The Catalonia crisis is an opportunity for Europe to re-define sovereignty, statehood and European democracy
Cross-posted from DiEM25
The EU’s response to the crisis in Catalonia has been hypocritical and logically incoherent.
- It is hypocritical because, while opposing explicitly the undermining of the
independence of Poland’s judiciary, as well as the curtailing of civic freedoms in
Hungary, the EU remained silent viz. the systematic violation of civic liberty (and,
indeed, the Rule of Law) in Catalonia during and after the disputed October 1,
2017 referendum (e.g. violence against voters, arrests of officials).
- It is logically incoherent because, by barricading itself behind the argument that
the EU is a Union of States, not of peoples or of regions, the EU is arming the
Catalan independence movement with a powerful motive to create a… State!
Moreover, the EU has been responsible for stoking the discontent that led to the current crisis in at least two ways:
- Under the policies of swingeing austerity, mixed in with massive bailouts for
bankers, the EU sought to contain the crisis of its own variant of punitive
neoliberalism by curtailing its member states’ sovereignty. In that context, the
Madrid government (whose own sovereignty was curtailed by the EU) exploited
these policies to diminish the autonomy Catalonia had recovered after Franco’s
- Before the Euro, Catalonia had a trade deficit with the rest of the world and a
large surplus with the rest of Spain (even after fiscal transfers were taken into
account). But, following Europe’s mishandling of the Euro crisis, and the austerity
(‘internal devaluation’) measures imposed across Spain, Catalonia’s trade deficit
with the rest of the world turned into a 5% GDP surplus while, at the same time,
its trade and fiscal position vis-à-vis the rest of Spain caused wages to fall and big
business profit margins to rise across Spain. In short, Catalonia was ‘Germanised’
in a manner that boosted the tensions between the region and the rest of Spain.
In summary, the Catalonia crisis is Europe’s responsibility as much as it is the responsibility of the people of Spain/Catalonia. DiEM25 rejects all nationalisms and every variety of authoritarianism. Instead of taking sides on the Catalonia Question, or repeating well-meaning but unhelpful calls for sanity, DiEM25’s view is that this crisis is a formidable opportunity for a new, progressive pan-European policy framework for dealing with such crises.
First Principle: A democratic EU cannot tolerate the criminalisation and persecution of
peaceful political activities in support of a region’s independence.
Second Principle: A region’s authorities cannot proclaim independence merely on the
basis of a simple or absolute majority.
Third Principle: The Westphalian notion of sovereignty and citizenship (e.g. one nation,
one sovereignty, one citizenship) is no longer consistent with a democratic EU and must
be re-defined in a manner that permits multiple sovereignties and citizenships.
Fourth Principle (For regions of member states in the Eurozone): A functioning European
Monetary Union requires (a) more fiscal transfers (not fewer) to fund investment in the
poorer regions, and (b) lower trade deficits/surpluses. Thus, for a region’s independence
to be sanctioned by the EU, measures must be agreed that (a) reduce deficits/surpluses
between regions and (b) increase fiscal transfers with which to fund investment projects
(in particular green energy, transport and transition projects) in the poorer
A Policy Framework for a European Regions’ Independence Process
Catalonia may be in the news today but it is unlikely to be the last such case Europe will have to face. Scotland has previously exercised its right to debate independence and may soon do so again, in a manner that is intertwined with the Brexit process. Other regions will, undoubtedly, follow. The EU, therefore, must develop a policy for approaching independence campaigns within its member states in a manner that respects the four principles above. In putting together such a policy framework, the Catalonia question will become easier to answer as well.
A well-established process, sanctioned by the EU for all regions in Europe, should respect the four principles above. The proposed process comprises six conditions that
achieve this. Any regional government requesting the EU’s support in staging a legally binding independence referendum must comply with these six conditions:
- A necessary prerequisite for an independence referendum to be considered is that the region’s elections are won first (with an absolute majority of the voters
(not just of the members of the regional parliament) by a party (or a coalition of
parties) proposing such a referendum..
- Any subsequent referendum should be held, in coordination with the Council of
Europe, the European Commission and the European Parliament, at the earliest
one year after that election, so as to allow for a proper, sombre debate.
For the EU to sanction the referendum, and for continued membership of the Union by any new state emerging from such a referendum, the constitution of the new state must
- Guaranteeing freedom of movement between the new state and the rest of the
EU, including of course the rest of the ‘old’ country.
- Affording its citizens the right to (but no imposition of) citizenship of the new
state, the ‘old’ country and/or the European citizenship.
- Working together with European authorities to maintain at least the same level
of fiscal transfers to the rest of the country in the form of investment funding
that is channelled, under the supervision of European institutions (including the
European Investment Bank, and its offshoot the European Investment Fund),
into the poorer regions of the old country.
- Working together with European authorities to eliminate any trade surplus or
deficit with the ‘old’ country.
No-one has the right to prohibit citizens of a European region from aspiring to statehood. At the same time, no region can aspire to statehood and, at once, to
membership of a democratic, well-functioning EU without respecting the basic principles of a democratic, well-functioning EU. Continued membership of a democratic EU must be made conditional on genuine interregionalsolidarity, freedom of movement, multiple identities/citizenships, and a commitment to ironing out economic, financial and social imbalances while investing in a green future. These are also the principles upon which DiEM25’s European New Deal is built for every country and every region across Europe.
The fact that the EU has failed, due to its commitment to punitive neoliberalism, to
foster each of the conditions that must typify a democratic EU is no reason for
progressive Europeanists to give up. Would it not be splendid if the Catalonia crisis, and
the desperate need to address it via an appropriate policy framework, motivated
European democrats to reconfigure the EU as a democratic European Union? At DiEM25
we believe so!
1 For example, the Spanish constitutional court annulled Catalan Parliament policies including a guaranteed basic income, poverty reduction measures, a tax on nuclear waste and sugarised beverages. More recently, Madrid imposed punitive restrictions on the right of the City of Barcelona to use its budget surplus carry out social projects, and prohibited the housing of refugees in facilities that the City had built for that purpose.