Will Catalonia Become Independent Soon?

My answer to the question is no. Eventually I think it will, but not soon. Here’s why:

Catalonia, Portugal and Spain: Selective Historiography

Independentist claims from Catalonia are centuries old, although with differing levels of intensity, depending on central repression and economic wealth. I like to throw around a story that the reason Portugal is independent and Catalonia isn’t is that when both were part of Spain and revolted (1640), Portugal was at the edge of the continent while Catalonia was a doorway to Europe. The thesis goes on to say that while Spain wanted to keep both, it allocated more resources to reclaiming Catalonia. While both revolts shared a common cause, the centralisation attempts of post 30 Year War (1618–1648) Spain, this is a very unuanced argument. The Portuguese War of Restauration (1640-1668) headed by a claimant to the throne was better organised and funded than the Segadores peasant revolt in Catalonia (1640-1659). Portugal, while not at the heart of Europe was a global empire with desirable colonies in 4 continents, and thus likely to actually be more appealing. It also ignores that both revolts took place at the end of the exhausting 3o Years War. Finally, I have never actually seen the figures of how much money Madrid spent on both fronts, and doubt that they might actually exist. However, this is an important period in the history of Spain, Catalonia and indeed Portugal.

The origin of this recent quarrel

The interesting thing about that discussion is that it allows me to introduce the Segadores revolt (1640-1659), a symbol of Catalan nationalism. The celebration of this revolt provided the background for a 1.5million strong march of Catalan nationalists in the beginning of September, on the eve of the publication of the results of a survey that showed the rise of an unprecedented level of support for Catalan independence. Emboldened by this support and armed with the economic claim that Catalonia is a net contributor to Spain’s budget and might have different views on redistribution, Artur Mas, President of the Regional Government requested that Madrid consent to his, traditionally non-nationalist government’s, acquiring new powers of taxation. It was the refusal of this request that triggered the present mess.

Catalonian Reaction

This denial pushed Artur Mas over the edge and led him to call snap elections, now scheduled for November 25th. Presuming a victory, he claimed that

If we can go ahead with a referendum because the government authorizes it, it’s better. If not, we should do it anyway

Aware that the next step would be a unilateral declaration of independence the Spanish government responded in no uncertain terms, via the deputy prime minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, who responded saying that

There are legal and constitutional instruments to stop it, and this government is prepared to use them

The European Context of an Independent Catalonia

There is no foreseeable future for Catalonia outside of the European Union, as it would be left isolated economically if it were unable to join the single market. This is problematic because Spain, if it survives in a smaller version, can veto the new, likely unilaterally declared, independent nation state’s access to European markets. But this is not the end of the line.

Fiscal Conditions and Creditors Outlook for Catalan Independence

If Catalonia leaves and Spain survives as a political entity, I would presume the each would  keep the debts issued in its name. However, while this would leave Catalonia unburdened of its positive net contribution to the Spanish national budget, it would also leave the Spanish budget poorer. As a result, while Catalonia might be more sustainable, Spain will suffer the opposite fate.

Why does this matter?

If you are Spain you are looking for international support, a commodity clearly also sought after by Catalonia and in limited supply through Europe. The discussion in the previous paragraph would support the view that Catalonia might face, not just Spanish opposition to its independentist claims. I would expect France and Germany, and indeed any other creditor of Spain who would suddenly be exposed to a higher risk of non-performance on the Spanish debt it holds, to have a very good incentive to oppose any independentist Catalonian claims.

So what will happen then?

Ridiculous as it might seem, I believe that Catalonia may settle for its original request: a reform that endows it with the right to set, levy and keep its own taxes. Why would Spain accept that? Because its better than break up, as it would allow it to continue to extract some of Catalonia’s resources, and because Spain and creditors don’t want those 1.5million people out on the streets for much longer.

Of course this is only the compromise scenario. It is possible that creditors completely back Madrid and isolate Catalonia or that Catalans just go out onto the streets and make independence irreversible following a stubborn referendum.

However, if the compromise scenario materialises, I would conclude that if all this does take place, then the ground is set for a future left-wing government to allow Catalonia out in the context of an orderly and mutually agreed process.

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15 Responses to Will Catalonia Become Independent Soon?

  1. Gonzalo Gallegos says:

    Catalonia is the Spanish region living mainly from acting solely as the middleman between many european & japanese companies and the rest of Spain. This is a bussiness that will be finished after the secession.

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  3. An Bui says:

    What it means is that France and Germany should force Madrid negociate with Barcelona, so Catalonia can asume some of the spanish debt after the independence

  4. RR says:

    Just a quick history lesson. The best Spanish forces available in Iberia were sent to Catalonia because the French army was using it as an entryway across the Pyrenees, not because it was some sort of “gateway to Europe” from Spain; sea lanes had done that much better for centuries and Spain’s ports had long been strongly linked to other ports in Europe. In 1640 Spain was not only fighting the revolts of Portugal and Catalonia, it was also fighting the French, the Dutch, the Protestant forces in the Holy Roman Empire and skirmishing with the Ottomans in the Mediterranean – simultaneously. It was basically the burden of the Thirty Years War that caused the Catalan and Portuguese revolts. The Catalan defeat was not a complete disaster for the Catalans, not at all, for the Spanish Habsburgs agreed to uphold many of the Catalan’s traditional autonomies, which was what they were defending in the first place.

    • fmpdea says:

      Thank you for all of those clarifications!

      Given that the history was not the main point of the argument I must admit that I did not explore it too indepth, so thank you for providing me more context.

      The military part in particular was rather informative. Although the detail does not change the narrative it does have very strong implications for the drivers of the movement. Clearly it was silly of me to put eastern iberia’s relevance in the context of trade rather than in military terms.

      Regarding autonomy, while the Felipe II and Felipe III (respectively Felipe I and Felipe II of Portugal) were relatively docile and respectful of the autonomies of the separate kingdoms, there was a drive for centralisation headed by Gaspar de Guzmán which created much of the backlash in Portugal, whose local aristocratic interests saw their benefits and relevance in court diminish, thus pushing for independence. Whether that was similarly felt in Catalonia, I do not know.

      • RR says:

        You are quite right. I overlooked that aspect that was much more important for the Portuguese. In Catalonia the problem was more about traditional rights being ignored. The French were kicked out and the revolt was crushed but they got their rights back so in a deeper sense they successfully defended their rights. Cheers.

    • VTR says:

      You are missing (or ignoring) the creation of a brief catalan republic and the assimilation of the northern catalonia by france (1659). And that autonomies you said (Constitucions, drets, llibertats i altres furs) had gone only 55 years later.

  5. RR says:

    Just one other thing. Can I say that those encouraging a seperation of Catalonia at this very dangerous time are being irresponsible in the extreme. Barcelona is Spain’s biggest economic engine – not just commerce (what’s wrong with being a “middleman” Gonzalo, after all it is simply commerce) but also in industry and even high tech. While this makes Catalonia indispensible to the Spanish economy, the people of Catalonia seem not realize that greater Barcelona, which is where most Catalans live, developed into such a powerful economic engine by being Spain’s greatest port and industrial hub, not just Catalonia’s. The modern economies of Spain and Barcelona grew up together as an integrated unit. So for insults to be thrown in one direction or the other, one is simply demonstrating one’s ignorance of modern reality. The Catalans, however, are right to be angry at Rajoy. They do pay an excessive amount of taxes and the very least Rajoy could have done is prioritize major projects in Catalonia to help gets economty going but Rajoy prefers to favour projects of low economic importance, like building the highspeed railway to his home of Galicia, for political reasons. This is what I consider an act of an economic and political vandal in a time of extreme crisis that could blow up into war. It really can, believe me!

  6. Joao says:

    I was under the impression that Portugal was independent because of British help. The British didn’t want the harbors in Porto, Lisbon and the Azores under Spanish control. If I am right the Armada sailed from Lisbon … consolidating the Iberian peninsula was bad news for the English. The Portuguese were independent until they foolishly occupied a Muslim country, Morocco. What they wanted with Morocco I am not sure.

    • RR says:

      Portugal and Spain became united under the Habsburg king Philip II who, after the death of the Portuguese king, enforced his claim to the Portuguese throne. Philip had a Portuguese mother and spoke fluent Portuguese. He made sure that the Portuguese were on side by including them in all the highest councils of state and consulting them on every issue of importance. Philip’s successors were not so careful and the Portuguese felt increasingly marginalized.. The Thirty Years War put massive pressures on Spanish resources and was the proximate cause of the Portuguese (and Catalan) rupture. The English (not “British”) were too busy with their own civil wars and related conflicts in Scotland and Ireland, and, yes, they did provide some limited military help to the Portuguese towards the end but really, for Spain the big war and threat was France and that meant sending the best military resouces to the Pyrenees, the Netherlands and Italy and that gave the Portuguese their chance to break away. Catalonia, unlike Portugal, had never been an independent kingdom like Portugal and was simply defending its traditional rights. The Armada was but a distant memory by then. Cheers

  7. Robert R says:

    RR Just one final word. Now as I’ve studied the Spanish political system as it has evolved since Franco, I now understand why all my Spanish relatives hate the political class. But they make no distinction between the kleptocracy in Madrid and the various kleptocracies that grew up regionally. In fact it is the regional kleptocracies that are worse than that at Madrid (quite an achievement !), because they controlled the local savings banks for their own political and private purposes during the ridiculous property bbom. They are now trying to blame Madrid for their own incompetence and profiteering. Madrid deserves a lot of blame, but basically lost control of the regional governments as they demanded ever more autonomy behind the facade of nationalism. Those Europeans supporting them on “self determination” grounds simply do not understand this critical fact. It is no accident that the crisis is especially severe on the Mediterranean coast because that was ground zero for the property boom, and all the politicization, nepotism and crony capitalism connected with it. If Catalonia breaks, then there is no hope, either for Spain or the EU and the whole damn show will fly apart into 17 little Greeces and utter chaos. If Spain is to have any chance of recovering, the reform of the political system must begin with the central government and then be imposed on the states, for that is what the autonomies are and it should be the EU letting these corrupt regional polities know in no uncertain terms that it will not tolerate their opportunistic smashing of Spain for the benefit of their nepotistic political-economic elites. I suggest a properly worked out federal system should be the end goal Cheers

  8. sarah says:

    YES IT WILL BE INDEPENDENT SOON

  9. Here’s a good blog to know more about Catalonia and its process for independence. I’m sure you allwill find it very interesting.

    http://catalanprocess.wordpress.com

  10. João Pedro Matos says:

    Portugal also had to fight the English, Dutch and the French to defend their colonies in Indonesia, India, Africa and Brazil.. some were never recovered.

    The Dutch try to gain control of Portuguese colonies because Portugal (being in a Union with Spain) could no longer trade with Flanders.

    Portugal was also impaired because it had to contribute to Spain military operations.

    By the way… Philip and their sons were considered Kings of Spain and Portugal, so Portugal was never considered part of Spain as Catalonia was..

    Portugal is actual a more older country than Spain and was recognised by the Pope (important political figure at the time).

    I think the only way that Portugal could be incorporated as part of Spain was perhaps to change the capital to Lisbon.. front door to the New World.

  11. Balearic says:

    Non-sense, Catalonia was also recognised as a country by the Holy see for centuries. In addition, you reduce the conflict to money, when there is much more, such as the attempt of spain to remove the catalan language and culture from all the legal context, attacking a successful system that ensured all the catalan students finished Secondary studies with a good knowledge of catalan, spanish, and to certain extent English.

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