This past weekend, the world watched as Mariano Rajoy‘s government deploy the national police to the Catalonia region in what proved to be a violent attempt to shut down an independence referendum regarding a political break with Spain. Journalist Yael Ossowski wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner in which he called for political autonomy for the region as a possible way to avert a complete political break, and compared the Spanish experience with that of his native Quebec.
While he ultimately concludes that Western democracies must respect the will of the people regarding secessionist and independence movements, he also finds fault with the political strategy used by the Catalonian secessionists:
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“The thing that we have to realize here is that there are a lot of questions that have been raised, and they’re not super illegitimate, about the referendum itself…how it was held, the number of people who attended; look, there’s never going to be any situation, particularly in continental Europe, where a referendum is going to be accepted by the central authority…it’s just not something that’s really going to happen…I think the Anglosphere countries, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, these are places that are used to popular referenda, and accept them, and there is a mechanism to trigger these. In continental Europe they don’t really exist.”
Ossowski further notes that there is far from a consensus in the region regarding independence as the best solution to the current Madrid/Barcelona power struggle, and advises the Barcelona government to consider the Quebecois experience of 20 years ago, noting that Canada now enjoys a system with a great degree of local autonomy.
“For a lot of young Catalans, especially, there was a huge show of force of people who were out in the streets protesting against the vote. So, is autonomy going to be the answer? In the long term I say so, yes. But there is still a lot of introspection that has to happen on the part of the Catalans. Yes it is true that the referendum is not a 100% stamped, verified, provable referendum in terms of Spanish law, but they don’t really have that mechanism, so they really need to figure out, what is it that people desire.”
Certainly, the EU is the 500 pound elephant in the room as well; and in a hypothetical post-independence situation, it remains unclear as to whether Catalonia could immediately join the EU, or would have to endure a protracted application process. Ossowski cautions the Catalan independence movement to careful consider the long-term consequences of a complete break, and notes the myriad benefits that the EU has brought: breaking down trade barriers, freedom of movement, an integrated labor market, among others.
“I think granting autonomy for the long term in Spain, will keep the country together.”