The Catalan independence process has come a long way since 2010, when the Spanish Constitutional Court severely undermined the Catalan autonomy statute of 2006, which had been approved by both Spanish and Catalan parliaments and a majority of Catalans in a referendum. Renowned Spanish jurist, Javier Perez Royo, said the act was tantamount to a coup of the constitutional agreement between the central government and one of Spain’s “historic” nations, Catalonia –the Basque Country remained unaffected thanks to its special agreement with the state.
From then on, disaffection among the Catalan population has grown. Today, after years of political tension between the sides, a majority of Catalans favour independence. Almost all polls show a clear lead for pro-independence support, even polls by media clearly against independence, such as a recent one by Spanish online newspaper El Español which gave a 50% to 46% lead to independence.
Furthermore, it is worth highlighting the singularity of the Catalan Process, alone in the developed world in seeking independence after a unilateral, transparent, democratic process. This is in contrast to the independence referendums held in Scotland and Quebec, which were agreed with their respective central governments. Subsequently, an additional factor for independence is Madrid’s authoritarian mandate over Spain’s diversity, particularly, but not only, under PP governments.
Meanwhile, Spanish institutions have shown an overly undemocratic side, in opposition to the normal functioning of most states in Western Europe. Even Italy somehow managed to sanitise its highly corrupt political structures through the “Mani pulite” judicial process of the early 1990s, a political catharsis unfeasible in Spain. In fact, Spain has long been tainted by the institutionalised corruption of the two main political parties, PP and PSOE. The first has the record of over 700 of its civil servants under judicial process.
A confluence of factors
The fact that the independence movement today has the support of a majority in Catalonia is due to a confluence of factors, Madrid’s democratic deficit being just one. In fact, that majority can ultimately be explained by the clear-cut economic rationale below, without which the process would have lost momentum long ago.
A significant shift has been the decoupling of the Catalan and Spanish economies. For instance, Catalan exports to Spain have fallen (in relative terms) from 63% of the total in 1995 to around 37% last year, due mainly to the upsurge in exports to the rest of the world. This makes Catalonia much less dependent on the Spanish economy than it was 20 years ago. Several reasons account for that, including Catalonia’s magnetism, with Barcelona at its forefront, to foreign multinationals. But another is the skills Catalan firms have gained to compete internationally, having benefited from the common market.
The growing breach between the economies is easy to perceive elsewhere: take the contrast between the key role played by industrial companies in Catalan business compared to the crony-capitalism in the Spanish economy; this is epitomized in the famous IBEX-35 list of firms, mostly made up of regulated sectors, such as defence, banking, infrastructure or energy. This cluster of firms determines the country’s public institutions, from law-making and diplomacy to the centripetal design of the State, to which resources from the rest of the country are siphoned.
By exposing the fundamentals of the troublesome Spain-Catalonia relationship, and taking into account the dead-end of the Spanish constitutional framework, this author thinks that the optimal outcome is the peaceful democratic divorce.