)

Similarly, the province of Punjab in Pakistan, despite

having the largest budget collects more in taxes but

contributes for the upliftment of the poorer provinces of the

country and thus has net public spending budget lower than

what they should receive. So, the supposed financial

injustice to Catalonia is a central government trying to

redistribute wealth to bridge the gap between the poor and

the rich regions of the country which is a duty of any

central government. “Perhaps of greater concern is

Catalonia's public debt. The Catalan government owes

€77bn (£68bn) at the last count, or 35.4% of Catalonia's

GDP. Of that, €52bn is owed to the Spanish government.”

(BBC) This is the largest debt of any autonomous region in

Spain and if Catalonia is to gain independence they will

need to shoulder Spain’s national debt as well and this is


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worrying for any new nation to have large fiscal debts on

them. If Catalan independence supporters think they’ll be

better off economically and financially without Spain, then

not only are they stepping into unchartered territory but are

putting the livelihood of 7.5 million people at risk.

Independence is not cheap. It is a life changing

transformation for millions of people and for generations to

come for better or for worse. In Catalonia’s case all signs

point to bad times if Catalonia become an independent

state. Catalonia should certainly not be granted

independence and Spain should take every measure

necessary to keep it from seceding. Granting independence

to Catalonia based on illegal referendums with no

guarantee of the authenticity of the results will set a

dangerous precedent for years to come and with nationalists

campaigning across Europe, smaller regions will only get a

much-needed boost for their own movements and

ultimately lead to grave consequences for the unity and

sustainability of the European Union. Catalonia’s

geographical location makes it dependent on the European

union. Secession will lead leave the newly born state in

isolation. Since admission into the EU requires a

unanimous decision, Spain will block Catalonia from


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becoming a part and Catalonia’s thriving economy will be

jolted to the core as a major part of their exports will be

stopped, foreign investment will stop flowing in and with

no EU country supporting Catalonia’s independence there

will only be complete isolation for the newly formed

independent state. After the declaration of independence,

the Spanish state had called for snap elections on the 21st of

December 2017 in a final attempt to break the

independence movement. Polling in Catalonia is closing at

the time of writing. This election would give a much

clearer stance of hopefully a greater proportion of the

population. A much more viable solution would instead be

to adopt the United Kingdom system of government.

Countries in the UK e.g. Scotland have a broader range of

autonomy. Apart from having their own police, institutions

and public services, each member country in the UK

manages its own tax system and only pays the central

government in England its due share for the defense and

foreign ministry which all member companies share. This

will give Catalonia greater autonomy without having to

leave the EU and risk the collapse of its economy.

Whatever the future holds one thing is certain, there is no

certainty in the road ahead for the Catalan region and in a


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much wider perspective this independence movement is

sure to leave its marks on the European union.

WORK CITED

"Could Catalonia Make a Success of Independence?" BBC News. BBC, 10 Oct. 2017. Web. 21

Dec. 2017. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41474674>.

Desk, News, and Piper Terrett. "How Does Catalan Independence Affect EU? | Alvexo™."

Alvexo™ News. N.p., 20 Nov. 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.

<https://www.alvexo.com/blog/business/market-outlookcatalan-independence-impacts-

eu-economy/>.

Editorial. "The Guardian View on Catalonia's Referendum: The Spanish State Has Lost |

Editorial." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 01 Oct. 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.
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<https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/01/the-guardian-view-on-

catalonias-referendum-the-spanish-state-has-lost>.

Greenfield, Patrick, Graham Russell, and Nicola Slawson. "Catalonia Referendum: 90% Voted

for Independence, Say Officials – as It Happened." The Guardian. Guardian News and

Media, 02 Oct. 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.

<https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/oct/01/catalan-independence-

referendum-spain-catalonia-vote-live>.

Henley, Jon. "An Independent Catalonia: Practicalities of Leaving Spain." The Guardian.

Guardian News and Media, 09 Oct. 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.

<https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/09/an-independent-catalonia-

practicalities-of-leaving-spain>.

Klein, Matthew C. "Euro Area Divergence More about Regions than Countries." FT Alphaville.

N.p., 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.

<https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2015/02/13/2118963/euro-area-divergence-more-about-

regions-than-countries/>.

McRae, Hamish. "The Catalan Independence Referendum Is a Much Bigger Issue for the EU

than Brexit." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 30 Sept. 2017.

Web. 21 Dec. 2017. <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/catalonia-catalan-referendum-

spain-eu-economic-powerhouse-brexit-european-union-a7975766.html>.

Nardelli, Alberto. "Why an Independence Referendum in Catalonia Is Inevitable, in Two

Charts." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.
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<https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/nov/10/why-an-independence-

referendum-in-catalonia-is-inevitable-in-two-charts>.