The Georgetown Public Policy Review

International Affairs in 2014

Posted on January 9, 2014 by  in Global // 

Posted on January 9, 2014 by  in Global // 1 Comment

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The Catalan Self-Determination Referendum

Whether Catalonia, the most economically prosperous autonomous community in Spain, will achieve its long-awaited independence will be decided by a self-determination referendum, set to take place on November 9, 2014. Artur Mas, the president of the Catalan government, will submit two questions to the electorate: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and “Do you want that state to be independent?”

The success of this democratic fight for independence will likely be threatened by the Spanish Government, as its economic reliance on Catalonian productivity gives it incentive to attempt to block the referendum. Through taxes, Catalonia contributes to the Spanish government far more than other regions, but the Catalan people receive less public expenditure per capita from the central government. Catalan production also accounts for more than 20 percent of Spain’s GDP. According to the Spanish government, headed by conservative leader Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Constitution does not allow for matters such as the independence of autonomous communities to be determined by polls and therefore, the administration intends to make sure the referendum does not take place.

Since a referendum for self-determination is an unprecedented event in Spanish Law, the mechanisms Rajoy intends to use in order to block the referendum remain unclear. The Spanish government has historically thwarted Catalan dreams of self-determination: during the 40 years of General Francisco Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Spain went so far as to make Catalan and other regional languages illegal. In 2005, the Catalans passed a new Statute of Autonomy that redefined and increased the powers of their local government, but before its approval, it was revised and rewritten by the Spanish Parliament, removing the Statute’s main accomplishments. The Spanish Constitutional Court eventually revoked the Statute in 2010 in a unilateral process that still raises questions.

The idea that Catalonia has a distinct a national identity from Spain has been around since the 19thcentury, and the Catalans have increasingly supported independence. Franco’s oppression in the 20thcentury only exacerbated Catalan nationalism and bolstered the enthusiasm of separatist organizations and political parties. Catalan civil society has expressed its desire for independence through organized, massive public demonstrations. Polls show that 52 percent Catalans would support independence in a referendum, while only 24.1 percent would oppose it; 80.5 percent support holding the referendum. In 2012, more than a million citizens joined a public protest in the streets of Barcelona, united under the slogan “Catalonia, next state in Europe.” Only time will tell if and when the slogan becomes a reality.

Cristina López G.


International Affairs in 2014