Politics Member States

Catalonia election: What will happen the morning after?

22 November 2012
El Periódico de Catalunya Barcelona

The regional elections of 25 November should hand the Catalonian nationalists a majority. The independence referendum they are promising, however, must first get the approval of Madrid and the support of the Catalans.

November 25 is approaching – D-Day for Spain. Whatever the election results, they will not be the end of the debate on our future, nor of the debate on Catalonia’s change of course. It will be the beginning of a long period in which our economic and political relations with Spain will be redefined. Despite what many now believe, and despite the confidence that the whole thing can be pulled off quickly, a drawn-out process awaits us all.

One of the most striking aspects of the events of recent months in Catalonia is how quickly a not inconsiderable part of Catalonia has gone from viewing the proposed economic agreement with Madrid as something desirable, though difficult to reach, to something that must be rejected radically. That would be a good thing – for those who believe in miracles. But in economics, as in everything, there are no real roads or shortcuts to such a quick solution. Processes that are seriously defining, like the one we find ourselves in, are long and arduous, with advances and retreats, and they have no certain future.

As D-day nears, so does the morning after, which is what these elections are really about. The surveys suggest a political roadmap that, with the exception of the possible collapse of the PSC, is not substantially different from the current lay of the political landscape. A large majority of members of organisations are in favour of self-determination (CiU, ERC and ICV), a distinct minority (PP and Ciutadans) oppose it, and the PSC is in the middle, in favour of self-determination if it can be brought off legally. That constitutes an overwhelming majority in favour of a public consultation. The day after the election, therefore, the crucial issue of the referendum could be put on the table. And that's where, over the next years, the battle will be articulated.

We are not the first

But we must begin with whether the Spanish state will allow it. It is a hard one for Madrid: accepting the call for a referendum, regardless of how the question is posed, means accepting the core of the debate that has brought us into confrontation with Spain in recent years. I refer to the recognition of Catalan sovereignty as distinct from the Spanish – a Catalan sovereignty capable of deciding its own future. This is the heart of the matter. On the day after the elections we will hear the pistol shot of the starting gun – not for the process of independence, but for the process that should lead to the Catalan public being consulted about what it wants to do and how its economic and political relations with Spain should be construed.

This is a question we have to start with, but in the heat of the elections it appears to be a secondary one. The public debate (the morning after) will focus on whether Catalonia wants to be independent or, in the economic sphere, whether we will be in the European Union, or whether we will keep the euro. If only this is what the discussion would be about! It would show that Spain has agreed to reform its Constitution radically; that it has admitted that Catalonia is an autonomous political entity with the right to take decisions; and that it has agreed that it is the Catalans who will decide on their own future. Getting there is not going to be easy.

Moreover, we are not the first, and other attempts, in countries with democratic traditions that are more solvent than the Spanish, have not been so straightforward. In Canada’s experience of the last referendum (in 1995), its Constitutional Court was called on to lay down strict rules on how the right of secession should be exercised: it is now the federal Parliament that must approve how the question is formulated, and there must also be a “sufficient” majority. Although Europe has the precedent of Montenegro, where the EU demanded a 55 percent majority, the consensus in Canada is that the majority should not be less than 66 percent.

Spanish parties brutally closed door

In Britain, the Scottish National Party campaigned in the last election on a promise to hold a referendum and, after winning an absolute majority, that is what it will do. Polls there, however, show support for a vote for independence is not even at 40 percent. In contrast, the capability to decide, and the need for consultation, were voted for overwhelmingly. These are two distinct issues.

Here we had the opportunity to amend the Constitution by the back door, with the lamented Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. But the Spanish parties brutally closed that door. Now a section of the Madrid intelligentsia is expressing its concern over the possible secession of Catalonia – a case of soup being served up after the dinner! The process towards a consultation on the self-determination of Catalonia has begun. When it will be reached and under what economic conditions is another story. The times of deep crisis that we are living through are not the best for radical changes.

That’s why November 26 will mark the start of a long process, in which the first assault will be against our ability to convene the consultation. As this is the keystone, all kinds of threats and pressures will build up. But make no mistake. We are not arguing about independence, nor on what our future in Europe will be. What will really begin to be discussed that day is our right to be consulted.

Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer

Factual or translation error? Tell us.