By Juan Milián Querol
Feelings can be respected but not lies or manipulating reality. The spectre of populism has swept across Europe over these years of economic crisis, adapting in each region to its particular cultural background in order to identify an enemy and promise its own particular paradise. In some countries populism blames the European Union itself for all its ills; in others, immigrants; and in others, the southern regions. Some of that is happening now in Catalonia, where independence-based populism has kidnapped classic Catalanism (regenerationist, but not separatist) to make social suffering its electoral business.
The candidate, Junts pel sí, which all the polls tip to be the winner on Sunday, 27 September, and in which the current President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Artur Mas, is hiding as its number 4 candidate, is depriving the Catalans of the right to know the consequences of a hypothetical independence for Catalonia. Artur Mas has been nominated to be president again, and so declare unilateral independence, but he does so without showing his face in election debates. He avoids democratic accountability to evade having to explain his dreadful political management or the corruption in his party (Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya), 15 offices of which have been seized by the authorities. During his mandate, the Catalonian government debt has doubled, taxes have risen, and right now they are the highest in the whole of Spain, not through any decision by “Madrid”, but by the Catalan regional government itself; it has made cut-backs in education and health at the same time as increasing budgetary allocations for the dissemination of its independence process in Catalonia and abroad.
However, pro-independence candidates do not only aim to hide the immediate past, they also want a news blackout on a hypothetical future of a Catalonia separate from the rest of Spain. They say this is not so, but this is written in black and white and is official: an independent Catalonia would be left outside the European Union. The European Commission has been very clear about this and has spoken on numerous occasions, sometimes in official response to questions from a pro-independence MEP, Ramon Tremosa. The President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, responded to him in writing, on 20 November, 2013, with what is already the doctrine of the Commission: that a region that separates from a Member State will become “a third State as regards the EU and the treaties would cease to apply in their territory.”
Previously this had been pointed out by the Prodi Commission and, subsequently, the Juncker Commission. Some separatist voices have attempted to discredit the words of this institution, stating that the EU is a sum total of states which defend each other. Well, let us look at another European institution which might look more favourably upon regionalism and which has also been adamant. The Committee of the Regions in paragraph 64 of the report of 17 May, 2013 “Recalls that in the event of a region gaining independence and wishing to join the EU, it would have to submit an official application to the Council and follow the Accession procedure in Article 49 of the TEU, as would any State wishing to become a Member State of the EU.”
The Community institutions have been clear, and so are the treaties. Article 4.2 guarantees the territorial integrity of member states. This article invalidates any option to accept a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. As the European Commission has officially recalled this week (22-09-15), replying to a question by the Popular Party MEP Santiago Fisas: “The territory of a Member State is determined solely by national constitutional law and not by a declaration of an autonomous parliament contrary to the Constitution of that state.”
However, and even if the future brought us constitutional changes in Spain, and an independent Catalonia were accepted, for a start off, this would not be a new state in the European Union; since Article 52 of the Treaty of the European Union lists all the Member States, and Catalonia is not on the list. The Kingdom of Spain is, however. Thus, to incorporate Catalonia or a Catalonian Republic, Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty makes the accession process clear and the need for the unanimity of all members.
The articles which I have referred to contradict some of the clichés that the pro-independence media has been repeating throughout the current campaign. We are told that “the Catalans are European citizens and the EU would not expel 7.5 million citizens”. They would not throw us out, that is correct. We would automatically be excluded. Under Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, one is a citizen of the European Union in so far as one is a citizen of a member state of the EU. Therefore, only those who keep their Spanish citizenship, or that of another member state, would remain European citizens. A ridiculous paradox could arise that most inhabitants of Catalonia would be Spanish foreigners with their homes and businesses outside the EU. The rejoinder of the pro-independence argument is: “Europe is pragmatic and, eventually it would open the door to Catalonia through its own interest”. But hang on, the European Union is a community of law, not some kind of temporary arrangement to suit political interests.
Anyway, let’s accept for a moment the pragmatists’ argument; more in favour of exclusion. A hypothetical independent Catalonia would be left outside the European Union, at least for many years, because nobody would be interested in creating a precedent like this. Most European countries have communities that could benefit from this and thus cause an implosion of the whole European Union which, if it is already difficult to govern with 28 states, we could scarcely imagine how difficult this would be with a myriad of new countries; states, moreover, which would come into being contrary to any European spirit.
The European Union is being built upon the principle of solidarity. However, the independence movement has used populist arguments and fiscal xenophobia (very similar, by the way, to the Northern League) to gain momentum through the worst economic crisis that our generation has seen. If they are unable to show solidarity with regions like Andalusia and Extremadura, where a large number of Catalan families are from, how – any pro-European might ask – will nationalists want to show solidarity towards countries which Catalonia has little in common with.
Outside the European Union it is very cold, but the CUP, an independence party on the radical left and possible partner on Artur Mas’s list, believes an exit from the European Union and the euro would be positive. Leaving the EU means being outside the single common market, so the Common External Tariff would apply. Catalonian exports would be extremely adversely affected, as would the decline in trade between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. I am not referring to a possible boycott which is so often bandied about by the pro-independence movement to demonstrate the alleged evil inherent in the Spanish as people, but rather the border effect, as observed in the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which could trigger a fall in trade between the two territories from between one and two thirds of current levels.
This would also mean leaving the Eurozone and losing access to ECB liquidity, causing an outflow of capital. Some pro-independence candidates have wanted to reassure their voters saying that we Catalans could continue using euros. Certainly, just as we can still continue to use dollars or yen, but by not having access to the European financial system we would end up creating our own currency with the consequent devaluation, and worsening living conditions for some Catalans whose debts would be in euros but their assets would be in the new Catalonian “peseta”, a much weaker currency.
In short, the separation of Catalonia seems unlikely, but a possible victory of the pro-independence candidates next Sunday would spark off a dangerous process of frustration and confrontation in Catalonian society. Not only would it jeopardize the nascent economic recovery and recent job creation, it would also exacerbate the breakdown of friendships between Catalonians, already being seen, and also between Catalonians and the rest of the Spaniards. The social majority in Catalonia, according to all the polls, is not in favour of independence, and even less so if this involves departure from the European Union; so, the higher the turnout, the more likely a morning of reconciliation and recovery. This Sunday, the more the democracy we have, the less the independence, and the more there will be of Europe.
Juan Milián Querol has a degree in Political Science and Administration, is a representative of Partido Popular in the Catalonian Parliament and has been named the new Deputy Secretary of Studies and Programmes for Partido Popular in Catalonia.
This is a translation of the original article in Spanish that can be found here.