Cat­alo­nia Se­cedes from Spain: Un­prece­dented Po­lit­i­cal Cri­sis

People's Review - - LEADER - BY PRABASI NEPALI

Last Fri­day, the par­lia­ment of the au­ton­o­mous north-east­ern state of Cat­alo­nia voted to de­clare in­de­pen­dence from Spain. A mo­tion to de­clare Cat­alo­nia a “repub­lic” was passed with only 70 votes out of 135 in the re­gional par­lia­ment, where pro-se­ces­sion­ists hold sway. As an im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion, the Span­ish Se­nate, the up­per house of par­lia­ment voted to trig­ger Ar­ti­cle 155 of the con­sti­tu­tion which al­lows the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Madrid to im­pose di­rect rule. A week ear­lier nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple had demon­strated in the re­gional cap­i­tal Barcelona for in­de­pen­dence. A few days ear­lier, an ul­ti­ma­tum given to the re­gional head of gov­ern­ment by the Span­ish prime min­is­ter to clar­ify Cat­alo­nia's in­ten­tions had ex­pired. Spain's cen­tral gov­ern­ment thus moved im­me­di­ately to pro­claim di­rect rule over the break-away re­gion, re­plac­ing its chief ex­ec­u­tives and top of­fi­cials to nul­lify an in­de­pen­dence cam­paign that has pushed the coun­try into un­charted waters and sent shock waves through Europe. As thou­sands ral­lied in Madrid in sup­port of Span­ish unity – with loud­speak­ers blar­ing the pop­u­lar song “Y viva Es­pana” (Long Live Spain), a gov­ern­ment no­tice of­fi­cially de­posed re­gional pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont and his deputy Oriol Jun­queras. Madrid also dis­missed re­gional po­lice chief Josep Lluis Trap­ero, seen as a sup­porter of Cat­alo­nia's sep­a­ratist lead­ers und put the cen­tral in­te­rior min­istry in charge of his de­part­ment in a move likely to fur­ther ex­ac­er­bate ten­sions in Spain's worst po­lit­i­cal/ con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in decades. Spain's Deputy Prime Min­is­ter So­raya Saenz de San­ta­maria was placed in charge of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cat­alo­nia. This was the first time the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has cur­tailed au­ton­omy in the re­gion since Gen­er­alis­simo Fran­cisco Franco's au­thor­i­tar­ian 1939-75 rule (he also re­stored the Span­ish monar­chy). Mov­ing to coun­ter­mand what he termed an “es­ca­la­tion of dis­obe­di­ence”, Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy re­sponded to Fri­day's Cata­lan vote by as­sum­ing sweep­ing pow­ers granted to him by the Se­nate un­der the never-be­fore-op­er­ated con­sti­tu­tional ar­ti­cle 155 de­signed to de­ter se­ces­sion among Spain's 17 au­ton­o­mous re­gions. He dis­charged the gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment and called elec­tions on De­cem­ber 21 to re­place them. The ques­tion now is whether Puigde­mont and his group will will­ingly step aside for care­taker ad­min­is­tra­tors from Madrid at the seat of the ‘Gen­er­al­i­tat', the name for the re­gional gov­ern­ment. On Sun­day, the ini­tia­tive shifted to the pro­po­nents of na­tional unity/the op­po­nents of se­ces­sion. In the morn­ing, hun­dreds of thou­sands ral­lied in Cat­alo­nia's cap­i­tal Barcelona, wav­ing na­tional and Euro­pean flags chant­ing “Viva Es­pana! ” to de­nounce Cata­lan law­mak­ers' vote to se­vere the re­gion from Spain. Demon­stra­tors surged, singing and clap­ping through the streets in a sea of red-and-yel­low Span­ish flags, flour­ish­ing plac­ards dis­play­ing “De To­dos” [‘It be­longs to all of us', mean­ing, of course: Cat­alo­nia]. By lunchtime, the crowds had swelled to nearly a mil­lion at the city cen­tre. A mas­sive ban­ner pro­claimed: “We are all Cat­alo­nia” and marchers, young and old, chanted “Prison for Puigde­mont”, and “Long live Spain, long live Europe, long live the King!” – an im­pres­sive man­i­fes­ta­tion by the pre­vi­ously ‘silent mi­nor­ity'. The sep­a­ratists' ac­tions were per­ceived as shame­ful and many thought that the right thing to do now was to beat them at the polls. In any case, the var­i­ous protests and demon­stra­tions in­di­cated that Cat­alo­nia was a deeply di­vided so­ci­ety. The Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion does ac­cept that there are di­verse na­tional iden­ti­ties, and that is why there are 17 au­ton­o­mous re­gions in the Span­ish na­tion-state. But the se­ces­sion­ists want to es­tab­lish a sep­a­rate 'na­tion-state' against the wishes of a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of its own pop­u­la­tion, and also against the will of Spain it­self. A sim­i­lar at­tempt by the neigh­bour­ing Basques failed. Per­haps the elec­tion in De­cem­ber could be con­strued as a ref­er­en­dum – like the one in Scot­land – and a two-third ma­jor­ity for se­ces­sion deemed bind­ing on all par­ties. The Euro­pean Union would have to aban­don its pol­icy of ‘non-in­ter­fer­ence' and take the ini­tia­tive to guar­an­tee a peace­ful out­come. Other­wise un­nec­es­sary vi­o­lence on both sides can­not be ruled out. Af­ter all, Ines Ar­ra­madas, leader of the anti-se­ces­sion­ist Ci­u­dadanos party, said at the mas­sive demon­stra­tion that most Cata­lans wished to “re­cover our fu­ture” and that “The ma­jor­ity of Cata­lans feel Cata­lan, Span­ish and Euro­pean” – a very healthy stand­point em­brac­ing many iden­ti­ties. Be­sides this psy­cho­log­i­cal viewpoint, there are in­deed many fac­tors that con­tra­dict the vi­a­bil­ity of Cat­alo­nia as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion-state. With 32,114 sq.km (6.3 per­cent) of Spain's ter­ri­tory, it is in­deed larger than many other mem­ber states of the United Na­tions. With a pop­u­la­tion of 7.5 mil­lion (16 per­cent of Spain's), it is also larger than many of them. With a whop­ping US Dol­lar 250 bil­lion of GDP (20 per­cent of Spain's), it puts many other coun­tries eco­nomic out­put in the shade. It hosted 18 mil­lion for­eign tourists in 2016 (20 per­cent of Spain's to­tal) – what most coun­tries (in­clud­ing Nepal) can only dream of. Its ex­ports ac­counted for US Dol­lar 76 bil­lion, com­pris­ing 25 per­cent of to­tal Span­ish ex­ports. It re­ceived US Dol­lar 43 bil­lion in for­eign in­vest­ment, amount­ing to 25 per­cent of that ob­tained by Spain in to­tal. And its un­em­ploy­ment rate of 13.2 per­cent was lower than that of Spain at 17.2 per­cent. All the eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors point to the fact that Cat­alo­nia con­trib­utes more to the na­tional ex­che­quer than it re­ceives back (‘fis­cal deficit'). But do these alone bol­ster the ar­gu­ment for se­ces­sion? The pro­tag­o­nists for­get that ‘na­tional sovereignty' has be­come out­dated in a glob­al­ized, in­ter-con­nected world. An ‘in­de­pen­dent' Cat­alo­nia would have to strug­gle for its very ex­is­tence from day one on many myr­iad fronts. First, there would be mas­sive re­sis­tance from a sub­stan­tial part of its pop­u­la­tion, and this would not bode well for the fu­ture. Sec­ond, it would au­to­mat­i­cally also se­cede from the Euro­pean Union with mas­sive neg­a­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions, whose out­comes are dif­fi­cult to pre­dict, but which fi­nally would be the death-knell of the would-be new na­tion-state. Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, the so-called ‘in­de­pen­dence' would re­sult in a cat­a­strophic re­duc­tion of the GDP by 25 to 30 per­cent, and dou­ble the un­em­ploy­ment rate – a sure por­tent for so­cial un­rest. Third, the new state/gov­ern­ment can­not ex­pect to get quick of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion from other coun­tries, or at least from those that count in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. This means that its ex­ter­nal af­fairs, es­pe­cially mem­ber­ship in in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions will be an up­hill task. Fourth, con­sol­i­dat­ing do­mes­tic and ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity in the age of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism will be highly daunt­ing. The to­tal costs in soft and hard power will be just unimag­in­able.

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