Homage to Catalonia*
By Sol W. Sanders
Monday, September 28th, 2015 @ 12:51PM
Left: Catalan pro-independence supporters celebrate after polls close. AFP: Gerard Julien
Two contradictory groundswell political movements are colliding on the European scene with unpredictable results:
The emergence of a supranational government with a growing top-down bureaucracy in Brussels once seemed to be undermining the old nation-state concept which had buried internal regional differences in most European states. But an increasingly powerful united Europe had loosed old local regional nationalisms, Scotland in the United Kingdom, for example; even Brittany in highly centralized France, and the northern, more advanced region of Italy from its seemingly perpetual impoverished south, Slovakia breaking away from the old Czechoslovakia.
But just when the European Union seemed not only to be firmly established, moving on to more accumulation of power, it has been hit by two crises. One is the threat to the common currency [which of course Britain with its still powerful sterling and The City as a world financial center refused to join]. With still individual economic strategies, member nations of the Euro find themselves at odds on credits and purchasing power. The avalanche of migrants from the Middle East and Africa finds the European countries unable to advance a common migrants policy. There they are caught between their declining birth rates and the need for a continuing labor pool, and the cultural threat of massive Moslem cultural invasion.
The growing European dilemma was illustrated this past weekend when a majority of voters in Catalonia, voted for independence. As Spain’s most economically advanced region with a per capita gross national income higher than the EU average, its 7.5 million produce some 20% of Spain’s gross national product and a third of its exports. Its capital Barcelona is increasingly a center for international business – now ranked sixth in Europe.
With an ancient language and cultural traditions, Catalan nationalism has been one of the principal Iberian political debates for decades. Catalan autonomy was one issue which brought on the bloody civil war of 1936-30, and their “nationalists” were one of the strongest underground oppositions to almost four decades of the Franco dictatorship.
With the restoration of the Spanish monarchy, the central government has conceded more and more to the region. In 1978: Spain’s new constitution recognized Catalonia among various distinct communities but laid down its “indissoluble unity”. In 1979, the Catalans approved by referendum a new autonomy statute giving them more powers in healthcare, education and culture. In 2006, still another autonomy charter, negotiated with the then Madrid Socialist government, increased their fiscal and judicial powers, describing Catalonia as a “nation.” But in 2012, conservative People’s Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected Catalan president Artur Mas’s call for greater tax-and-spend powers. Last year Mas’ referendum – in defiance of Madrid – resulted in 80% voting for independence but with only 37% voting. In Sunday’s election, the two parties representing the independence line have won at least half the regional parliamentary seats, with a promised declaration of independence in 2017.
The migration of low skill manufacturing to other parts of Spain and international competition has driven its politics even further, hit hard by the downturn in Spain’s booming economy before 2008. Unemployment, especially among the young, has stood at 23%, well above the12% nationally and contributes toward the political instability.
In Madrid, Rajoy is caught between a rock and a hard place with national elections scheduled before December. With strong nationalism in the neighboring Basque country, he cannot afford to make further concessions to the Catalan independendistas.
Other EU governments, faced with similar challenges, have warned that an independent Catalonia would not be welcomed into the Union. That would include using the common currency, an important tool for Barcelona’s increasingly sophisticated international business center.
* This commentary was posted on yeoldecrabb.com on September 28, 2015