The European Union has been experiencing a true rollercoaster of emotions lately. The Greek crisis has just been solved, but the next existential crisis is already silently and quietly erupting, and not in Greece. The mainstream media seems to be forgetting it isn’t just Greece which has announced snap elections, but the same thing has happened in Catalonia, an autonomous region in Spain.
After feeding the nationalistic feelings for quite a while, the Catalan president Artur Mas has called for new elections, hoping to get an even stronger mandate to secure the independency of Catalonia from Spain. As you might remember from last year, Catalonia has already held a referendum to find out the people’s sentiment about being independent, and the central government in Madrid has done everything it could do to sabotage the referendum. And Madrid was right, as almost 80% of the voters voted ‘yes’ on the question if they would like to see Catalonia as an independent nation. The turnout was pretty low, but we would expect the aye and nay-sayers to be very close to each other.
Source: Getty Images
Mas is very popular in the region and has proven to be a brilliant politician by quietly increasing and strengthening the ‘Catalan identity’, and the region has undergone a real metamorphosis in the past 10-15 years as it has quietly removed itself further and further away from the central government in Madrid.
As part of creating/emphasizing the Catalan identity, the use of the Catalan language (which seems to be a weird mix of Spanish and French) has been encouraged and is now the standard language in Catalan schools (despite being challenged in front of the Spanish Supreme Court). Not only did Madrid not like this, the central government was also pretty furious the Catalan educational system isn’t even using Spanish as first language. Catalan is everywhere. Street signs? Catalan. Super market descriptions and bills? Catalan.
And it didn’t stop with the language. Catalonia has slowly gained additional autonomy. Public transportation? It started with the buses, but in the past few years, Catalonia has actually taken the reigns of railway transportation as well and now operates all rail services inside the region. Needless to say the ‘Catalan identity’ is at its highest level since Barcelona was conquered by the Spanish army in the 15th century.
It has even evolved to the point where cities and villages are now waving not just the Catalan flag, but the flag to symbolize the Catalan independency (with the white star in the blue area). We have seen this type of identity-creating before; in Germany during the interbellum. Will the separatist parties win? There’s a decent chance as the recent polls seem to indicate there’s no clear winner yet, but in a more surprising move, the pro-independency parties have now teamed up and will combine their forces in the September 27 election.
Other autonomous regions are keeping an eye on further developments and the president of Aragon, a neighboring region, has already said he is open to investigate to include Catalan as an official language in his region.
If the Catalan nationalists would win the election, Madrid will have some serious headaches as a clear vote for Catalan independency undermines the central government’s authority. On top of that, Madrid can’t really offer Catalonia much more autonomy as the majority of the most important domains have already been transferred to Catalonia (education, public transportation, allowing to use Catalan as the first language,…). So if the Catalans would want to push for more autonomy, Madrid will be paralyzed.
Source: The Economist
And it can’t afford to be. Catalonia is one of the richest regions of Spain with the highest standard of living and lowest unemployment rate. So for the sake of statistics, Spain’s situation would be as bad as Greece’s situation without Catalonia.
A constitutional crisis in Spain will also trigger a crisis on the European level, as a paralyzed Spain under the pressure of a push for independence will no longer be able to focus on meeting its debt and budget commitments. Spain will look for help from the European Union, but the latter won’t be able to do anything at all. Why? Pretty simple, the European Union cannot interfere in constitutional issues inside a sovereign country as long as there are no violations of the international right.
Keep an eye on Spain, as we think this country will trigger the next identity crisis in the European Union, and this is a crisis which won’t be able to be resolved by switching on the printing presses.