Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data


The drainage of powers from the nation-state has been so complete as to denature it entirely

Xavier Vidal-Folch

I would like to dedicate this article to my Catalan independent-seeking friends. Let's go point by point.

Politics. I am sorry to bring from Europe the news that independence is impossible. It no longer exists in the real Europe, the EU. Nor does the nation-state, an historical residue.

The drainage of powers from the nation-state has been so complete as to denature it entirely. The remaining ones are going fast. All the instruments of economic policy (precisely the motivation of the new wave of secessionism) are shifting to the hands of the EU.

History. If the benefits of independence would be rather marginal, is it worth the high cost it would involve? Catalonia is imaginable as a differentiated, independent entity, because it has been such at several periods: a principality in the Middle Ages; a land associated to the French monarchy in 1640-52; a set of "structures of state" until 1714; an "autonomous region" in the 1930s; a "nationality" since 1978.

But Spain without Catalonia is not thinkable; it grates on the collective imagination. Spain is an integration of many factors, chief among them being the Castilian and the Catalan.

Spain without Catalonia is not thinkable; it grates on the collective imagination

What does this mean? Well, it means that Spain would experience secession as an ontological laceration, a passage from being to not being. Remember the trauma of the loss of the last colonies, Cuba and the Philippines, which still aches. These shocks generate conflict. The hypothesis of a soft separation is sold to us with amiable adjectives -- peaceful, negotiated, normal -- to downplay its huge cost.

In the light of history, this scenario seems unlikely. The resistance to it would be diehard, as suggested by the widely observed Castilian boycott of Catalan wine during the parliamentary passage of the Catalan statute. One habitual reaction in other parts of the world is that of a radical, populist response. This would only exacerbate the conflict between Catalonia and Spain, and within Catalonia too - destroying the civic unity of Catalonia, which is especially valuable in a complex, mixed society like ours.

Catalanism. The various mainstream Catalanisms, of both left and right, were never pro-independence, or at least, not for more than about five minutes. They wanted two objectives, not always easy to combine: autonomy for Catalonia, and participation in the leadership of Spain.

Now we are told that the autonomy-oriented road toward these ends is blocked. By the Spanish right's hatred of the Catalan statute; by the Constitutional Court's restrictive ruling on the statute; by the excessive fiscal deficit; by the right's recentralizing campaign; by Madrid's meanness in the sharing of the bill for the budgetary crisis. All this, to varying extent is true, but does not mean the solution is separation.

We are told that the Madrid-centralist stonewall attitude is absolute; that there are hardly any federalists "beyond the Ebro" (though these are beginning to appear). Yet the Madrid parliament did vote for the Catalan statute, even if a court controlled by the right did cripple it afterward.

The new theme of independence talk is the financial grievance, the fiscal deficit -- the difference between the Catalan taxes that go to Madrid and what comes back to Catalonia -- which is reputedly excessive. The Catalan government and its controlled media abound in expressions such a "looting" and "Spain robbed us."

This difference may well be excessive. It amounts to 8.4 percent of the GDP of Catalonia. This exceeds the percentages normal in rich regions of other federally organized countries, such as Australia (Western), Belgium (Flanders), Canada (Alberta), which range from three to five percent. This differential has to be corrected, needless to say. But by the least traumatic means possible.

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