By Oriol Martínez
The Catalonian process towards independence has come of age with the elections this Sunday. Given Madrid’s repeated prohibition over agreeing to a referendum, and even though these are official elections for the Catalonian parliament, they have been interpreted as a de facto plebiscite by a majority of players: the seven parties with a right to representation, the media, political circles in Madrid, and the international press.
The more than three years of the Process have served to highlight the difficulties of fitting the reality of Catalonia within the institutional framework of Spain. Numerous attempts by Catalonian parliamentarians to hold an inquiry with the agreement of Madrid have been met with repeated rejection. Future prospects are no better as regards Madrid agreeing to democratic rules, as was the case in the processes agreed on in Scotland and Quebec. Both the parties which determine the Spanish political agenda, the PP and the PSOE, and those who choose to do so, Podemos and Cs, do not accept a dialogue between Catalonia and Spain on equal terms. This situation reflects the paradoxical fact that the major parties at state and provincial level are increasingly side line players in Catalonia (and in Basque Country).
Nor has the lethargic Madrid Senate played the role of giving support to regional demands, as happens in countries with a strong federal structure such as Germany, the United States or Switzerland. Germany, in an exemplary case of institutional flexibility, even allows a “Land” to represent the voice of the whole country in the EU Council of Ministers.
Another success of the process, and in view of the critical period of transition towards the new state, is the fact that Catalonia has proved its resilience, socially, politically and economically. Thus, despite the insistence of the unionist bloc on proving otherwise, Catalonian society has welcomed the debate with maturity and serenity. The so far four mass demonstrations for independence have been an example of this, with exemplary behaviour on the part of millions of participants and also those opposed to them, as a matter of fact. In this sense, the BBC said in November 2014 that “the Catalan independence movement has also broken its own records for the largest entirely peaceful demonstrations in Europe”.
On the political front, parliamentary activity has remained stable, overcoming the boycott attempts by parties unhappy with the process: PP and Cs. Also, considering the scarcity and precariousness of Catalonian public finances, especially felt by the poorest sections of society, basic services such as health, education or government services have continued to offer low minimum standards of quality.
In the economic sphere, Catalonia, along with Barcelona at the head, has been able to establish itself as a leading destination for foreign investment in southern Europe, now competing with vanguard European regions such as Switzerland, Baden-Württemberg or western parts of the Low Countries. In parallel, the Catalonian economy has undergone a major transformation in its foreign sector: the traditional dependence on the Spanish market has been gradually reduced to the point that exports to Europe and the rest of the world account for more than 60% of the total. Undoubtedly, Spain is now the main single market, and will remain so in an independent Catalonia: the economic and cultural ties between the two are precisely the guarantee of this.
Finally, the fit of Catalonia and Spain within the framework of the European Union means, firstly, that the rules are dictated not only from Madrid. Europe has already been the silent player during the process: the fact, for example, that the use of force has been ruled out by the Spanish government is, above all, thanks to the current European framework. Also, the Common Market of over 500 million consumers, including the 47 million in the Spanish State completely deflates the threat of loss of the domestic market, as this comes after the European. With regard to the new Catalonian state, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s senior advisers on international policy, Roland Vaubel and Kai-Olaf Lang, said that when and if the time comes, Brussels will know how to be flexible, as it has always been, acting pragmatically. Another asset for Catalonia in the transition process is its ability to take advantage of this European framework. Proof of this is a number of indicators, such as the more than 5,700 foreign companies (41% of those in all of Spain) and that Barcelona has been positioned as the fourth tourist destination in Europe. Likewise, Catalonia has an extraordinarily dynamic and competitive R & D + I base, with Barcelona being awarded European Capital of innovation in 2014.
Nor can we leave aside the chronic problems that drag Catalonia down, largely due to not having a state that facilitates its development and therefore unsolvable under the current policy framework. The problem of the tax deficit, underestimated during the years of economic boom and which has gained visibility since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, has brought significant decapitalization to the country. This underfunding is reflected, for example, through a rail system which does not match an economy like Catalonia’s, in terms of both the suburban network, and the lack of investment in the Mediterranean Corridor (which has itself been a deterrent to attracting new investments). All this, while reducing the welfare of Catalonians, without excluding any ideologies or provenances, is slowing its economic growth potential.
Catlonia aspires to be a positive and constructive actor in the European project, shaped by the force and capacity of its society, institutions and economy. With independence, Catalonia will also be a partner with Spain, knowing that from the outside we will finally be listened to and acknowledged. Furthermore, all Catalans without distinction will have the guarantee that they will not be subjects of the state which has not made peace with what has happened to its citizens in the past to a new country formed by, and for, everyone. They will also be responsible for their future and beneficiaries of that generated wealth. It is worth emphasising also that, just as Spanish citizens will continue to be the same distance away, no candidate will lose their rights that they have today as a Spanish citizen. The difference will reside in a closer administration and that will respond better to the social and economic necessities of its citizens and businesses. The Project of an independent Catalonia is not only necessary in light of the troubling economic statistics, but also because it is considered as a large collective project pushed along by millions of people year after year. For all of these reasons, it is with conviction that the force of the people and the necessity to change current political structures will translate this 27th of September into a majority that will give the next parliament a clear mandate to proclaim a new state.
Oriol Martínez is an economist and member of the Sectorial de Economistas de la Asamblea Nacional Catalana.
This is a translation of the original article in Spanish that can be found here.