I am surprised to see that the independence debate is still focused on the “transition period”. Nobody in their right mind denies that independence would be an improvement for Catalans, but they assume that first we would have to endure a time of hardship because we would be expelled from the EU (and the euro) and we would struggle to pay out public pensions. Let us consider these matters one at a time.
“Neither Spain nor the rest of the member states would recognise an independent Catalonia, which would remain outside the Union (and the euro) for a long time”. This ever-present threat is justified by quoting the relevant articles from the Treaties and is a source of no end of gloomy predictions.
Separatists typically resort to three counterarguments: Catalans are European citizens and it is unclear whether this status can be taken away from them; there are no rules which explicitly state that a seceding territory of a member state would automatically be expelled; and that it is in the Union’s best interest to keep Catalonia in the EU because it would be a net contributor to its coffers. These are substantial arguments, indeed, but they fail to prove that a transition period would be necessarily short. In fact, ANC Chairman Jordi Sànchez has admitted that “it is a fact” that an independent Catalonia would “temporarily” find itself outside the EU (August 28, 2015), but he was not able to specify how long this period would last.
“Once it becomes independent, Catalonia will be expected to pay Catalans their pensions but it will not be able to do so for some time”. This second line of attack is justified with claims that the new state would not have the necessary information about the work history of Catalonia’s OAPs, nor the cash needed to meet the first month’s payments (or perhaps the next few).
Separatists counter this claim by pointing out that pensions are paid out based on contributions made by the existing workforce and the ratio between the two figures is more favourable in Catalonia than in the rest of Spain. Once again, this line of defence does not reassure those who worry about day-to-day issues. In my opinion, independence supporters make one mistake: they fail to mention, right from the start, that the two claims I have highlighted in bold are untrue.
For as long as Spain and the other member states refuse to recognise it as an independent country --and from the point of view of those countries--, Catalonia will continue to be a part of Spain and, therefore, of the EU. Catalonia can either not be recognised or expelled, but not both at the same time, as it would be a contradiction. On the subject of pensions, anyone who has paid into Spain’s Social Security is entitled to a Spanish pension (and none other), until a different arrangement is negotiated, regardless of whether Catalonia becomes independent or not.
The effects of independence may only occur as a result of Catalonia’s international recognition, which would indeed have three automatic consequences: 1. Catalonia would find itself outside the EU, which would require an immediate arrangement of some sort (accession to the EU or perhaps something else) to ensure freedom of circulation across our borders; 2. Spain would lose a fifth of its tax revenue but would keep all of its debt, which would force an agreement so that Catalonia may take over its share of Spanish debt; 3. While Spain would lose a fifth of its workforce and their social security contributions, it would still have to meet the payment of all the pensions, including Catalonia’s, which would demand a accord with Catalonia so that it may take on its share of pension payouts.
I would like to emphasise that discussions on all three matters could not possibly wait. Therefore, Catalan independence and the agreements would come into effect simultaneously. All in all, the transition period is a figment. There can be no such thing as de facto independence without an agreement; and with such an agreement, there is no transition period.
So how come so many separatists still believe in it? It is because they assume that a unilateral switch-off is a real possibility. But this is not a realistic assumption. Sooner or later, there will be a referendum with full guarantees, a census and international observers. Even the Cercle d’Economia --a conservative Barcelona-based business club-- recognises that today. Whether this referendum will be agreed upon or not, is a different matter altogether. But if there is a Yes victory, negotiations on the terms of independence will kick off the next day. Before then there may be skirmishes, but with no actual effect on borders or pensioners’ bank accounts.