fbpx Skip to content

Catalan Crisis – A Spaniard’s Opinion

by Celia Muniz Hernandez
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it
George Santayana – Spanish philosopher.
Spain is made up of various and diverse regions which were united under one crown (Catholic Monarchs) in 1479, however they did not become totally homogeneous and some territories kept their former institutional powers (Castile and Leon, Aragon, Navarra (1512) Granada (1492)). Within Aragon we could find the principality of Catalonia. In May 1640, the principality of Catalonia revolted against Spain and placed itself under the protection of Louis XIII of France. During the revolt, Pau Claris, President of the Deputation of the General of Catalonia (or Generalitat) proclaimed the Catalan Republic on January 17, 1641. Six days later, on January 23, 1641 Pau Claris proclaimed Louis XIII of France as count of Barcelona, putting the principality of Catalonia under French sovereignty. In 1652, Catalonia was reincorporated in the Spanish monarchy. [1]
Charles II of Spain âthe Bewitchedâ died childless so he named, in his will, Philip (Louis XIVâs grandson) his successor. Back at that time, the union between France and Spain under one monarchy shook the balance of power in Europe, so European powers would take steps to prevent it.
Philip’s accession provoked the War of Succession in Spain (1701 â 1704) which continued until the Treaty of Utrecht which forbade any future possibility of unifying the French and Spanish thrones.
During the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia declared its support for the archduke Charles (House of Hasburg) (Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia (as Charles II) and resisted the accession of the Bourbon dynasty in Spain. Philip, duke of Anjou, won the war and angered by how Catalans fought for archduke Charles, he suppressed institutions, privileges, and the ancient regional law (âfueroâ) of formerly all parts of the crown of Aragon: Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Valencia. The decrees ruled that all the territories in the Crown of Aragon except the Aran Valley were to be ruled by the laws of Castile. He followed suit of French centralized state[2].
The other historic territories kept the ancient regional laws (âfuerosâ): Basque territories and Navarre[3]. The decrees effectively created a Spanish citizenship or nationality, that judicially did not distinguish between Castilian and Aragonese anymore, both with respect to rights and law. They abolished internal borders and customs except for the Basque territory, giving grant to all Spaniards to trade with American colonies (not only Castilians, as before)[4]
In the 19th Century, a movement known as the Renaixença (âRebirthâ) which aimed to revive Catalan as a living language appeared. Simultaneously, Catalonia became the center of industrialization in Spain and one the largest textile producers in the Mediterranean. However, Catalan nationalism became a serious force during the first Republic (11th February 1873 to 29th December 1874), indeed, federalists proclaimed the Catalonian republic, but they failed. Catalan nationalism had two major strands: a conservative, Roman Catholic one and a more liberal, secular one. The former was initially predominant, particularly in the first decades of the 20th century. By 1913 Catalonia had won a slight degree of autonomy, but the legislation conferring it, was repealed in 1925 by Miguel Primo de Rivera, who attacked all manifestations of Catalan nationalism. Primo de Riveraâs policy led to the formation of a left-wing coalition party in Catalonia, the Esquerra Republicana. The Esquerra won in the municipal elections of 1931, and two days later its leader proclaimed a Catalan Republic within Spain. It lasted between 14 and 17 April 1931[5]. Three years after, still in the Second Republic, Lluis Companys declared a Catalan republic, however, the army intervened and sent him to jail (later on he was granted amnesty). During Francoâs years (1939 â 1975), as in the rest of Spain, Catalonia saw the repeal of democratic liberties, the prohibition and persecution of parties, the rise of thoroughgoing censorship, and the banning of all leftist institutions. In Catalonia it also meant, yet again, the repeal of the Statute of Autonomy and the banning of specifically Catalan institutions.
Spanish supreme law is found in the Constitution of 1978, the promulgation of the constitution marked the culmination of the Spanish transition to democracy after the death of Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 to his death on 20th November 1975. The starting point in the territorial organization of Spain is the second article of the constitution which reads:
The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all[6].
Spain is not a federal State but a highly decentralized one. While sovereignty is vested in the nation as a whole, represented in the central institutions of government, the nation has asymmetrically devolved power to the communities (17 in total plus 2 autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla)) , which, in turn, exercise their right to self-government within the limits set forth in the Constitution and their autonomous statutes. As some scholars used to say Spain is federation without federalism, it is a âcoffee for everyoneâ[7].
One of the problem rises from the ambiguity written in the constitution as it does not either define the structure of the state or specify which are the “nationalities” and which are the “regions” that are comprised within the territory. This was because at the time when the constitution was written, no one knew for sure the future structure of the State. The constitution only created a difference between exclusive, shared competences and a process for an eventual devolution. (arts 148, 149)[8]
ECONOMIC AGREEMENTS – Following the death of Franco and the beginning of the democratic transition, the demands for autonomy statutes were revived in Catalonia and the Basque Country, and this process spread to the rest of the state. The 1st Additional Regulation of the 1978 Constitution recognized and protected the historical rights of the foral territories. One of these historical rights was the economic agreement reached with the Basque Country on December 29, 1980, and later on, Navarre.
The economic agreement regulates taxation and financial issues between Spanish central administration and the autonomous community. The state reserves to itself customs duties, tax monopolies and the tax on alcohols, as well as issues relating to the income of non-residents and the tax system of businesses whose activities extend beyond the Basque territory or which are subjected to different tax legislation. While taxes subjected to autonomous regulations cover the main direct taxes and some indirect ones: Personal Income Tax (IRPF), the Extraordinary Wealth Tax, Corporation Tax (with autonomous regulations for companies operating exclusively in the Basque Country/Navarre; State regulations are applied to those also operating outside the Basque Country, without detriment to the payment of taxes in the Basque Country due to the so-called ârelative volume of businessâ), and the Inheritance and Gift Tax. And the QUOTA: the payment corresponding to the expenditure that the central government continues making in the Basque /Navarre autonomous community. The part to be paid by the autonomous community is basically established according to its proportional weight within the national income. As Philip V had suppressed Catalonian privileges, they did not have the right to claim an economic agreement as foral territory[9].
Economic agreements created a double taxation system in Spain: the one from foral territories and the common system for the rest of Spain. Since then, Catalonia has demanded an economic agreement as former foral territory[10].
DESCENTRALIZATION PROCESS: âCOFFEE FOR EVERYONEâ – Following the constitution approval in 1978, we could highlight: first autonomous agreements in 1981(Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, president of Spain and Felipe Gonzalez, leader Socialist Party) and Second autonomous agreements in 1992 (Felipe Gonzalez, president of Spain and Jose Maria Aznar, leader Peopleâs Party).
From that point onwards, autonomous communities started receiving competences from the central administration. Between 1981 and 1984, central administration transferred 486 functions and services to autonomous communities. Despite several conflicts the process continued as every region wanted a piece of the pie[11]. It is important to highlight that during this period the central government rejected an economic agreement for Catalonia, however, Jose Maria Aznar (former leader of Peopleâs Party and former president of Spain) and Jordi Puyol (former leader of Convergència i Unió and former president of Generalitat of Catalonia (1980 â 2003)) signed the Majestic Agreement on April 28th, 1996. In exchange for supporting Aznarâs investiture as president, they made a deal with Catalonian nationalists. Aznar promised to transfer more competences to Catalonia and to open dialogue over a possible Catalonian economic agreement.
THE CONTROVERSY OF CATALONIAâS STATUTE – We should bear in mind that before the controversy of Cataloniaâs statute, the central government kept rejecting an economic agreement for Catalonia. On June 18th, 2006, the Catalonian parliament approved a new Statute of Autonomy, a law hierarchically located under the constitution that gave them more autonomy. Then it was approved by Spanish parliament and later ratified in a referendum by Catalonian voters[12].
This statute followed a legal and valid process. However, almost immediately, the Peopleâs Party challenged the statute before the constitutional court alleging that the statute was unconstitutional.
Indeed, section 161 of the Spanish Constitution stated:
1.The Constitutional Court has jurisdiction over the whole Spanish territory and is entitled to hear: a) against the alleged unconstitutionality of acts and statutes having the force of an act. (…) c) Conflicts of jurisdiction between the State and the Self-governing Communities or between the Self-governing Communities themselves. Section 162 stated who are entitled: a) Lodge an appeal of unconstitutionality: the President of the Government, the Defender of the People, fifty Members of Congress, fifty Senators, the Executive body of a Self-governing Community and, where applicable, its Assembly[13].
After 4 years of deliberation, the Constitutional court finally adjudged and decided on June 2010, 14 sections were declared unconstitutional and 27 will be reinterpreted[14]. The areas declared unconstitutional were: the judiciary system, Catalan language status (as preferential language at public administration), new Catalan administrative divisions âvegueriesâ, taxes, authority over immigration…etc[15] The anger in Catalonia was immediate, on July 10th, 2010 there was a massive demonstration in central Barcelona against the ruling of the Constitutional Court. In fact, an indignant Arthur Mas (at that time, leader of Convergència I Unió (CiU, Catalan pro-autonomists) declared that he would call for a referendum on independence if his party won re-election with a sizable majority[16].
ECONOMIC SITUATION – It is worth not forgetting that from 2009 to 2012 Spain went through rough times. The global financial crisis affected Spanish society as a whole, it increased inequality resulting in a decline in social cohesion and an increase in social exclusion. From 2012, Catalonian public debt has risen from over 52 billion Euros to over 75 billion Euros. Furthermore, Catalonia owed the State over 8 billion Euros in 2012 and over 50 billion Euros in 2016[17] Whereas Andalusian public debt has risen from over 21 billion Euros to over 33 billion Euros. In addition, Andalusia owned the State over 5 billion Euros in 2012 which rose to 22 billion Euros in 2016[18].
WHEN IS IT POSSIBLE TO CONDUCT A REFERENDUM IN SPAIN? – According to section 92 of Spanish Constitution:
1.Political decisions of special importance may be submitted to all citizens in a consultative referendum.
2.The referendum shall be called by the King on the President of the Governmentâs proposal after previous authorization by the Congress.
3.An organic act shall lay down the terms and procedures for the different kinds of referendum provided for in this Constitution
Also, a referendum is submitted when there is an ordinary reform of the Constitution or a total or substantial reform of some parts of the Constitution (sections 167.3 and 168)
REFERENDUM 2014 – In 2014, there was a non-binding referendum about independence for Catalonia. They asked voters two questions:
â1) Do you want Catalonia to become a State? And, if yes, 2) Do you want Catalonia to be an independent State?â
The results showed, according to Catalonian authorities, more than 80% voted in favor. More than two million people out of an estimated 5.4 million eligible voters took part in the ballot. Arthur Mas, president of the Generalitat, declared that the poll was a great success and that they should pave the way for a formal referendum [19] However, as we said before it was illegal and non-binding, according to Spanish constitution.
Between the referendum in 2014 and the one held in 2017, Catalonia celebrated autonomous elections in 2015: pro-independence parties emerged with 72 seats in the regional party (Junts pel Sí took 62 seats, while CUP took 10). This result showed that there was an increasing support for independence. However, there was a deadlock between two independence parties. Finally, Carles Puigdemont, former major of Gerona, took over from Arthur Mas and became on September 27th president of the Generalitat [20].
REFERENDUM 2017 – Despite The Constitutional Court rulings banning Cataloniaâs independence referendum, on October 1st, 2017 the Generalitat held another non-binding and illegal referendum.
It did not comply any minimum voting regulations. It was a clear infringement of the law: using an unauthorized universal census, citizens who wished to vote could do it at any polling station. There was no need to have an envelope and ballots could be printed at home. Ballot boxes were translucent instead of transparent. Voter control did not comply legal requirements, as the Generalitat activated a blog to help people vote online. As well as, IDâs were written down by hand at polling stations[21]. This time the question was:
âDo you want that Catalonia becomes an independent republic?â
The result: 2.286.217 voters (43,03% of the census), 90,18% of them voted yes[22]. The referendum was not only illegal and non-binding, but also it was a process without any guaranties for citizens.
Every people has the right to self-determination: âAll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural developmentâ (art. 1 Part. I International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)
However, according to international law:
Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14th December 1960: Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples affirmed (…) 2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. However, in section (…) 6. Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations[23].Resolution 2625 (XXV) de 24th October 1970: Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations declared (…) ANNEX âConvinced that the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples constitutes a significant contribution to contemporary international law (…) The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples: By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter. (…)Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as described above and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or color[24].These have been reiterated at International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[25]
It is true that all peoples have the right to self-determination is a universal right for everyone, however during international law codification states made saving clauses as it is avoided any attempt of partial or total disruption of the national unity. Furthermore, Catalonia is not a discriminated community, they participate in Spanish institutions, they are part of Spain. Indeed, they are Spain.
How is the situation going to evolve? It is a difficult question to answer as there is not just one potential scenario. Most of government advisers will be judged for their actions and of course, not all of them will end up in jail. In addition, it is likely that tensions will decrease by December when the political campaign for autonomous elections begins.
Is there any solution? Yes, of course, there is always solution but you canât please everybody. A legal solution is insufficient, it could ease relations between Mariano Rajoyâs government and the independence movement in Catalonia, however we have reached an impasse. We will celebrate the autonomous elections on December 21st, 2017 and from that point onwards we will clearly see the direction of the independence movement whether it loses his strength or gains even more.
Regardless of electionâs result, the solution is both legal and social. Catalonian society is split, families, groups of friends are totally divided. A social solution will be complex to find and achieve. Spainâs government should find a common project that inspires hope in Catalonian society for a better Spain.
What would it happen if the independence movement is victorious? If the independence movement is stronger after December 21st elections, the Spanish government should open a debate over constitutional reform. (Indeed, there is already a proposal to open a debate in Congress)
What are the charges against Carles Puigdemont and his counselors? They are accused of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, according to Spanish criminal law.
Does Spain have political prisoners? Regarding, former members of Cataloniaâs government and leaders of Òmnium and National Catalan Assembly (ANC), Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart (also known as the âjordisâ) who are imprisoned, no, they are not political prisoners as they infringed the law, not only did they disregard Spanish Constitution but also, they disregarded the Constitutional Courtâs rulings.
Could the situation result in violence? It is unlikely that situation result in violence currently, as violence will give Spanish general prosecutor a needed ground to found his lawsuit for rebellion to Carles Puigdemont and his advisers. However, we should not discard it at all, as tensions are obvious.
Could the situation escalate into a conflict reminiscent to the ETA? It is highly unlikely that Cataloniaâs situation will reach that point. It is true that situation is complex and delicate, however, they could not let the situation escalate as they do need international recognition and understanding.
Is there a revival of fascism? No, we could not talk about a revival of fascism in Spain.
Is there an awakening of nationalism in Spain? It is too soon to affirm it, as Spaniards used to confuse patriotism with nationalism. However, it is true that independence movement is a right-wing nationalist movement.
Will Catalonia become an independent region in the future? Yes, that is a possibility. It could become a region that is independent from Spain. However, it is not a scenario that we will see in the short-term.
The roots of the Catalan independence lay in the 18th Century as it has always been one of the wealthiest region in Spain and some Catalonians felt that they were unfairly shouldering the countryâs financial burden. So, it is not a new phenomenon.
Today, Catalonia is home to 7.5 million people and accounting for 19% of national GDP, it is still one of the richest regions of Spain. From my point of view, the initial problem, was money. The central government continuously rejected an economic agreement for Catalonia based on that they were not longer a foral territory. Despite a continuous denial, the central government handed them more competences. It was one of six and half dozen of the other. A game of give and take, that eventually created resentments. The two turning points were: The Constitutional court ruling (2010) and the financial crisis (2009-2012).
Populism has affected Spain as well, and the independent movement became stronger and stronger in Catalonia. However, no one thought that it would come to this.
Everyone is responsible, it means, both the central government and the Generalitat are guilty of provoking this situation. The central government has not used all tools at its disposal and the Generalitat has divided Cataloniaâs society by putting pressure on people to take a stand: favor or against independence.
There was a lack of dialogue that resulted in the current deadlock. The fault belongs to everyone.
In my view, the performance on October 1st, 2017 was an error. It was an illegal referendum that has no legitimacy and validity, but, above all, it was a form of protest.
Government action helped to give a voice and attract international attention to Cataloniaâs defiance. As well as it provoked a Kosovization of Cataloniaâs rebellion. As, we remarked previously, violence gives the opportunity to Cataloniaâs government to show that they are an oppressed people who has the right to self-determination.
Now, we have reached an impasse until autonomic elections on December 21st, 2017. Almost all parties have agreed to run for autonomous elections. Even former president of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, agreed on running for the election and accepting the result. We will see if the independence movement loses its strength or, on the contrary, it becomes stronger.
Regardless of the electionsâ result, we could not overlook the independence movement, the situation could become more serious if it spreads to the rest of autonomous communities. It is a right-wing nationalist movement disguised as a progressive one which is inspiring people, telling them what they want to hear, selling a cheap democracy (lie). For the independence movement, it is as easy as saying that âvoting is democracyâ, or âSpain is pillaging Cataloniaâ. The persuasion strategies to provoke social changes have been effective. Catalonians were angered and felt unprotected during the financial crisis. The rest of Spain experienced the same situation, however, Catalonia has proper conditions to awaken a secessionist movement.
In my view, Catalonia is not going to become an independent region in the immediate future. The former Catalan government already knows that (even before the referendum) however, they have created the breeding ground for reaching independence in some years. Conflict responses are not a one-way path, solution lies on both a legal and social remedy stopping social division in Catalonia is the most urgent issue.
In conclusion, we should find an exciting project for Spain as a whole that could include everyone, or if the longing for independence persists, we should open a real debate over a constitutional reform.
[1] Florensa i Soler, Núria. La declinación de la monarquía hispánica en el siglo XVII. Univ. de Castilla La Mancha, 2004
[2] https://www.britannica.com/event/War-of-the-Spanish-Succession
[3] http://www.parliament.scot/S4_ScotlandBillCommittee/General%20Documents/Campos_Dr_Tontxu.pdf
[4] Florensa i Soler, Núria. La declinación de la monarquía hispánica en el siglo XVII
[5] https://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,753330,00.html
[6] Spanish Constitution: http://www.congreso.es/portal/page/portal/Congreso/Congreso/Hist_Normas/Norm/const_espa_texto_ingles_0.pdf
[7] http://www.lavanguardia.com/opinion/articulos/20110123/54105053431/asi-empezo-el-cafe-para-todos.html
[8] Ibid.
[9] http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20170507/422339102883/financiacion-comunidades.html
[10] http://www.basquecountry.eus/t32-448/en/contenidos/informacion/concierto_economico/en_467/concierto_i.html
[11] http://www.abc.es/espana/20150812/abci-traspaso-competencias-comunidades-autonomas-201508110948.html
[12] https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/09/economist-explains-17
[13] http://www.congreso.es/portal/page/portal/Congreso/Congreso/Hist_Normas/Norm/const_espa_texto_ingles_0.pdf
[14] https://www.nationalia.info/new/9216/spanish-constitutional-court-cuts-back-catalan-statute-of-autonomy
[15] https://elpais.com/elpais/2010/06/28/actualidad/1277713032_850215.html
[16] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/catalonia-referendum/541611/
[17] https://www.datosmacro.com/deuda/espana-comunidades-autonomas/cataluna?anio=2008
[18] https://www.datosmacro.com/deuda/espana-comunidades-autonomas/andalucia?anio=2012
[19] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29982960
[20] https://elpais.com/elpais/2016/01/11/inenglish/1452498704_085748.html
[21] https://elpais.com/elpais/2017/10/01/inenglish/1506858911_482600.html
[22] http://www.lavanguardia.com/referendum/index.html
[23] http://www.un-documents.net/a15r1514.htm
[24] : http://www.un-documents.net/a25r2625.htm
[25] International Covenant on civil and political rights. URL: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx
Back to Reports & Resources

About the author

Book a demo

Close the book a demo popup

Book a Demo

Live and in-depth incident profiles

Intelligence Fusion provides an industry leading platform to help security professionals and global businesses.