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Catalonia: A Flawed Strategy


Things quieted down in Catalonia after the non-referendum held on 09 November, as expected. The images of citizens lining up to peacefully cast their non-ballots were trumpeted around the world by the pro-referendum parties, who almost immediately fell to squabbling about next steps, independence credentials and the Govern’s budget. The most fervently pro-independence Oriol Junqueras of the ERC pushed for immediate snap elections; however, Catalan President Mas would only agree to that if the parties ran on a joint ticket. Eventually, after much debate, including the offer of a joint ticket led by a non-politician – a “respected Catalan of good standing” – Mr. Mas agreed to set a date for early elections: 27 September 2015.

That is a very long time away and world events have moved faster than the Catalan timetable: the war against the Islamic State, the first and second Minsk ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia; and the tragicomedy of the negotiations between Greece and the “Institutions”. Catalonia has struggled to stay in the news.

There were some interesting developments this week, however:

  • Spain’s Constitutional Court delivered its long-awaited, but not at all surprising, verdict[1] on the Catalan non-referendum and the Consultation Law that had originally been promulgated to authorize it. In a unanimous decision, both were found to be unconstitutional; with the Court giving their opinion that no autonomous community could address any question to any part of the population that affected the sovereignty of the whole. It reserved those competencies exclusively to the national government;


  • The General Council of the Judiciary (Consejo General del Poder Judicial or CGPJ) will also decide today in plenary session on whether to expel Santiago Vidal i Marsal[2], a justice seated in the Provincial Court of Barcelona, for his role in writing up a draft constitution for a Catalan state. Although Mr. Vidal acted in a private capacity and asserts that the draft was no more than a thought exercise and not an official or even commissioned work, the CGPJ is arguing that the Catalan judge is nonetheless in violation of ordinances limiting the private activities of sitting magistrates. It is expected that the CGPJ will approve the recommendation, despite some arguments against the severity of the proposed action[3].

President Mas held a press conference on Wednesday in Barcelona during which he responded to the decision of the Constitutional Court[4]. The Catalan leader expressed himself unsurprised, but saddened by the Court’s decision, lamenting that the Spanish state had closed off all other legal means for the Catalan people to express their will except the elections scheduled for 27 September.  Mr. Mas further stated that the status quo in Catalonia was “unsustainable” and that there was no longer any middle ground: “What is the alternative? Try again with a new Charter (of Autonomy)? Lose our self-governance and our identity?”[5]


The Drama Plays Out

Last year I published an analysis[6] of possible outcomes of the Catalan independence process. These “endgame scenarios” speculated on five mutually non-exclusive[7] paths for the resolution of the crisis between the Catalan government and the Spanish state, and I assigned probabilities to each outcome. These were:


I believe this analysis to have been reasonably accurate so far:

  • The Catalan government attempted to organize a referendum under the auspices of the National Congress of Deputies and was denied;
  • The Generalitat then promulgated the Consultation Law in an attempt to organize an unauthorized referendum (scenario 3);
  • When the Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of the Consultation Law during deliberations on its constitutionality, President Mas “allowed” the “civil actors in Catalan society” to go ahead and organize an unofficial referendum without official involvement by the autonomous community’s government (scenario 2);
  • We are now at the point where the Catalan government is seeking additional legitimacy and an electoral mandate through the process of an “electoral referendum” on the 27th of September (scenario 4).

The arguments I have read and heard in favor of this course of action is that winning democratic legitimacy is a prerequisite for any conversation with Spain and Europe on an amicable divorce: hence yesterday’s motion by representatives of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) in the Congress of Deputies which called on the Spanish government to respect the upcoming Catalan elections as a true plebiscite and to negotiate a separation in case of a victory by the pro-independence parties[8]. Needless to say, the motion was buried: not even CiU voted in favor[9].

The corollary to this argument is that, with the support and backing of the Catalan people, Madrid will not be able to intervene, nor will Europe long be able to refuse Catalonia entry into the EU and the Euro (or even expel them). The economic and financial instability of the Union will not allow its members to play ducks and drakes with so important a region, and therefore pragmatism will win out very quickly.

On such logic are lofty castles built in the air.

Down A Blind Alley

I believe that this reasoning is seriously flawed, on a number of levels. The history of the European Union, especially its recent history, ought to dispel any illusions that democratic legitimacy matters in the slightest. Democratic legitimacy and 5 euros will buy you some butifarra[10]. Europe’s record of respecting democratic legitimacy is atrocious:

  • In 2001, the Irish Constitutional Court found that the changes proposed by the Nice Treaty imposed changes on the Irish Constitution, which required approval by popular referendum. When the Irish were the only member state to reject the Treaty (in fact they were the only ones to vote on it), the Irish government was told to organize another vote and “make sure it turned out the right way.” It was approved in 2002 in a second referendum;
  • The exact same thing happened in 2008, when Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, only to be forced to vote again and approve it in 2009;
  • At the start of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Irish government initially refuses to guarantee the liabilities of the Irish banks, calling such an action “obscene”. Then President of the ECB Jean-Claude Trichet threatens to remove all ECB deposits from Ireland, essentially leaving the country bankrupt. The Irish government is forced to nationalize the private debts of the Irish banks and accept and ECB bailout;
  • Lest you think Europe has something against the Irish, the next in line to receive this treatment was Greece. When Prime Minister George Papandreou balked at accepting the punitive terms of the Troika for the full Greek bailout package and proposed to submit them to a plebiscite, he was quickly “ordered out” and replaced by the safe EU technocrat Lucas Papademos, a former Vice President of the ECB and former subordinate of Monsieur Trichet’s;
  • It was then Italy’s turn: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for whom I have no love, was also “ordered out” in October 2011 and replaced by another safe man: Mario Monti, a noted economist and long-time civil servant, who had also spent 10 years in Brussels as an EU Commissioner.
  • Returning to Greece, newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and rock-star Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis felt they had a very solid negotiating position vís-a-vís the Eurogroup thanks to their impressive electoral plurality as well as the soundness of their economic arguments. They were quickly disillusioned of the relevance of either; indeed, they were browbeaten again and again until they submitted on terms that they had consistently rejected as “absurd and unacceptable”. And they were lucky not to get a worse deal.


Since November 2011 there has been a consistent theme in Europe: Spain has supported Germany’s position through thick-and-thin, even against her own economic interests. Why November 2011? That is when the Partido Popular won the last general election. Mariano Rajoy, newly installed Prime Minister quickly came to a few conclusions:

  • Going up against Germany and the ECB was a really bad idea, democratic mandate or not;
  • Spain was going to need money – lots of it – and soon, and those were the only two lenders the country could count on;
  • In the event the Catalans actually carried through their promises of making trouble should the PP win the elections, it was better to have those two on the side of Madrid.

I rarely compliment Mr. Rajoy, and never on his brilliance, but he was spot on with all three suppositions. Time and again, Spain has played the poster child of austerity; time and again, Spain has rejected overtures from France and Italy to form a “Mediterranean bloc” to act as a counterweight towards the policies coming out of Berlin and Frankfurt; and when Messrs. Tsipras and Varoufakis came to town, it was Mr. de Guindos who handed Mr. Schäuble a new bat every time the old one broke over a Greek head.

The price has been heavy: Spain’s unemployment rate peaked at 26% and remains stubbornly at 23.7%. Spain is the country in Europe with the greatest risk of poverty and the greatest degree of income inequality, so while the GDP has been growing nicely over the past few quarters, the gains have not been distributed widely at all across the population. Indeed, GDP per capita has fallen to below the 2006 level while the country has been pushed into wage and now monetary deflation.

But loyalty has been rewarded as well: Spain has yet to meet any of its fiscal targets and continues to run and enormous deficit yet nary a word of rebuke from Germany, the ECB or the IMF. Spanish Finance Minister, Luís de Guindos, has done such a good job as Schäuble’s attack dog that he has been promised Jeroen Djisselbloem’s job as Chairman of the Eurogroup, to better bark at recalcitrant member states who question austerity. Another long-time Popular politico, Miguel Arias Cañete, was also thrown a bone as the new EU Commissioner for Climate and Energy. Mr. Cañete, who spends more time with his foot in his mouth than on the ground, is uniquely qualified to run a ministry dedicated to “sustainability and climate action” having previously been the director of two petroleum companies. But this sort of horse-trading is minor league stuff; it is the grease on the wheels of the machinery in Brussels and Strasbourg.

The really bill will come due on the 28th of September, after the Catalans have voted for a new government. Assuming firstly that the fragile pro-independence coalition between ERC and CiU doesn’t break apart before the election, and further assuming that the pro-independence vote remains at the same level as in 2012 – about 67% of the vote – or increases, then the matter comes to ahead:

  1. The newly formed Generalitat would ask the Spanish government to enter into negotiations for a separation based on the popular mandate just received;
  2. They would be categorically refused;
  3. The Catalan government would then either proceed to propose a unilateral declaration of independence in the Catalan Parliament or else the government would fall.

My personal opinion is that, having come so far, the Catalans would opt for the unilateral declaration of independence. They would then appeal to Europe for intervention on their behalf.

I urge them to prepare themselves for disappointment.

Indeed, I now firmly believe that they should prepare themselves for jail. Mr. Rajoy will request and receive carte blanche from Berlin to deal with Catalonia as a purely internal matter and to use any and all means necessary to restore order and compel obedience to the national authority. Nor do I believe that Mr. Rajoy will, in the end, cringe from doing so. Thanks to the odious reform of the Citizen Security Law, passed late last year with only the votes of the Partido Popular delegates, the government now has the legal tools to fine, prosecute and imprison pretty much anyone it finds offensive. The criminalization of peaceful protests and of undefinable acts as vague as “insulting the honor of Spain”- which frankly hearken back to the days of the dictatorship – guarantees that a substantial proportion of the Catalan population could be persecuted should the government choose to do so.


No one will speak for Catalonia; she will find no friends in any capital of Europe. Some sympathy perhaps; the Baltic States and the former Czechoslovakians might remember their own struggles for independence, whether or not the cases are remotely comparable. But no one will contradict the “Institutions” that run the European Union, with whom Madrid has assiduously cultivated a deep and interested friendship. Catalonia is too far west to play the Russia card; and there will be no deus ex machina coming out of the United States, whose principle emotion will be one of annoyance at yet another distraction from the serious matters of combating the Islamic State and preventing the disintegration of Ukraine.

Does this mean that Catalans who wish for independence are doomed? Not necessarily.

What is doomed is the notion that Catalonia can get its independence simply by voting for it, along with the Euro, the EU, NATO and a pat on the back. Assuming that narrative was ever believable, I don’t believe it is any longer. Catalan independence “on the cheap” is not going to happen, and believing it can only lead to grievous errors in judgment and policy. Thomas Paine wrote in 1776:

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should be highly rated.”[11]

The vote on the 27the of September may still be a necessary precursor to independence for internal reasons; but no one should cling to the illusions that it will hold any weight with Spain or Europe. If a sufficient number of Catalans are determined to continue down the path towards independence, it should be with eyes wide open and the expectations of a hard road:

  • The necessity of a unilateral declaration of independence leading to Spanish government crackdown on politicians, institutions and civil societies that support it. There will be no negotiation;
  • Peaceful civil unrest, economic dislocation, work stoppages: all would have to be carried out for years. The economic cost to Spain would have to be enormous and of long duration before Catalonia could reasonably hope for independence;
  • Even assuming this was successful – if unrest in Catalonia put foreign creditors and investors to flight despite the ECB backstop to Spanish debt – then Catalonia would have to plan to be out of the Euro and out of the customs union for the foreseeable future. No one is going to let them in and Spanish history does not lead me to think they will forgive and forget.

None of the above considerations are absolute bars to independence; certainly not the third point. There is no reason to think Catalonia could not do very well outside the Euro and even outside the EU; indeed, they might be outside the Euro only a very short time before everyone else joins them. However the implication is that pro-independence Catalans need to change both their planning and their narrative. It would be a mistake not to plan for the worst: expulsion and a new national currency. And it would be a disservice to their people not to have a frank debate on how willing they are to pay the price for freedom.

There remains one additional possibility not considered in my earlier analysis: Mr. Mas could postpone the Catalan elections until 2016. He would be gambling on a Podemos victory, either outright or in a coalition of the left, in the general elections to be held near the end of the year. Such a result would radically change the balance of power in Europe; at the very least, Madrid could no longer count on unconditional support from Germany and the ECB. While I don’t think a Podemos government would be willing to negotiate an amicable divorce with Catalonia any more than a Populares government would, it would find itself just as friendless as the Catalans and espousing an economic and debt ideology that is anathema to Berlin. Suddenly, the Catalans might have more room to maneuver.

Sources and Notes:

[1] Manuel Marraco, “El Tribunal Constitucional anula la declaración soberanista catalana,” El Mundo, 25 February 2015 (in Spanish)

[2] Europa Press, “El CGPJ decide hoy si expulsa al juez Santiago Vidal por elaborar una Constitución para Catalunya,” La Vanguardia, 26 February 2015(in Spanish)

[3] “El CGPJ expulsará hoy de la carrera al juez que redactó constitución catalana,” La Vanguardia, 26 February 2015 (in Spanish)

[4] “Mas afirma que la decisión del TC evidencia que la única vía “legal y democrática” para la consulta es el 27S,” Catalunya Press, 25 February 2015 (in Spanish)

[5] “”¿Cuál es la alternativa? ¿Volver a hacer un Estatut? ¿Renunciar a nuestro autogobierno y quedarnos diluidos?”

[6] Fernando Betancor, “Catalonia and Spain: Endgame Scenarios”, Common Sense, 21 April 2014

[7] In other words, one scenario could shift and become another scenario under certain circumstances

[8] Fernando García, “CiU se abstiene en el Congreso ante una propuesta soberanista de ERC,” La Vanguardia, 26 February 2015 (in Spanish)

[9] The CiU deputies abstained, arguing that Catalan matters would be decided in Catalonia.

[10] A typical (and delicious) Catalan sausage.

[11] Thomas Paine, “The Crisis,” 23 December 1776

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11 Responses to “Catalonia: A Flawed Strategy”

  1. As someone who follows your work, both here and in Twitter, I find this piece surprising for the acceptance of the separatists’ agenda and, more importantly, their language.
    This is not a problem between “the Catalans” and Spain, but rather between pro-independence and against-independence citizens of Catalonia. Both are equally right to hold their views on how Catalonia should govern itself, however, both should abide to the rules of what it is, despite the separatists’ propaganda and by all Western standards, a Democracy. There is a huge room for improvement, but it is still a Democracy nevertheless. And Democracy is upheld by the Rule of Law. If you don’t like it, convince enough of your fellow citizens and change it.
    The “right to decide” AKA “right to self-determination” is already carried out by the citizens of Catalonia at their local, regional and national elections. Whoever doesn’t agree with my previous statement should have a look at the UN Chart which gave rise to this right.
    All of the above doesn’t matter anyway because Spain has a terrible press and a large number of corrupt politicians who keep being re-elected by voters.
    Luckily in Catalonia that doesn’t happen, doesn’t it?.

    Posted by ANGEL | May 19, 2015, 18:11
    • Dear Angel,

      Thanks for your comment and for your interest in the website.

      What I accept is that a large majority of the Catalan population has expressed its dissatisfaction at the current constitutional arrangement; and that a smaller, but still substantial portion has expressed its belief that the only solution remaining open to them is secession and independence. That’s a big problem, whether you want it to be or not: and simply telling 3 million or so people to “deal with it” is not only poor politics, it is unlikely to succeed. Failing to recognize that the Catalan issue amounts to a constitutional crisis will only lead to a perpetuation of the problem.

      I disagree with your interpretation of what the “right to self-determination” constitutes: regional elections are certainly not what the UN has enshrined in its charter. But this is a thorny issue which I’ve addressed elsewhere, so – with respect – I don’t intend to repeat it here.

      Spain is a democracy, yes. But firstly, it is (in my judgment) a highly flawed democracy with weak institutions without political independence, high levels of corruption, and an electoral regime that is relatively unrepresentative. Those are not insurmountable problems, and there are countries with far worse political regimes, but there is no important political party in Spain that has made any realistic proposal to correct those faults. Least of all the PP which entirely backs the status quo. Additionally, it is a country which – by necessity at first, but now by choice – refuses to deal with a historical legacy of fascism that still has relevant implications. There are important political and economic institutions that were shaped by Franco and that still operate today. Secondly, so what if Spain is a democracy? Being a democracy doesn’t necessarily stop people from wishing to govern themselves. Very few people would argue that the Irish were obliged to remain part of the United Kingdom simply because the latter was a democracy. Or that Norway was obliged to stay in union with Sweden. Or that the Philippines absolutely had to stay with the US simply because we’re a democracy. I think your view of democracy is overly legalistic. Voting alone does not make a democracy: they vote in North Korea too. The best measure of a functioning democracy is that no one would want to leave it even if given the choice. That’s why Quebec is still in Canada, why Puerto Rico is still in the US, why Gibraltar and Scotland are still in the United Kingdom. Though if the Cameron government doesn’t quickly address the pending issues and promises made to the Scots, they will depart – democracy or not. Let the Catalans vote: if Spanish democracy is all you say it is, then I guarantee you that they will vote to stay. No amount of demagoguery will long sway the common sense of the people. Thirdly, The virtue of a people is not a material consideration; the Catalans don’t need to be white as the driven snow to exercise their rights.

      I subscribe to Jefferson: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” I’m not in favor of anarchy or of every tribe with a historic beef setting up its own microstate. On the other hand, Catalonia has the population and wealth to be significantly more than a microstate; and they may have sufficient cause to decide that they wish to reject the compromises of ’78. That’s not for me to decide since I’m neither Spanish or Catalan.

      I believe the decision of the current Spanish Administration to neither negotiate with the elected representatives of the Catalans nor provide any alternate avenue for them to address their concerns – in fact, to actively impose obstacles – is what has precipitated this crisis in the first place. It is my opinion that it was rank opportunism on the part of Mariano Rajoy to play to his conservative base no matter the longer-term political cost to regional solidarity; and I think it was stupid. There is some hope that a new government in 2016 might open a more fruitful dialogue which would lead to a revival of those strained fraternal bonds, assuming it is not too late by September. But I honestly doubt it. The electoral math, at this time, seems to be pointing to a PP + Ciudadanos or perhaps a PP + PSOE coalition. Either way, any government dominated by the PP will put paid to the possibilities of reconciliation. So things will continue to fester: that’s my assessment from a purely pragmatic point of view, without bothering with the – in any case highly debatable – rights and wrongs of the matter.

      And if you wanted to get into the rights and wrongs of the case, I’d be happy to oblige: I think both sides have substantial arguments and neither is wholly right or wholly wrong.

      Very sincerely yours,


      Posted by fdbetancor | May 20, 2015, 00:21
      • Dear Fernando,

        Thank you for your reply.

        I would like to start my reply stating the obvious: Catalonia is part of Spain.

        Why is this important? Because all the problems that affect Spanish Democracy, of which you noted just a few, are also applicable to Catalan Democracy. What makes Catalonia different from other parts of Spain is not the immaculate separation of powers or a inquisitive and free press. The “Catalan oasis” was merely an illusion made possible by the tight political control exerted by the Catalan nationalist elite over society and media. The fall of the Godfather Pujol should be a stark reminder that the flaws of Spain’s political system are systemic, widespread and know no regional borders.

        On the “political’ as opposed to the “legal” dimension of the Catalan issue, please allow myself to throw your argument back at you. What was President Obama’s response to the popular petition for Texas secession? That’s right, he invoked the “Indestructible union” of “indestructible states” enshrined in the American Constitution. Was he dogging the political debate or just reminding all players what the rules are? Granted, a Constitution can be changed, however, it is not merely a matter of political will as you suggest. It requires a wide social consensus and, above all, a sense of institutional loyalty (or at least respect!) by all involved that is nowhere to be seen among the separatist opinion makers.

        David Cameron was not hindered by a written Constitution though so he basically gambled it and won, just. In doing so he has stirred English and Scottish nationalism, which is very likely to eventually break up the United Kingdom. What a master stroke oi?.

        Despite the above, or maybe because of it, I would support a new Constitution that allowed independence referendums to be held and the notion of “unbreakable Nation” removed, even it that would make it unique in the world. The only countries ever to allow referendums on independence no longer exist or have seen regions break away (e.g. USSR, Yugoslavia and Ethiopia). Moreover most Western Constitutions clearly state that the state they refer to is indivisible. Spain’s 1978 Carta Magna is not particularly original.

        By the way, please please do not compare Ireland in the 1920’s or the Philipines in the 1940’s with today’s Catalonia. Suggesting that Catalonia has some sort of colonial relationship with the rest of Spain is not just falling under the separatist’ language spell, is offensive to those who truly suffered under the boot of Spanish Imperialism or those, like my parents’ families, who migrated to Catalonia to do low-paid jobs for the Catalan elite and now have to hear how they are called “francoist cattle put in trains to dilute us” by a famous separatist.

        You described yourself in Twitter once as an American patriot. You defend your country despite its flaws and the fact that it was built on slavery and the genocide of the native population. I assume you do so because but you can see beyond those flaws. The same applies to me, although I find patriotism difficult to swallow, I do think Spain can be improved and will be. I truly believe that there is enough good people living there to make a decent place to live.

        I agree that PP has done pretty much nothing to restore the emotional bonds with those who don’t see themselves as Spaniards. I ain’t an easy task though and while I don’t pretend to have a magical solution, breaking Spain up without a profound social and political upheaval is falling from the frying pan into the fire.

        Kind Regards,


        Posted by ANGEL | May 20, 2015, 15:31
        • As soon as justice depends from the central goverment, sepparation is indeed a matter of fact from the gov. of Catalonia. What happened after the 9th nov. consultation? President Mas will face a trial. Against the opinion of the central gov. officials in Catalonia, from the depmnt. of Justice. To this level is tied the justice to the central gov. there!
          And what about the press? let the numbers talks: zero supporting independence of Catalonia process in the spanish tv programs on tve, t5, a3.. Independence of the media? By silencing and biassing?

          Is, indeed, a landscape without independence or power sepparation, but the dependence is not from barcelona but from madrid instead.
          What about the constitucional court? (that pronounces over legislative questions).

          The lack of judial or fiscal prosecution of mr. Pujol was not a fault of the catalan “oasis” but of the spanish state. Is not opinion, is a fact, since all fiscal powers and judicial powers depends only on the central state. And it seems that those powers didn’t moved until Mr. Pujol said that was independentist. Was then, not before, that the state’s machinery began to work. Not against corruption (that is not still probed while the only evidence is the public confession that mr. pujol did by himself) but againts the heretics ideas of this retired old politician.

          Posted by Jordi L | May 21, 2015, 05:47
          • Dear Jordi,

            Thank you for your comment.

            The lack of independence of the judicial system in Spain (cut the crap with the neologist “Spanish State” will you?, it sounds ridiculous in English) is a shame and one of the major flaws of Spanish democracy. It is subject to such a political pressure that undermines the very principle of Justice. I’m glad to see that both Podemos and Ciudadanos have this issue pretty high up in their agendas as it seriously hinders Spain’s ability to move forward.

            However, I find your argument a superb example of double moral standard when pointing out WHEN Pujol has been prosecuted rather than focusing on the FACT that Pujol and his family embezzled for decades while talking everyone about ethics from a moral higher ground. You are right in one thing though, do you remember the case Banca Catalana and how he was allowed to walk away untouched? The powers were kind to him back then because he was useful, now he is a nuisance.

            Believe me, if Catalonia’s elite was truly different to the rest of Spain’s, and 35 years of nationalist rule had created a more free, equal or even wealthier society, I would support independence so that the rest of Spain has something to aspire to, an example to look up to.

            Unfortunately, they share the same nepotistic, antagonistic and merit-adverse view. It has created a regime where the mediocre flourish provided that the worship the “Nacio Catalana” and blame “Madrit” or “Espanya” oops sorry “Estat Espanyol” for all their shortcomings.

            My advice? Grow some balls, clean up your house of corruption and stop seeing other peoples of Spain as the enemy. The ones privatising the Catalan NHS, the ones you pay highway tolls to, the ones not paying prescribed drugs to pharmacies or those who sell expired medical equipment to the elderly are not “Spanish”, they are “Catalan”.

            Most of what’s noted above also applies to other parts of Spain, the only difference is who the perceived enemy is. Unfortunately many people in Catalonia have bought into the “others” being responsible. I find this lack of self-criticism truly staggering.

            Kind regards,


            Posted by ANGEL | May 21, 2015, 15:21
          • Mr. Angel,
            your point was that there is no separation of powers in Catalonia when the truth is that there is, in the way those powers are dependent on the central government or state economic powers related to it (the media) and not with the Catalan.

            You blame Pujol, but consider 2 things: 1st, your theory of how “useful” was pujol on the early 80’s is about utility for the state and central gov.; if was not prosecuted by the “banca catalana” issue, was the state’s justice that lacked on act. 2nd: until now, the only thing known about the case is that pujol’s father,a banker, left money for the sons of pujol in a foreigner bank account, being annoyed for the political career of mr. pujol. And did it on a context in which the inestability of spain was big enough as for resulting in a coup d’etat (“23f”) after that. If the military would have succeed, pujol and his family would have needed to go to exile. That money was for that. The only known thing as a fact is what pujol said by himself, while, until now, the only evidences shown by the spanish gov. have become false, as was said by the andorran bank system. After that, a bank of andorra was intervened.
            Happened the same with Trias, the major of Barcelona: forged evidences and false accusations of having money on switzerland. Trias obtained a certificate of the whole swiss bank system that he never had funds in that country. Happened the same with president Mas, that was told on the spanish press that had money also on swiss banks, being told in the mid of the elections for the catalan parliament. At the end, was false also. And i could continue.
            Is interesting your point about the payment highways: those highways were done by private investors with the permission of the spanish gov., but without public money. The fun fact of this is that, until late 90’s, all the access by highway to Barcelona were payment ones. Do you know why is fun? Because is the central gov. that should make the highways to connect the cities (as the only one with legal power for that), and, if you take off the private investments around barcelona, the result was that the city didn’t had a single wide road to access to it. kafkian, isn’t it? and you blame the catalans for that!
            you can blame the shortcomings and poverty of roads, highways, airport or trains on catalonia. There are indeed reasons enough to be enfuriated because of the infraestructures around the city. but the only guilty of those lacks is always the central gov., with exclusive attributions for make the things happen or not happen.
            the merely existance of the Ap7 payment highway is because oecd forced spain to connect barcelona and valencia by highway. Of course, spain did it by payment. Any other way would have been extremely surprising. your point seems to be that catalans should make a triple effort for having roads: pay the central gov. to make them by taxes, while they don’t. 2nd, pay then the private companies that make them by buying them, and 3rd, after that, stop getting the income of the tolls. And where from is supposed that catalans could get the money to do that? And why do they need to pay 3 times for the roads that are free (public central gov. budget) in the rest of the state?
            With this im not defending mr. pujol, nor this sons, nor the catalan politicians, and of course there’s dirty to be cleaned. But each fault to its guilty one.
            Right now there’s only 1 not payment highway to access to barcelona.

            Posted by jordi L | May 22, 2015, 09:10
  2. Well, according to the programs on the last elections on catalonia and to the votes on the catalan parliament, the numbers of Mr Vendrell (in the case that politicians dont lie) are wrong too:
    in favour of the right to decide were, in the last elections, the next parties: CiU (CDC & UDC), ERC, CUP, ICv and PSC. Yes, PSC also, at least back then. If i remember well, they were in total 107 of 135 seats. In some votes on the parliament, that 87 number came from the negative of the PSC to support a non-negotiated with the state initiative, but in order to get the 2/3 of parliament for having a wide majority, some of the PSC representants voted in favor. Was the fight between the “2 souls” of the PSC that ended with a split inside the party, resignations of some deputies and a few movements that are not still calibrated, like the creation of a new catalan socialist party (Nova Esquera). I want to recall here that in the past european elections, the 2nd of the ERC list was a former deputy and counsellor of the PSC, Ernest Maragall, and that he went on the list of ERC with his own “party”.
    That happens also on ICv, where having now 2 co-heads, one of them, Dolors Camats, said that always had been independentist. So is not clear the total lack of secessionism on the “unionist lines”, while is also true that CiU’s leader of the minor party on the coalition (chief of UDC, J. Antoni Duran i Lleida) is not independentist and could drive a split of the coalition CiU on the next elections.
    Podemos itself would not be in favor of secessionism, but, according to what says Pablo Iglesias, would agree to support the right to decide, although subordinated to a change of the constitution -that will hardly be able to obtain -. So numbers are not that clear in the past (anyone who would be on the right to decide could have vote to PSC in order of what they said during the campaign) and are not clear in the future. but one thing is true: the “nationalist” parties (understanding this word as merely defending that catalonia is a nation, not going beyond of that as could be interpreted) have always won the polls on catalan goverment elections. Always.
    Sorry for my english. Thanks for your sharp analisis, and .. well, if the UE doors become closed, maybe the EFTA window could open. Spain will not make the things easy at all; I doubt that anyone could even consider that.

    Posted by jordi L | February 27, 2015, 17:56
  3. Dear Mr Betancor,

    I agree with most of your analysis and I am grateful to have found again an outside perspective with a high degree of knowledge and sound judgment.

    There is one thing I have to point out, though. There is a distinction between defending the “right to decide” and being in favor of independence. Mainstream media in Spain found no use in separating these two ideas, as both were similarly dangerous and contrary to their interest. But the fact is that in 2012 regional election, parties in favor of the “right to decide” got 87 out of 135 seats (64%), and pro-independence parties (most part of CiU, ERC and CUP), 74/135 (55%). The turnout was only 59%, a figure that can be explained by a general feeling of disenchantment among the more Spanish-inclined voters, mostly people with a lot of family members outside of Catalonia who were not convinced by the old PSOE (even less by PSC) but seem to be delighted by the appearance of Podemos.

    Summing up, it is not reasonable to expect a clear victory of pro-independence vote. I think it will be around 50%, maybe a little more. This adds up to the difficulties already mentioned in this article and makes the expectations of independence really low.

    Regarding strategy, I think it would not be very useful to explain that the independence process is almost impossible to conclude successfully. Leaders need people pushing, feeling brave and not disappointed, thinking that it can be done (“sí, se puede”, “yes, we can”). You may think this is irresponsible, but it might be the more effective approach.

    If it comes a time when pro-independence parties get a 2/3 majority in the Catalan parlament, then they will will be much more difficult to stop. To achieve this, I think it has been demonstrated that the best way to go is keeping a pulse with the Spanish state, a reasonable one, that puts light to the main reason why Catalans should leave, which is that this is hardly a democracy, that no miraculous new political party can fix it and that it would be good to try to take advantatge of the opportunity to found a new modern state.

    Posted by Genís Vendrell | February 27, 2015, 13:32
    • You are exactly right, Mr. Vendrell. In my haste, I inappropriately combined the two. God forbid that I should, in the future, be compared to the Spanish media! I will endeavor not to repeat such an error!!

      Kind regards,

      Fernando Betancor

      Posted by fdbetancor | February 27, 2015, 14:02
      • I didn’t intend to make such a comparison. I was only suggesting that it is a common misunderstanding in Spain and that it is fed by the media. The indivisibility of Spain is beyond discussion. Why bother differentiating between two ways of contradicting this dogma? They are both wrong and that’s the end of it.

        Best regards,

        Genís Vendrell

        Posted by Genís Vendrell | February 27, 2015, 15:57


  1. […] Fernando Betancor, “Catalonia: A Flawed Strategy,” Common Sense, 26 February […]

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