Why Catalonia does not deserve independence – an established constitutional democracy attacked


Separatists across Europe, from Scotland to Silesia, have been watching the independence bid launched this month by Catalan secessionists with interest, so too have European leaders, who feared it might trigger a stampede of breakaways. Turning his back on Barcelona and backing Madrid, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker said he doesn’t want “an EU with 95 different countries tomorrow, or the day after,” VOA’s Jamie Dettmer reports:

“We need to avoid splits, because we already have enough splits and fractures and we do not need any more … We would lose control. National unity and European unity are things that go together,” Juncker added in remarks last week that infuriated Catalan separatists, who see their nationality as Catalan, not Spanish.

With the exception of political leaders in Scotland and Belgium, which is sharply divided between French-speakers and the Flemish, no European leader has spoken in support of the independence aspirations of Catalan separatists, although many expressed alarm at Madrid’s handling of Spain’s worst constitutional crisis in nearly four decades.

The Catalan constitutional crisis has prompted some analysts to question whether the future of the contemporary nation-state is in jeopardy.

Carles Puigdemont, who was until Friday the Catalan government’s president, has suggestively cast himself in the role of the martyr, notes Omar G. Encarnación, a professor of political studies at Bard College and the author of “Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting,” among other books. Friday’s declaration of independence followed the same script. Mr. Puigdemont’s decision to allow the Catalan Parliament to declare independence was an act of self-immolation, he writes for The New York Times:

He knew full well that this declaration would force Madrid to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, a provision that allows the central government to take control of an autonomous region. ……The big loser is the people of Spain, including the majority of Catalans, who throughout this ordeal have consistently called for the one thing that neither martyrs nor strongmen are particularly good at: dialogue and compromise.

This attack on an established European constitutional democracy has far graver implications than the attempted coup d’état of February 23, 1981, argues José M. de Areilza, secretary general of the Aspen Institute España and professor of law at Barcelona’s Esade Business and Law School, Ramón Llull University:

For the moment, this political firestorm has served to show the strength of Spanish democracy……By tackling this constitutional crisis and asserting its democratic foundations and laws all while remaining open to constitutional reform, Spain can make a contribution to the international community. Democracies must stand firm against rising nationalist and populist tremors that threaten to shake their very foundations.

The whole set of arguments of the Catalan nationalists for their independence could apply nearly everywhere else in Europe and if deemed acceptable for Catalonia the European ‘integration’ concept would become meaningless, notes Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (left) of the Berlin-based Hertie School of Governance. A brief review of such claims from a scholar of nationalism might therefore be helpful, the author of Nationalism after Communism (with Ivan Krastev). The combination of nationalism with populism is not new in Europe and has been resurfacing in recent years. But the Catalan story is exemplary, she writes for Open Democracy:

If we accept such self-serving and irresponsible arguments in one case, the whole of Europe is gone. This is why both Vladimir Putin and Nigel Farage champion the Catalan cause, because it enfeebles Europe. Could something that propaganda channel Russia Today champions daily, the cause of Catalan independence, be good for the rest of us, Europeans?  Perhaps it is time to think more critically of charismatic Catalan national heroes, before they rally all the separatists of Europe. In the early 1990s, Italy also had similar problems, when the Northern League (Lega Nord) party enjoyed an electoral breakthrough in Veneto and Lombardy precisely by campaigning against Rome and the “centralist state” allegedly ripping off the hard-working North to redistribute resources in the parasitic South.

Madrid should try to avoid creating the perception that its default response to a democratic expression that it does not like (unconstitutional or not) is to suspend local government, ignore public will, and impose more distant rule, says the University of Southern California R. Joseph Huddleston, who discusses the roots of the Catalan independence crisis in Foreign Affairs:

That was the embittering argument which separatists made in 2010 and the likely root of the current crisis. If Spain is to successfully portray the suspension of the Catalan regional government as something serving Spanish democracy, it must be lightly applied and quickly remedied. Rajoy’s push for swift and transparent elections, open to all would-be incumbents, likely constitutes the last best way out of this crisis without violence.

“This crisis represents a colossal failure of the Spanish democratic polity as a whole. Our leaders have proved unable to craft a way out of the current impasse, unlike at other critical periods of the country’s constitutional history where statesmanship was present,” argues Francisco de Borja Lasheras, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

That has wider relevance, he says, for other European governments when it comes to handling populist nationalists aiming to widen divisions and polarize politics, he tells VOA.

The insistence of the Catalan Parliament on being allowed a unilateral right to secede is anything but democratic. There is no iron law of democracy allowing the right to unilaterally vote to leave a nation state that one has subscribed to before without coercion, adds Mungiu-Pippidi, the author of A Quest for Good Governance. How Societies Build Control of Corruption and a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy. RTWT



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