Is an independent Catalonia an issue again?

by on September 20, 2015 at 1:00 am in Current Affairs, Economics, History, Law, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is Bloomberg on next week’s election:

If separatist parties secure a majority and Madrid refuses to negotiate, Mas says he’ll declare independence unilaterally within 18 months.

I read this earlier in the week:

The gap between Spanish 10-year bond yields and Italian yields has widened to a two-year high as political uncertainty escalates ahead of an election in Catalonia this month and a general election in December.

Spanish 10-year bonds now yield 0.27 percentage points more than Italian bonds. In October 2014 they yielded 0.4 percentage points less. The spread has widened by 0.15 percentage points in the last week alone, indicating a rising risk premium, with the timing of the sell-off coinciding with a major demonstration by Catalonian separatists on Friday.

The EU warns that independence would mean automatic expulsion from the EU.  Various leading banks have warned they would leave an independent Catalonia.  The odds are still against this actually happening, but it’s climbed on the radar screen again.

My position remains that this would be a big mistake.  It would bring significant economic harms.  Furthermore the current notion of “what it means to be Catalan” seems to be as much defined by the union with Spain as it would be realized without such a union.  Voting to leave is like voting to become a very new people, although it is rarely framed that way and more commonly framed as a kind of self-preservation or cultural preservation.  There’s nothing wrong with deciding to become a new people, but that can be done within larger political units as well.

What about the evidence on the economics?:

First, no historical evidence supports this claim [that an independent Catalonia would grow more rapidly]. Andres Rodriguez-Pose from the London School of Economics has studied the economic record of independence, mostly in Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia, and finds that countries at best maintain their previous growth paths.

Second, no evidence suggests that institutions in Catalonia perform better than the Spanish average. Anecdotal evidence suggests that corruption is as pervasive in Catalonia as in the rest of Spain. On a more scientific basis, the 2012 European Commission report [pdf] measuring the quality of government in European countries and regions shows Spain ranked 13 out of 27 EU countries, while Catalonia ranked 130 out of 199 EU regions, thus in the bottom third of EU regions. Catalonia also ranked last among Spanish regions.

Third, Catalonia’s potential growth benefited massively from the 1992 Olympic Games, which were financed mostly by the Spanish State and the City of Barcelona, with a minor contribution by the Catalan government, and which opened up new parts of the city with civil infrastructure investments. Research conducted by the University of Barcelona and the City of Barcelona shows that this spending not only boosted the economy before the games but also provided long-lasting benefits. For example, Barcelona moved higher in the “best city to conduct business” ranking.

That all said, Spain and the eurozone are now outside their immediate and dire fiscal and financial crisis, at least compared to say 2011.  So I now think that if a clear majority in Catalonia wants to leave Spain, Spain should let them go.  I wrote a few years ago that would be my stance once the most pressing parts of the financial crisis are past, and it seems to me that is now the case.  Catalonian separatism, while I still think it is imprudent, is no longer morally irresponsible from a broader European point of view.

Good luck, I’ll be watching either way.

1 prior_approval September 20, 2015 at 1:08 am

‘Is an independent Catalonia an issue again?’

It is here apparently, in fearless denial of Betteridge’s law.

(‘Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”‘ )

2 Josh M September 20, 2015 at 2:27 am

Yes yes, anyone even tangentially familiar with the past five years of the Internet knows “Is Betteridge’s Law of Headlines an Insightful Observation?” You might as well cite Dunning-Krueger and link to that Wikipedia page.

3 Tom Warner September 20, 2015 at 1:24 am

I don’t recall the threat of automatic EU exit being discussed in nearly such threatening tones before the Scotland vote. I recall there being more of a, “yeah, they’ll have to fill in a lot of forms, but it’ll get done” sort of an attitude. Gosh, you don’t think Brussels could be prejudiced against the UK and for Spain?

4 Axa September 20, 2015 at 9:10 am
5 ThomasH September 20, 2015 at 9:55 am

Or against Scotland and in favor of Catalonia. [I assume that joining the Euro is a net negative.]

6 mulp September 20, 2015 at 1:02 pm

The Guardian’s headline a year ago and three days was:
“Spain says it could take independent Scotland years to win EU membership”
“In the strongest and most apocalyptic intervention from Europe to date in the increasingly divisive Scottish debate, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told parliament in Madrid that all of the EU’s leaders were aghast at the idea of an independent Scotland.”

“We are deeply concerned about the prospect of a yes vote in the Scottish referendum,” [Gianni Pittella, the Italian leader of the social democrats in the European parliament] said. “It doesn’t seem to us that abandoning the UK would turn out to be a wise step to take. It is clear Scotland’s admission to the EU will not be as automatic and easy as yes supporters claim. It will take years. “Scotland will have to apply to become a new member state and the accession will have to be approved by all other member states – a situation which will not be easy, especially when many countries are worried about the implications for independence movements at home.”

What you recall is the optimism of those who were cheering for a split.

7 Tom Warner September 20, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Okay, fair enough, I stand corrected.

8 agm September 20, 2015 at 1:42 am

It’s sort of ridiculous for a very not-Catalan economist to profess upon “what it means to be Catalan” and whether his particular economic world view should be the analytical approach used for them to make such a decision. Declarations of Independence are not primarily an economic decision, though they have economic aspects and impacts.

9 Ray Lopez September 20, 2015 at 9:38 am

So what are your views of the US South leaving the Union in 1861? Good or bad?

10 Just Saying September 20, 2015 at 10:06 am

Most of us aren’t racist enough to think that topic is debatable.

11 Cowboydroid September 20, 2015 at 11:58 am

And here we witness a not so thinly veiled attempt to manufacture a thought crime: anyone who debates the economic aspects of Southern Secession must necessarily be a racist.

12 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:18 am

There would have been geopolitical problems, as there would be today. And, of course, they were taking the slaves with them. As we speak, the problem we have in this country is the incapacity of any subnational unit to run its own affairs without the officious interference of the judiciary. The benefits of secession today would be that you could arrest the judges and banish them.

13 mulp September 20, 2015 at 1:05 pm

The leaders of the US South in 1861 were assuming the British Empire would support them.

sorta like the breakaway factions are assuming the EU will support them.

14 Steve Sailer September 20, 2015 at 1:47 am

The last few weeks have revealed how vulnerable Europe is to whimsical, unaccountable decision-making by Germany. That example is going to have a lot of repercussions that aren’t yet obvious.

15 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:44 am

An aspect of their vulnerability is their ineffectuality, with regard to which the home address is not Germany. Hungary had the stones to close the border and use weapons.

16 Cowboydroid September 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Who do you think told Victor Orban to stop the trains going west before the refugee crises hit the major news outlets?

17 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Victor Orban tells Victor Orban what to do, to the consternation of the governments of Croatia and Serbia.

18 Cowboydroid September 20, 2015 at 1:45 pm

There are more powerful people in the EU than Victor Orban. Remember, Hungary was just a stop for the refugees, not the destination.

19 Sam September 20, 2015 at 2:12 am

The EU position on membership of Scotland was harsh and a major element in the campaign. As the central government is member, and different MS have similar problems with rowdy regions, this grandstanding is part of the political process.
This said, every adherence discussion has always been as much a political process as a formal process. As these regions build on their home country, the “acquis communautaire” the body of EU rules,regulations and laws should be in place, including the Euro. This means that they would shove in the process at the moment of the political decision. If history predicts the future, any administrative details (debt, budget quality) can be glossed over at that stage.

Prediction: they would be nearly automatically approved, although the current position of the EU on this is legally right. However, I would expect a negotiated process leading to “every more independence” so formally, for the EU bureaucracy, Catalonia stays part of Spain.

20 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:15 am

They should be happy to ditch the EU.

21 GC September 21, 2015 at 4:24 am

“They would be nearly automatically approved”.. except, besides a positive dossier from the Commission, you also need that little pesky detail of an unanimous vote from Member States, which you can be sure Spain would deny forever, just as much as it was Spain the most vocal about Scotland never being allowed in in case of independence, because Spain, not the UK, would have voted against to show the Catalans.

22 Zitron September 20, 2015 at 2:30 am

I live in Barcelona. The summary of the “Yes” campaign is “Independence is a free lunch”. All benefits and no costs. There won’t even be borders! All the sadder for the presence of all those economists behind the “Yes”: Galí, Mas-Colell, Sala-i-Martí, Antràs, Boix, Ventura. I guess emotions get the best of them.

23 Oriol September 20, 2015 at 7:53 am

Welcome to politics emotionless machine

24 ThomasH September 20, 2015 at 9:59 am

It would depend on if they could access free trade w/o the Euro. Being able to get out from under the Euro would would be a big plus for Independence; if not, what the advantage?

25 mulp September 20, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Ah, you are promising the free lunch. Out from under the Euro so you can print money to boost GDP growth with government spending reaching full employment and high wages without any taxes and still buy lots of imports without any higher prices….

Krugman is one of the free lunch advocates of that position – Greeks would be so better off if Greece was printing drachma like crazy because there would be no austerity and everything imported would be even cheaper.

Ok, Krugman does not say “imports will be cheaper”, but he does NOT say “and the austerity caused by not being able to buy imported drugs to treat cancer will just get way worse when out of the Eurozone.”

In fact, almost no one advocating getting out of the Eurozone makes the point that the only reason to do that is to erect a trade barrier that makes the imports so expensive, jobs are created locally to produce locally instead of importing the goods.

Note that no one goes around saying “we want China to manipulate exchange rates to make everything electronic 20-40% more expensive to the US consumer”, just that China should make US made goods cheaper for Chinese consumers so US exports increase.

Economists since Reagan only promise free lunches as far as I can tell because since Reagan the rule is “economics must not be dismal [science], economics must be happy [religion].”

[religion is sold without the sacrifice, die and go to heaven and live forever flying, die and get 47 virgins, die and meet the space aliens living on the comet, die and cross the river to reign in glory with your wives and army forever]

26 Axa September 20, 2015 at 10:07 am

Yes, that’s the narrative Independence is free lunch.

I would bet in some degree of solidarity from the EU to Catalonia. I’d expect some bilateral agreements between the EU and Catalonia in the short-medium term after independence is declared. However, Catalonia would be dead for the rest of the world. Which country out of the EU would be in a hurry to trade with Catalonia if the “door to the EU” position is lost in the short term. People from Brazil, China and Chile are not going to wait, they’ll just trade somewhere else and once they find an alternative they’re not coming back after the disruption ends. Barcelona trade out of the EU is 40%, not peanuts.

A nice indicator of how smug and not so rational is the Catalonia exceptionalism narrative is also in the same link. Are they really in a position to look down to South Korea as a emerging economy? South Korea as a country is in par with Catalonia in GDP terms and some Korea´s regions are absolutely above Catalonia. In Korea, they make smartphones, in Barcelona there’s just an smartphone fair.

27 Zitron September 20, 2015 at 12:09 pm

In practice, not only Spain, but France, Italy, Germany, the UK, Belgium have the right to veto an independent Catalonia. They are not and would not be happy with independence, to the point to force us to remain part of Spain, if need be. The UE has some experience in forcing countries to do things they strongly disagree with. Of course, Catalonia could be stronger than Tsipras, but I doubt it.

28 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Which country out of the EU would be in a hurry to trade with Catalonia if the “door to the EU” position is lost in the short term.

Countries do not trade. Enterprises within them do. Unless the EU put an embargo on Catalan goods, any party who found them attractive given the price and the duties between Catalonia and the rest of Europe would purchase Catalan goods. The U.S. trades with European countries without being a member of the EU, as does Israel.

29 Axa September 20, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Yes, enterprises within countries do trade. Barcelona happens to be a logistic hub of Spain and southern France. Barcelona port serves a market beyond the borders of Catalonia. Catalonia also manufactures cars for sale in the EU.

An embargo is not needed to cause disruption, legal vacuum and incertitude is enough. I wonder what happens with Nissan plant in Catalonia.

30 Nikki September 20, 2015 at 3:38 am

It has been an issue the whole time, largely because Mas is way past the point of no return: he has pretty much bet his entire career on the independence. Economically, the whole thing might work out on morale alone. The general sentiment suggests people would be willing to work their behinds off for the sake of future returns just to stick it to the central government. But expulsion from the EU is not a price anybody is prepared to pay, not even Mas, and the EU is adamant, so there’s an impasse right there.

31 Yoav September 20, 2015 at 3:42 am

I think people underestimate the anti-reaction this would have from Madrid and the rest of Spain.
Spain is not that a coherent national entity, if one piece leaves others could follow.

32 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 12:18 pm

It has a common history and a common language. The Basque Country is the only subunit where even a third of the population speak a language other than Castillan Spanish at home and the different components have been conjoined since the latter 15th century. It’s as coherent as Italy or Germany and a good deal more coherent than Belgium or Canada.

33 GC September 21, 2015 at 4:35 am

Galicia. More than half of the Galician speak Galician at home rather than Castillian.
Not surprisingly, there is an independist movement there as well, even if not has strong as in Catalonia. I think they basically believe they could live off the pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela and fishing.

34 Moreno Klaus September 20, 2015 at 4:45 am

If people really want to be independent then they should be independent. But i find it silly to use the economy as an argument (for or against)…It should about whether these people want to be free to rule themselves. Being independent shouldnt have an effect on productivity in this case as in Scotlands (it will probably have some costs though). Obviously Madrid will protest furiously, because Basq Country and Galiza would also want to leave….

35 Colin September 20, 2015 at 7:39 am

I really doubt Galicia would leave, with pro-independence sentiment there much lower than in the Basque Country or Catalonia. Indeed, Prime Minister Rajoy is a Galician.

36 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:14 am

Sovereign countries which are affluent and have a full portfolio of domestic institutions (e.g. bourses) tend to have a baseline population of about 4 million and a primate city of 1 million or more. Galicia’s below the bar, as is Basqueland.

37 Moreno Klaus September 20, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Tell that to the basques… I am not sure they would be happy to hear it 😉 … And i am quite sure that if Catalonia gains independence, it will be very difficult to avoid Basque Country’s independence.

38 Handle September 20, 2015 at 7:00 am

Does Cowen think that any current national union is a mistake, and that any region or people should declare independence?

39 Millian September 20, 2015 at 7:05 am


If this were 1991, he would be warning the disasters that would ensue upon the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and if it were 1989, he would be telling the Estonians that they could still be Estonians within the Soviet Union.

After all, Western Europe’s economic growth path is just like that of Yugoslavia????

40 Cowboydroid September 20, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Cowen is still a statist, and all statists tend towards centralization, even if they happen to be influenced by free market economics.

41 Millian September 20, 2015 at 7:11 am

SPOILER ALERT 1: Communist Yugoslavia is not a good model for Western European growth paths.
SPOILER ALERT 2: The “quality of government” indicator was based on a survey; you’d expect dissatisfaction with existing institutions to be both causative and solvable by independence (or creating a “new people” as it is put above).
SPOILER ALERT 3: The City of Barcelona is in Catalonia and will not remain part of after independence, so that is silly.

42 dearieme September 20, 2015 at 7:14 am

I don’t know Spanish geography well. Suppose Catalonia and the Basque Country left Spain. Would that leave Spain without rail and (main) road links to France? In other words would Aragon and Navarre provide such links, or would the Pyrenees be a major barrier?

43 Anon. September 20, 2015 at 7:18 am

What about a Belgium split?

44 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:34 am

Great idea. The business elites will be against it because that’s how they roll. Cowen and Tabarrok channel this sentiment.

45 Colin September 20, 2015 at 7:37 am

I just returned two days ago from two weeks in Catalonia. My Catalan wife, who visits 2x year, commented that she had never seen so many pro-independence flags. I also saw 2-3 official looking signs like this outside of towns in the countryside proclaiming their support for independence, one of which had “putos catalanes” scrawled over it:

In response to the bit about the economic evidence, 1) even if Catalonia grows no faster, having the status quo economic growth plus independence would be considered a win by many Catalans 2) while Catalan political institutions may be no better than the rest of Spain, their cultural institutions very well might be. There is at least the perception that Catalans are more industrious and less given to the mañana culture found in, say, Andalusia or Extremadura 3) Catalonia is a net contributor to Spanish finances, so it’s unclear the relevance of the transfer for Olympic games which took place 23 years ago.

In any case, I think it’s sad that the only two options seemingly on the table are the status quo or independence. I strongly suspect that if Madrid demonstrated some flexibility and gave Catalonia a similar arrangement to the Basques a lot of support for the independence parties would quickly erode. Maybe the government’s attitude plays well in the rest of Spain, but I know several Catalans who have drifted from the pro-Spain camp towards independence almost exclusively due to the inflexible approach taken by Madrid/Rajoy.

46 Ray Lopez September 20, 2015 at 9:42 am

Don’t they eat horse meat in Catalonia? And they have a chess opening named after them, the Catalan.(“the Catalan Opening was first used in a master tournament held in Barcelona”)

47 Oriol September 20, 2015 at 9:49 am

And chess is originally catalan (valencian)!

48 Axa September 20, 2015 at 10:43 am

Hahaha, if Catalonia has the right identity, why neglect Valencia’s identity?

For the record, people in Valencia speak Valencian and people in the islands speak Balear. Catalonia plays the same game as Spain with its neighbors but likes to play victim.

49 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:11 am

I strongly suspect that if Madrid demonstrated some flexibility and gave Catalonia a similar arrangement to the Basques

Not a bad idea, though it seemed to inflame matters in Britain. Hmmm…. Spain has a population of 47 million. They can conceivably function with a central government limited to a half dozen regulatory architectures, a collection of specialty police forces, a central bank and mint, a military with auxilliaries, a diplomatic corps with auxilliaries, a civil defense apparat; a ministry to look after the coastline, rivers, and miscellaneous properties; a public works ministry; fragments of the education and research system; and the more impersonal components of the social security system (e.g. cash transfers and binder’s insurance). If they care about their sovereignty, they need to work themselves out of the EU in the most prudent and expeditious way possible.

50 JJ September 20, 2015 at 7:43 am

Can we get a comment on the developing role of economists in questions like this? This is Xavier Sala-i-Martin’s baby.

51 Charles Butler September 20, 2015 at 8:35 am

What you mostly need to know is that this week Sala-i-Martín refused a call to a public televised debate on the costs and benefits of Catalan independence issued by LSE’s Luís Guricano. He does have a twitter account – @XSalaimartin.

52 Richard Quigley September 20, 2015 at 8:49 am

Patrick O’Brian reports that Stephen Maturin, assisted by Jack Aubrey, is working quietly in the background to this end.

53 David September 20, 2015 at 8:50 am

How do the Barcelona Olympics fit with the general (academic) belief that investing in sports teams and events is an economic mistake?

Was it still an aggregate loss financially, but structured as a small gain for Barcelona and a big loss for Spain?

54 Colin September 20, 2015 at 9:40 am

I suspect Barcelona fits in that it primarily benefitted from infrastructure improvements made to support the games — upgrades to the sewage system, roads and the airport, along with the importation of Egyptian sand to build the beach at Barceloneta which continues to be a big tourist draw — rather than the construction of the actual athletic facilities. Indeed, the top of Montjuic which was the epicenter of the games with the Olympic stadium and Palau Sant Jordi arena has mostly struck me as devoid of people when I’ve gone (this photo seems right:, with a visit only worthwhile for the occasional event there, old fortress/castle and views of the city. Had the non-sports facilities infrastructure investments been made but the games never held I wonder if things would have turned out much different.

55 Ray Lopez September 20, 2015 at 9:44 am

@Colin – that and they did not overbudget (waste and fraud). Athens also had infrastructure built for the 2004 Olympics but there was waste and fraud, so it was a net loser.

56 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:03 am

I suppose the irony is that separatist movements are more vigorous in Catalonia and Scotland than they are in Quebec and Flanders, even though the benefits of a velvet divorce ‘twixt the components of Canada and Belgium are easier to discern than is the case regarding Spain and Britain.

The EU warns that independence would mean automatic expulsion from the EU. –

The separatist pols in Barcelona should send a one-sentence postcard to Brussels: “Is that a threat or a promise?”. If they do not want out of the EU, they’re no more serious than the Peronists-with-brogues in Edinburgh.

The geography of sentiment in the Catalanophone regions presents a problem. Separatists are thin on the ground in Valencia and the Balaerics but common in Catalonia itself, so Catalonia would be leaving its brothers behind. Within Catalonia, separatist sentiment is generally distributed, without much in the way of subregional knots. The thing is, the majority of the population of Catalonia lives in greater Barcelona. You cannot locate a sovereign country with a sum population over a certain threshold with a distribution like that. Even countries with stunning urban concentration (e.g. South Korea and Chile) generally do not have much more than 30% of their population residing in and around their primate city. I think the only place where a share approaching that of Catalonia prevails is Israel, where urban settlement is channeled to a degree by the desert, by security concerns, and by the resident Arabs.

57 Millian September 20, 2015 at 2:49 pm

I think you are incorrect about urban concentration. We keep hearing on this blog that Singapore is awesome and we should hail our spectrum-located technocratic superiors. Well, Singapore has 100 per cent concentration on the primate city. It’s a USA-centric view to think that countries cannot operate with a distribution of population that is substantially different to that of the USA.

58 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Singapore is a city-state. Catalonia is a province demographically dominated by one urban agglomeration, rather like New York or Illinois. I would not recommend New York or Illinois politics to anyone.

59 chuck martel September 20, 2015 at 10:14 am

Nobody got to vote on the Nueva Planta decrees that Philip V used to unify his personal Bourbon empire in 1716. What do you suppose the vote, if there had been one, would have been then?

60 Brett Champion September 20, 2015 at 10:20 am

Once a people have gotten the idea in their collective heads that they deserve an independent country, nothing short of force will keep them from it.

61 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 10:45 am

Actually, boredom and decadence have been working pretty well in Quebec to keep them from it.

62 Philipides September 20, 2015 at 10:51 am

Mr Cowen,
you say that if a majority of Catalans vote to go, Spain should them let go. I disagree and here it is why:
1. Spain and Catalonia, as we know them today, have been built with the joint effort of all citizens. All investments have been made with a long time vision of being one country. As an example, there is a high speed train between Barcelona and Madrid, not between Madrid and Lisbon. So, as stated by the Constitution and the last Estatut -both voted positively by the Catalans- if a separation has to happen, it must be voted by all Spaniards. The opposite would be a coup d’état.
2. Catalan authorities, by means of the education system that they rule, have been stressing the few differences between Catalans and the rest of Spaniards. So today, we have some generations of Catalans who have been brought up in the hate of whatever may seem a commonality with the rest of Spain. This is profoundly undemocratic and a burden for these generations. It must not be accepted lightly.
3. Last, but not least, if the “right to decide” secession depends on 50%+1, I assume that other regions in Spain and other countries might take that route -also some provinces of Catalonia would be entitled to do so, right?- and Europe would be going to the Middle Ages again, where the little kingdoms were prevalent.

63 Anon. September 20, 2015 at 11:24 am

>and Europe would be going to the Middle Ages again, where the little kingdoms were prevalent.

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

64 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 12:11 pm

and Europe would be going to the Middle Ages again, where the little kingdoms were prevalent.

Come again? There are north of 7 million people in Catalonia and a bulbous urban glob with north of 4 million people at the heart of it. There are more people in Catalonia than are in any of the Scandinavian states (bar Sweden), any Baltic State, Switzerland; any Balkan state other than Bulgaria, Roumania, or Greece; any of the half-dozen European mini-states and microstates not otherwise specified. Catalonia is a contiguous bloc of territory. It bears very little resemblance to the miniatures of the Holy Roman Empire.

65 Phillipides September 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Read my comment again, if the logic of the “right to secede” is taken to any region, city, etc -if a region secedes, why shouldn’t a region belonging to that region have the same right- we will end up with a collection of tiny states across Europe, a 500 years step back in history

66 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Read my comment again, if the logic of the “right to secede”

I’m not advancing a ‘right to secede’.

There is simply no public sentiment for what you’re advocating. All separatist movements which have had any purchase in Europe in the last century have been operating within an ambo which contains at a minimum 300,000 people. The smallest separatisms of late have been in Kosovo (population under severe pressure) and Montenegro (conjoined in a very unequal partnership).

67 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 12:43 pm

For what you’re positing.

68 Philipides September 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm

But public sentiments can be artificially built up. There’s never been a majority of secessionists in Catalonia -not even now-, but year of education focused on the hate to Spain has conducted to the current situation

69 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 1:36 pm

But public sentiments can be artificially built up.

Or artificially suppressed. What of it?

70 Philipides September 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Supression of local culture is not the case with Post constitutonal Spain. Spain is one of the most de-centralized countries in the world

71 Cowboydroid September 20, 2015 at 1:48 pm

The logic of the right to secede is the logic of self ownership. If you argue there is no right to secede, then you also argue that self ownership does not exist, that all individuals are just the property of the state.

72 Philipides September 20, 2015 at 2:29 pm

There is a right to secede if all Spaniards vote. Because territories don’t have rights, rights are attached to individuals. All Spaniards built this country it’s for them all to decide. As the Constitution, massively supported byCatslans, state

73 Art Deco September 20, 2015 at 3:34 pm

There are no ‘rights’ incorporated into transactions such as this, merely prudent and imprudent exercises.

74 iolanthe September 21, 2015 at 1:51 am

While it’s a logical position that secessionists should be willing to let their sub units go, in practice this never happens. The two defining characteristics of secessionists are that 1) it’s deeply deeply unfair to be forced to be part of a larger nation unit and 2) no entity forming part of the seceding entity should get the same choice. The Quebecois were vehemently opposed to the idea that the first nations within Quebec should be allowed to remain with Canada and the Scots had similar views on the Western Isles and it’s noteworthy that the Indians refuse to allow Kashmiris to seek the same freedom that they sought from the British Empire. The list goes on. In fact I can’t think of a single secession movement hat has not either in theory or practice denied the same right to others. Can anyone come up with a counter example?

75 Axa September 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

I observe Catalonia independence process with curiosity from my field of expertise because Catalonia is not water self-sufficient.

If independence is a political success, I don’t picture Spain sharing water from Ebro’s basin with thirsty Barcelona. There’s a really ugly precedent against Catalonia. Water from Ebro river is extracted by all neighboring provinces. Once, Valencia tried to extract more water from the Ebro but Catalonia opposed by playing the “respect the environment” card because river delta’s ecosystems are so fragile. Neighboring provinces are going to be more than happy to worry with passion for the environment if Catalonia needs more water in the next extended dry season.

I feel happy for one undergrad’s colleagues, she shells water desalination equipment around the world.

76 Kieran September 20, 2015 at 11:38 am

While I can appreciate from a normative perspective that Catalunya leaving Spain might be a terrible idea, I’m also certain this issue isn’t going away. The social dynamics of Spain-Catalunya have more in common with England-Ireland than England-Scotland, and thus the tribal-cultural urge to leave will be strong.

What is interesting to me is how much the separatist movement is gaining momentum. I lived in Barcelona for three years, in 1998 and again from 2001 to 2003. I then visited last summer for a month, and I was blown away by the growth of nationalist sentiment. In the late nineties, you might see a radical university student with a separatist flag, but few responsible professionals would have ever considered draping it from their balcony. Now it’s ubiquitous.

They already have a majority who want to leave, and the size of the majority is growing. The polling data seems compelling on that point. The only polls that have it close are from El Mundo, Madrid’s most conservative paper. Outside of Barcelona, I’d estimate it’s 80-20 to leave, if not more. In Barcelona proper, it’s closer to 50-50, but still pro independence.

The trick is that Catalunya wants to move seamlessly into the EU. At present, there’s no shot of that, and that’s why it hasn’t happened yet, and may not for a long time. If there is a moment when Catalunya gets negotiating leverage with the EU, though, it’ll happen then and there. Still, I can’t fathom the scenario that would allow it to acquire such leverage.

So to me, the real question isn’t whether Catalunya wants to secede, but whether Catalunya can convince the EU to allow it to become a full member in the EU.

Until that happens, expect lots of symbolic declarations, parades, votes, and gestures.

77 Peter Schaeffer September 20, 2015 at 1:03 pm


“I then visited last summer for a month, and I was blown away by the growth of nationalist sentiment. In the late nineties, you might see a radical university student with a separatist flag, but few responsible professionals would have ever considered draping it from their balcony. Now it’s ubiquitous.”

That’s an overstatement. However, I also spent some time in Barcelona this summer and separatist flags are common, but not ubiquitous.

78 charlie September 21, 2015 at 12:10 pm

“Outside of Barcelona, I’d estimate it’s 80-20 to leave, if not more. In Barcelona proper, it’s closer to 50-50, but still pro independence.”

Key sentence.

Inside Barcelona, of Spanish citizens? EU citizens? Non-eu residents?

I’ve been embargoing any Catalan products I can. the only real loss is Fuet, which you can’t buy here anyway. Some decent non-catalan cavas. Their wines in the US are generally terrible.

79 biddrafter September 20, 2015 at 11:40 am

A whole article about the consequences of Catalonia independence and not one word on the most import question? And that question is, of course, what happens to Spain’s national soccer team.

80 King Cynic September 20, 2015 at 12:43 pm

An independent Catalonia is not an issue. It’s an opportunity.

81 dearieme September 20, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Catalonia today, Texas tomorrow. Eh?

82 Moreno Klaus September 20, 2015 at 3:47 pm

If that happens is the end of Republican Party no?

83 dearieme September 20, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Few will mourn.

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