Facts about Catalonia

by on October 13, 2013 at 3:34 am in Current Affairs, Political Science | Permalink

Nationalist leaders claim that an independent Catalonia would be like the Sweden, Netherlands, or Massachusetts of the south of Europe. Although Catalonia is a rich region, it is very far from these benchmark cases. According to an EU study, Catalonia has the worst regional government in Spain in terms of corruption, effectiveness and accountability, with a level comparable only to some regions in Greece, Italy and former Eastern Bloc countries.

Similar to the rest of Spain, the area is suffering from the consequences of economic crisis and political corruption scandals. Its regional government is the most indebted in the country in absolute terms and the third most indebted relative to its GDP. The Catalan government has seen its credit rating slashed by all credit agencies and is unable to finance itself in the markets. In addition to this, an independent Catalonia would automatically exit the EU and would have to renegotiate membership with the threat of a Spanish veto.

Here is more, by José Javier Olivas, via the excellent www.macrodigest.com.

1 david October 13, 2013 at 3:55 am

Catalan opposition to local corruption might increase once local elites can no longer blame Madrid for it…

2 Rahul October 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm

More likely that nothing will change, they’ll just have to find something new to blame.

People love magic bullet solutions. Secession is hardly a solution to all their problems.

3 MachinShinn October 15, 2013 at 3:47 am

Secession is no magic bullet, but it will solve many problems. Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Because big doesn’t work during times of high volatility.

The breaking up of many countries currently trapped within nation-states would do Europe a world of good, Scotland, Catalonia, Northern Italy, Flanders, Wallonia, etc. This will free up locked value, not unlike a large stagnant corporation that does a spin-off to unlock the real value of its assets.

A confederation of hundreds of city-states under the EU aegis would put Europe back on top of the World Stage. Remember, during the Renaissance, little Venice held more sway than many Empires around the world.

4 J.V. Dubois October 14, 2013 at 11:31 am

Being Slovak and living through peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia (alebit at very young age) and experiencing aftermath I have agree with Rahul. And I may just add that it may actually get much worse. The division of Czechoslovakia was led by local elites that had backing of a significant minority of nationalists in both countries. What was strange is that the whole process took place without holding a referendum – paradoxically because both sides rightfully feared that the referendum would not be successful as most people were too tied to the old country.

And while I admit that peaceful separation of our countries can be looked as an arguably “good” decision it may be considered as such mostly because it quelled most Czech-Slovak blame and thus relieved this side of tenstions. However these things were (in case of Slovakia) quickly switched in favor of other tensions with other minorities, especially Hungarian and Roma that now play important role in vote dynamics.

But nevertheless what I find the most damaging is that the act of creating the Slovak Republic lacked something important. By having a nation dragged kicking and screeming into a new arrangement it lacked some crucial “state-creation” component that necessitates a widely shared and public act where masses may identify themselves with the new state. Most people in Slovakia now look back and have pragmatic but also quite impassionate view of founding Slovak Republic. Not much was changed in practical ways, especially with both Czech Republic and Slovakia being part of EU so that citizens of both countries may work, move and study in whichewer country they they want to, and with relationships between our countries being possibly even better compared to what it was under one state.

In my opinion that some of the first acts of a newly formed government was accompanied by politicians getting very bold on their old turf and with most egregious corruptions scandals which are now in hindsight also personalized in by one of the founders of the state – Vladimir Meciar – who faced several unsuccessful charges involving corruption. Imagine how disheartening it is to have one of your “father founders” made out not as a passionate figure fighting for ideals but as a pragmatic ringleader who founded his own state with one of the primary goals being that he may act as a Monarch of the old giving (sometimes lifelong) titles to his friends and supporters. Many of these pragmatic acts of creating state will have decade-long consequences. You are building completely new institutions formal and informal – from constitutional court through media to things that govern daily ordinary transaction like trust etc. Truth to be told some of these institutions were set badly for Slovakia on day one and they will most likely stay like that for decades to come.

5 BigFire October 13, 2013 at 4:02 am

But they do have a world famous football team, FC Barcelona.

6 Steve Sailer October 13, 2013 at 5:20 am

Catalans have their own language, so they should have their own government.

7 Filipides October 13, 2013 at 6:55 am

Catalonia has had its own government for more than 30 years, with a capability to produce laws higher than most regions in Europe

8 Das October 13, 2013 at 7:52 am

Hurray for India!

9 spandrell October 13, 2013 at 9:24 am

When is the US annexing Canada?

10 Art Deco October 14, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I believe Castillian is more commonly spoken in all of the regions than any of the local languages. You see the same thing in White Russia: Great Russian is more commonly spoken than White Russian.

11 Observer October 13, 2013 at 5:27 am

Great article. Independentistts have a rosy view of what an independent Catalonia will look like, which is completely unsupported by the evidence of 35 years of self-government. The comparison with Switzerland, the Netherlands or Sweeden is a common image that many of us living here find embarrassing.

12 Steve Massey October 13, 2013 at 6:06 am

Subordinate governments tend to be more corrupt than sovereign ones, since they can avoid blame more easily. Hopefully, a Catalonia which got out of the EU and Spain would be able to quickly slough off those bad habits.

13 Observer October 13, 2013 at 9:26 am

Not true. Corruption decreases with distance between decision makers and those with a direct interest in the outcome of those decisions. That distance would shrink enormously in an independent Catalonia. Besides, the current Catalan government is by no means a subordinate government, as it is elected directly by the Catalan Parliament, which has full authority over education, health care, police, social services, and almost everything else.

14 david October 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm

But corruption also decreases with the increase in homogeneity between the beneficiaries of decisions and those who pay the costs. So it is debatable whether this would increase or decrease with an independet Catalonia.

15 Rahul October 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

That’s wishful thinking. Any empirical historical evidence?

16 Multiheaded November 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm

How about ’35 – ’37? Cooperative-ran services and heavy industries underwent a (Keynesian? me not good with words) shock and a took a transition to a war footage unexpectedly well. Political betrayal, crushed morale and military defeat only came later for Catalonia.

17 Andrew Condon October 13, 2013 at 6:30 am

I don’t think the title on this post is accurate. The linked article basically lays out the Spanish Unionist position and is mostly opinion and not facts.

It wouldn’t be going too far to call it propaganda, IMO.

18 Axa October 13, 2013 at 7:13 am

Right, besides quoting the EU study on government the rest is trash in the LSE article. However, in the EU study on government quality the interesting point is the subnational survey consisting in 18 questions, half of them directly about corruption, that show Catalonia as more corrupt than the rest of Spain in the perception of its citizens. So, the title should be fact (singular).

That corruption level is red flag, all the blame on Madrid starts to resemble the Hugo Chavez critique against the “empire”. The comparisons with Sweden or Denmark are ridicule. And if Madrid is to blame, why the Basque Country is less corrupt?

Reports like these explain why the European Union have largely ignored Catalonia.

19 mofo. October 14, 2013 at 9:03 am

Its also possible that the Catalonian survey respondents have a lower tolerance to corruption than respondents from other countries.

20 Mondfledermaus October 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

Trust me, they don’t.

21 mofo. October 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

OH, well im sold.

22 Stuart October 13, 2013 at 7:05 am

Although this is a blog about economy, I think there are 2 powerful -non financial reasons- to oppose independence for Catalonia (at least as it is demanded by the rulers of that region today):

1. In a country all citizens should have the same rights, but if the Spanish government grants the right to secede to Catalans it should be granted to all regions, cities of Spain. It should be granted to any part of Catalonia which would reject secession as well. Would the Catalan government allow Val d’Aran to be independent?. Would it be Badalona allowed to remain in Spain if their citizens rejected secession?. So right to decide yes, but for all.

2. A potential secession of Catalonia would not only affect Catalans, so those who would be affected -the rest of Spaniards- should also have a say, if such a poll ever happens (as it is explicit in the existing Spanish constitution, massively supported by Catalans in ’78)

23 Das October 13, 2013 at 8:00 am

Your second point doesn’t work, because it would be true for every right and wish anyone has: By acting upon that right or wish you affect others as well, therefore others should have a say in that.

And to reframe your first point: Catalan independence would affect all of Europe. So the EU should have a say in that matter as well. Let all citizens of Europe vote on Cataln independence, not just Spaniards.

National independence should always be handled on a one by one basis, each case is different. I for one would wish for the Curds to have their own state in the Middle East, for example. Also Tibet. And why would you want to forbid the Catalans what you did allow the Netherlands some time ago? (Just trolling now, of course…)

24 Rose October 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Well, you agree with reasoning # 1, that’s fine.
For # 2 your rationale doesn’t hold. All Spaniards, Catalans and no Catalans have been building together a country for 500 years. A very simple example: there is a high speed train between Madrid and Barcelona and not between Madrid and Lisbon. The trade and GDP of all parts are intermingled and breaking this all up would have a huge impact on both sides. Nothing similar would be perceived by other EU members. So if a part secedes it is for all to decide as such a decision impacts all. This is what the Spanish constitution says and what Catalans also voted for.

25 Rahul October 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Just as every case is different, every stakeholder thinks differently too. Recipe for disaster.

Handling each case separately without a broad conceptual framework guiding these decisions sounds arbitrary.

26 Rahul October 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I’ll again say that who ought to enjoy the right to secede seems a very confusing matter.

Most arguments in favor of particular cases seem very arbitrary. I’d really love to hear a consistent, broader theory of when a secession demand is thought to be legitimate.

27 Commenter October 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Maybe the following article interests you, as it views secession in a broad political economy perspective:

The political economy of succession, by Roland Vaubel


28 Rahul October 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Great article. This is why I love MR!

29 The Anti-Gnostic October 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I think it’s about recognizing the facts on the ground which, for the most part, I think international law tries to reflect The linked article from Commenter seems to be a pretty good treatment of this topic. (Law develops very differently when the actors are sovereigns instead of subjects). For example, everybody’s been trying to ignore the Kurdish facts on the ground for a long time. The central States in Syria and Iraq are pretty shattered at this point, so they’ve had to recognize Kurdistan. Turkey and Iran are still strong enough that they can ignore Kurdistan. The UN Security Council is structured to ignore Germany–after all, they lost World War 2. In reality, Germany is one of the most important countries in the world and runs Europe’s fiscal and monetary policy.

Supra-national bureaucracies, or anybody else, which ignore facts on the ground do so at their peril. There is way too much hortatory language and ideology thrown around in policy debates, which is kind of my personal bugaboo.

30 Oriol October 13, 2013 at 8:41 am

He doesn’t mention the size of the fiscal deficit. Neither he talks about the central industrial policy that over the history has favoured the center. And when he talks about the political power of Catalonia he cherry picks representation in EU (zero importance), but does not talk about number of ministers, number of central government institutions in Barcelona, nor number of catalan high rank public officers. The political power in Spain is in Madrid and defends Madrid interests (how many IBEX 35 companies have headquarters in Madrid? is that due to market or public policy reasons?)

That’s the right definition for that article, an exercise of cherry picking to promote his nationalistic agenda.

31 Giovanni October 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Catalonia has one of the richest if not the richest industrial network of Spain. Saying that over history the center has been favoured is just ludicrous. Many companies have their headquarters in Barcelona (Spanish and not Spanish) and if Catalonia is losing ground in its industrialization, you should be looking at the policies of your local government that is deterring many investors.
Catalans have been part of the Spanish government since the times of Philip II. There are people from all corners of Spain in the current government as there have been in past governments.
Stop victimism

32 Trimegistus October 13, 2013 at 9:18 am

“Catalonia has the worst regional government in Spain in terms of corruption, effectiveness and accountability . . . ” — in other words, it’s EXACTLY like Massachusetts.

33 Bob October 14, 2013 at 11:33 am

It’s not surprising: The whole independence scheme had quite a bit of a boost after CIU, then an important party to create a government in Spain, started to sneak in laws that, for all intents and purposes, managed to make it impossible to get a government job in Catalonia if you only spoke Spanish, and made it mandatory for Catalan to be the main language used on public schools, building a nice, solid barrier for mobility that only worked one way. The moment you raise barriers of entry competition decreases and corruption goes up.

Imagine how much better the institutions in Kansas would get if the only way you could work for the state government was if your father was born in Kansas.

34 The Anti-Gnostic October 14, 2013 at 1:58 pm

The moment you raise barriers of entry competition decreases and corruption goes up.

Well, yes and no. Colleges and professions don’t accept just anybody either and I don’t hear University of Chicago economists or Johns Hopkins neurosurgeons lecturing their colleagues on how their institutions’ barriers to entry are decreasing competition and increasing corruption. In fact, I think you’d get an impassioned lecture from them on how important it is for their institutions to maintain high standards.

How low do you want to have those barriers? Should non-Kansans be allowed to run Kansas? Requiring the government to be staffed by native Kansans sounds pretty sensible, actually.

35 Enric Blanes October 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

On 11 September 2013 twenty hundreds of thousands of people formed the Catalan Way, according to World Official Record; sixty hundreds of thousands, according to official data (Catalonia has a population of 7.5 millions). Last Saturday, there were only 30,000 people in the celebration of Spain’s national day in Barcelona, according to offical data.

Would Catalan independence contribute to a more egalitarian world? The answer is yes. The Catalan independence process is a grassroots, democratic, peaceful, non-partisan movement. We the Catalans just want to vote. We remember Bill Clinton’s words in Barcelona (october 2001): “The world will be Catalan or Taliban. In a Catalan world we would celebrate the differences, because they are a manifestation of the common Humanity. In a Taliban world, the differences are the only thing that matters.”. Spanish politicians, of course, are not Talibans, but they seem Serbian nationalists. José Javier Olivas’ words: “although Catalan nationalists have the will to split from Spain, they do not have the (legal or military) means to do so unilaterally.”.

In plain words, Mr. Olivas writes as a Spanish diplomatic agent. There are many worth reading studies about Catalonia’s independence process, by a lot of academics and think tanks. The Wilson Initiative, for instance, publishes pro-independence studies in the fields of Economics and Political Science. It is made up of six Catalan academics from Columbia, Harvard, London School of Economics, Pompeu Fabra and Princeton who share their knowledge about Catalonia. Further reading is also available in a free electronic book, ‘What’s up in Catalonia’, a collection of essays collected and edited by American activist Liz Castro.

Luckyly, Olivas knows the solution. I quote him: “In democracies, secession referendums are extremely rare and in the few cases that they were organised, such as in Quebec or Scotland, they always counted upon the acquiescence of the national or federal parliaments that represent the totality of the citizens of the state.”. Let’s find an agreement between Madrid and Barcelona. Let Catalans vote.

36 Filipides October 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Sorry, it doesn’t work this way…if you vote also Val d’Aran votes and also Badalona votes whether they want to remain part of Spain, be independent or be part of an independent Catalonia. The rights should be the same for everyone. Why do you want the right to secede but don’t want the right of a province, city or village of Catalonia to remain a part of Spain, wouldn’t they have the right to decide as well?
Besides, you Spaniards (whether you feel you are or not, legally that’s what you are) have built Spain as a country with the effort of all, so it is for all to decide, as you Catalans agreed in the constitution you did vote for in ’78

37 John October 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm

By the way, the link to the original article does not work. I have lived in Catalonia few years. I know the separatists. Do they have something to do?

38 John October 18, 2013 at 7:06 am

I no way I admit that Catalonia is more corrupt than, for example, Valencia…no way.

39 simbad October 23, 2013 at 3:56 am

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