Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Thursday, 2 may 2013


A future for Catalans outside Spain

It has become a recurring theme for Spanish politicians and opinion makers to admonish Catalans about the ills they would bring upon themselves if their nation were to follow the path of independence. That would mean cutting themselves off not only from Spain but also from Europe and the world, it is claimed. And it would plunge them into an economic slough of unfathomable depth and indefinite duration – all trade with Spain would be terminated, the new country would be expelled from the EU and prevented from using the euro, Catalan businesses would be shut out of credit markets, causing many to go under, workers would be laid off by the thousands, the administration would come to a halt, pensioners would stop getting their checks and essential public services would be discontinued for lack of funds.

Spain is right to be worried about the prospect of losing its major cash cow, and it is only natural that, among other devices, it would turn to a strategy of fear in an attempt to make Catalans think twice about choosing to secede. But this line has also been picked up and repeated in the international press – surprisingly, since one would think that by now foreign observers should be disinclined to take at face value anything coming from Spanish sources. All the more so on this matter, because no serious arguments have been presented to support those predictions of ruin, not by anyone in Spain and certainly not by independent experts. On the contrary, all reliable analyses produced so far tend to indicate that the benefits for Catalonia of breaking free from the present destructive political arrangement would far outweigh the uncertainties of a transitional period.*

This is also consistent with the intuitive conviction shared by many Catalans that they'd probably be better off on their own. For one thing, the calamities that are said to be in store for their independent country sound a lot like what they are already experiencing today as a Spanish province. And most of them would only come about as a result of hostile actions by Spain.

In fact this is the central message coming from Madrid: "Don't you dare go for independence or we'll make your life hell." Which is a strange way of persuading one's subjects to remain in the fold. Especially since no alternative vision has been presented of all the good things that might eventually come to Catalans from being part of Spain. All they know is that they'll be required to keep making their unrewarded contribution to a State that was ill-conceived from the start and which may well be doomed anyway.


There are understandable concerns about the added instability that a Catalan bid for independence could bring to Europe, and at the worst possible time. Indeed, secession is often equated with destabilization, and many sad examples from history support this view. But it doesn't need to be like that. In 1992, for instance, the world barely noticed as Slovaks and Czechs agreed to go their separate ways. Twenty years on neither the interested parties nor anyone else seem to regret that decision, and nobody seems to be much the worse for it.

For some in Europe a separation process, no matter how peaceful and legitimate, is an unwelcome complication that they feel they can't afford just now; others, however, are beginning to realize that salvaging the Spanish economy and propping up the State will be a tall order regardless of whether Catalans choose to stay or to leave – in either case serious action will need to be taken on Spain and, a cynic might argue, a Catalan exit could be a blessing in disguise in that it would help to precipitate the inevitable. In that scenario, a negative attitude from Spain would only complicate the process and delay a satisfactory outcome.

On the other hand, a friendly separation, preferably under international supervision and with external support for both parties, would be good for all concerned. Not least because it is doubful that Spain could keep up an obstructionist position very long without hurting its own economic and political interests more than the prospects of a free Catalonia. We have a recent parallel in the Balkans where, after years of fruitless sulking, even pugnacious Serbia has reached a deal with Kosovo amounting to a de facto recognition of the new country's sovereign status. Just like Serbia, Spain has much to lose by opposing something that it can't prevent. It would be wrong for Spain to take an aggressive stance and it would be wrong for the world to tolerate it.

In the end, Europe and the world will acknowledge that ¬– paraphrasing British PM David Cameron's words about Scotland – the people of Catalonia can't be kept in Spain against their will. If and when Catalans decide to set up their own political organization, it will be in everybody's interest to let the process unfold in the least traumatic way possible, thereby ensuring that Catalonia can operate as a normal country and begin to make its contribution to the European project without undue delay.

* This superficial approach to the Catalan question is exemplified by an editorial in The Times of London of April 17, 2013. See [ a well-founded reply.
A series of essays by various experts providing an in-depth treatment of the matter can be found on the Wilson Initiative website (

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

We aim to be recognized as a trustworthy source of information and ideas about Catalonia from a Catalan point of view.
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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia