The second article in the series on New European nationalism focuses on Catalonia.
Once described as having more in common with the low countries than the rest of Iberia, Catalonia is one of Spain’s most culturally and economically distinct regions. The region stands out as both the cradle of the industrial revolution in the Mediterranean and as being on the cutting edge of several pan European movements in art. Since the restoration of democracy in the 1970s, the region has steadily claimed as much devolved power as possible from Madrid, and much has been done to foster a separate national identity. The language, once heavily restricted under Franco, is now actively and strongly promoted – often to the detriment of Castilian.
What’s different about nationalism in Catalonia – compared to some other distinct regional identities in other European countries – is that Catalonia represents the economic heart of Spain with a GDP that is much higher than the rest of the kingdom.
Catalonia has been at the forefront of what some term the “stateless nations” that are trying to gain influence in Brussels. It has had its own representation in Brussels since 2004 and directly lobbies the European Commission and Parliament to secure changes to the law and seek funding. The EU has given Catalan language some recognition but, in line with the wishes of the Spanish Government, it stops short of giving it full official status. European integration over the past 20 years has increased the confidence of those who would seek independence by removing some of its more uncertain consequences. An independent Catalonia within the European Union would not necessitate a new currency (though perhaps new coins), and would remain within the EU’s free trade area. It is also assumed that the EU would act as a guarantor against Madrid sending the tanks in should Barcelona make a unilateral declaration of independence in a way that the international community may not have in pre democratic times.
Those in favour of full independence remain around 30% but this figure is slowly increasing.
What further complicates the Catalan question is the fact that many Catalan speakers/Catalans are resident on the fringes of the autonomous community of Catalonia: in French Perpignan, Mallorca. and Valencia. Could any potential independent state incorporate them? Should they be included in Catalonia in its current constitutional form? Given that this would, of course, imply the secession of territory from France to Spain this is perhaps easier said than done.
The main reason those in Madrid oppose Catalan separatism or further devolution of powers to Catalonia is that they suspect it will not happen in isolation. The Basque country may follow, Galacia may not be far behind, and who knows what may happen, once a large chunk of the country may be gone.
Europe’s influence on the Catalan question, whatever happens, will be to bring order, not chaos, and to act as an honest broker not an instigator or an accomplice for Madrid.