The EU needs to prepare for the inevitable

I'm sure many of you will have noticed from the blog list on the right that the Catalan Parliament this week approved a Declaration of Sovereignty as one of the steps leading towards a referendum on independence in 2014. The full text of the Declaration is here, and this is a short report from Euronews.


In the clip, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, the leader of the Spanish Partido Popular in the Catalan parliament, claimed that "most of the Catalonian people don't want independence and don't want this division". And even the report in the Guardian claimed that opinion is "evenly divided" over Catalan independence. But neither of these claims is true.

This is a graphic showing the result of a GESOP poll in El Periódico on Sunday:


If the [Spanish] State opposes the referendum, should it be carried out anyway?

Yes ... 62.9%
No ... 30.5%
Don't know/won't say ... 6.6%

Do you agree that Catalunya should be independent from Spain and become a new state within the EU?

Agree ... 56.9%
Disagree ... 35.0%
Don't know/won't say ... 8.2%

GESOP poll for El Periódico, 20 January 2013

The percentage in favour of independence is almost exactly the same as it was in the Baròmetre d’Opinió Política of November last year, which was 57.0%. Details here. As I said then, Catalan independence looks like a cast-iron certainty.

The EU is an organization that isn't usually inclined to make decisions until it has to. It hasn't particularly addressed the issue of Scotland's place in the EU simply because the opinion polls show that there is a considerable degree of uncertainty about whether Scotland will vote for independence. Nor is it likely to particularly address the UK's place in the EU either, because there's an even greater degree of uncertainty about the Tories winning the next UK election with a mandate to renegotiate the UK's terms of membership and hold a referendum.

But the political will of the Catalan Parliament and the degree of public support shown in the opinion polls should be enough, surely, to get the EU to start answering questions about how it will accommodate Catalunya as a new member state in its own right.

Update - 19:27, 26 January 2013

Another poll by CEO was published on 7 January, although the fieldwork was conducted in late September and early October 2012. This was before the post-election agreement between CiU and ERC for the referendum to be held some time in 2014.

Vostè està totalment a favor, més aviat a favor, més aviat en contra o totalment en contra que Catalunya sigui un nou estat d'Europa en els propers anys?

Are you totally in favour, rather in favour, rather against or totally against Catalunya becoming a new state in Europe in the coming years?

Totally in favour ... 49.9%
Rather in favour ... 19.4%
Rather against ... 10.6%
Totally against ... 13.5%
Don't know ... 4.5%
Won't say ... 2.1%

Overall in favour ... 69.3%
Overall against ... 24.1%

CEO Òmnibus, 7 January 2013 – Question 31, page 22

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Neilyn said...

This could become a truly crucial 'test case' for the European Union on it's interpretation and application of the principle of self-determination as defined by the United Nations. Spain, an existing EU state, has already insisted that Catalonia can't leave; it's unconstitutional and hence illegal (according to the Spanish state constitution), as of course is any referendum on the matter. So if it's a 'Yes' vote in any 'public consultation' on the matter in Catalonia, what next? The EU, if it's to uphold the principle of democracy as the 'will of the people' (in this case, the Catalan people), may very well decide it has to tell Spain something it may not want to hear. They certainly have a lot to think about, and no doubt with the aid of legal specialists.

In comparison, the Scottish situation looks like a walk in the park!

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

¿Will the people of Catalunya/Cataluña/Catalonha be voting Sí before or after the Scottish referendum?

I suspect a strong Sí showing would be a boost for a Yes in Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Support for independence down again in Scotland.

Maybe we can just go it alone in Wales. I'd sure be up for it!

MH said...

I'm sure Spain thinks its trump card will be the ability to veto an independent Catalunya's membership of the EU, Neilyn. And it seems obvious to me that if they can use it to prevent Catalunya becoming a member in its own right, they will. But equally, the rest of the EU will want Catalunya to continue to be part of the EU.

There are two potential ways of solving the problem. The first is for the EU to put "unbearable pressure" on Spain to accept Catalunya's independence. This could be in the form of "you won't get a bale out unless you do" ... or some other variation on the theme. But that approach is flawed in that Spain might not need a bale out in 2014. It hasn't so far (if you discount the technicality that only its banks were baled out) and the pressure on bond interest rates has significantly eased in the past few months. There is even the possibility that Spain would prefer a default on its sovereign debt to losing Catalunya. If it did do that (or even threaten it) then it would be the European banking system that loses out, and the other countries of the EU certainly wouldn't want that.

The second way of solving the problem would be for the EU to decide that Catalunya was already party to the treaties of the EU due to being part of Spain when Spain signed them, and that Catalunya would therefore only have to sign an accord which confirmed it wished to continue to be bound by those treaties. Crucially, Spain would not be able to veto this.

In other words, Spanish intransigence will actually force the EU to come up with a solution that bypasses Spain's veto. And with that precedent, it will be open for any other nation or region that wants independence to continue being part of the EU under the same mechanism.

If this seems far fetched, just consider what happened when David Cameron threatened to use the UK's veto last year. The rest of the EU just found another way round and went ahead with what they wanted to do anyway.


The CiU/ERC agreement aims to get legislative and constitutional matters sorted by the end of 2013 for a referendum sometime in 2014, EUC. I certainly agree that a Yes vote in Catalunya will boost the chances of a Yes vote in Scotland, in just the same way as the Yes vote in Scotland in 1997 boosted the Yes vote in Wales a week later. In fact that, as much as anything, might be what got us over the line.

But obviously Catalunya will time the vote to suit Catalunya, rather than being particularly concerned about Scotland.

There are certain things that make an early vote preferable, and other things that make a late vote preferable. In favour of a late vote is the fact that Catalunya will need to have set up certain critical agencies and bodies, in particular to collect taxes ... for unless this is up and running Spain will be able to strangle Catalunya's cash flow. In favour of an early vote is the fact that CiU and ERC agree on virtually nothing except independence, and the current uneasy arrangement would probably fall apart if it went on for too long. They also won't want to give Spain too much time to come up with a counter-proposal such as the full fiscal autonomy that the four Basque provinces enjoy, for this might erode the margin in favour of independence.

If I had to guess, I'd say that September 2014 would be the most likely date. Just after the national day on 11 September. This would be perfect for Scotland's referendum in October.

Anonymous said...

You'd have to say that if Catalan independence is a 'cast iron certainty' based on recent opinion poll results, by the same logic, Scottish independence is an impossibility. In reality, I think there is a reasonable likelihood of Catalan independence but Scottish independence is very unlikely.

Anonymous said...

The polls have just shown an increase for Yes in Scotland, to where they need a 7% swing. Cameron's fault. But I think what would scupper them is if Labour look increasingly likely to come back as the UK Government. The polling shows Scots only support independence (as a majority) if it means escaping from the Tories.

While Scotland suffered Thatcherism, Catalonia went through Francoism, civil war, the banning of their language and now financial crisis. They also had the confidence of strong self-government within Spain to "prepare" them for independence.

Neilyn said...

Anon @ 10:18 - If 'a week is a long time in politics', what could happen in 18+ months? Who knows.

Interesting thought re. the second EU option MH. It's always struck me as more than a bit of an absurdity the idea that any nation currently within the EU as part of an existing state would be "thrown out" and forced to re-apply to join if it decided in favour of becoming a nation-state in it's own right, and actually wanted continued EU membership. For these cases, it surely makes far more sense to have a mechanism for an 'upgrade', rather than having to re-apply to join the club at the highest grade of membership. If it's 'new territory' constitutionally speaking then the EU are surely free to decide on the simplest and most direct route for any 'upgrade' (assuming they're not trying to frustrate the process of nations seeking to become nation-states).

MH said...

It looks like I'm going to have to say a few things about Scotland.

My reason for saying that independence for Catalunya looks like a cast iron certainty is not just based on the opinion polls. The other factors are the actions and attitudes of the Catalan and Spanish governments ... as well as, to a certain extent, the general attitude of people in Spain towards Catalans. In Catalunya, all these things have come together to create a "perfect storm".

The main difference between Catalunya and Scotland is that the UK government has not tried to rely on law or a veto to prevent the people of Scotland deciding their own destiny by democratic means. And, perhaps more critically, the UK government has not tried to undo the measure of autonomy Scotland and Wales have. In contrast, the Spanish government has and is continuing its drive to re-centralize the Spanish state. So in Catalunya, the only two options are to accept re-centralization or become independent. There is clearly no middle way.

In Scotland's case, the UK is not being intransigent, it is just not being explicit. The issue is lack of clarity. The three main unionist parties want to convey the message that Scotland can have a greater degree of autonomy if they vote No to independence. But none of them has as yet spelt out exactly want that means, and they are even further from agreeing on a package that could be put to the Scots as an alternative to independence. It is clear that the Scots want very much more autonomy than they have now, so the referendum in 2014 will hinge on whether people believe that they will get enough additional autonomy to satisfy them (for the time being) if they vote No to independence next year.

As a worst case scenario (from my perspective) the Scots might well vote No in 2014. But if they do so, it will be because they believe that the unionist parties will deliver greater autonomy. If they then fail to deliver, there will almost certainly be calls for a new referendum on independence as the only option, and independence will only have been delayed by about five years. But even if they do deliver, I reckon it will be maybe ten years before the Scots ask themselves precisely why they can't handle decisions on defence and foreign affairs and will vote for independence sometime in the 2020s.

So independence for Scotland looks like a cast iron certainty too. The question mark is whether it will happen as a result of next year's referendum or whether it will have to wait another five or ten years.


As for the recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showing only 23% support for independence, I would simply ask people to look at the questions asked. The data is here. We know that any question that uses the word separation is likely to have a negative effect. Yet the same poll shows that when the same options are expressed using different terms, the answer is very different: 35% believe that the Scottish Parliament should make all the decisions for Scotland (independence) and 32% believe the UK government should make decisions about defence and foreign affairs, but that the Scottish Parliament should decide everything else (devo-max).

As it will be the Scottish Parliament that decides the question I think it's better to say that about a third currently intend to vote Yes in the referendum. The crucial issue is how the third that want devo-max will vote ... and that entirely depends on whether the unionist parties manage to put together a credible, deliverable alternative to independence.

Anonymous said...

the Yes campaign has to use cameron's desperate attempt to appease middle england to drive a wedge between the various factions making up the 'keep scotland as part of england' campaign....

the future the anti-european tory right has in store for poorer parts of the uk like wales and scotland is a grim one....all the social beneifts and workers rights that have come thru europe will be rolled back if the uk left the EU, and scotland and wales will be subjected to an economic onslaught by neo-thatcherites at westminister...even the measures of devolution scotland and wales curently enjoys could be under threat by the resurgent and confident briish nationlist tory right that wouild emerge from a vote to withdraw from the EU.

hopefully more and more voters in scotland will be taking note of the grim isolated future that will be in store for them if they vote to stay within the uk in 2014 and there is vote to withdraw from europe in the subsequent referendum planned by cameron...largely as a result of the votes of people in england...

Leigh Richards

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