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Catalonian Independence: The Road to a Lost Opportunity

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Oct 24, 2013, 11:27 am

EspañolNo one can predict the likelihood of independence for Catalonia. What can be predicted, however, is that if it comes to fruition, Catalonia will become a new European-style state.

That may seem like an obvious, far-from-revealing statement. However, what I mean is that an independent Catalonia would be just another example of the same mistakes consistently made in the rest of Europe.

It would be a lost opportunity for the rebirth of a continent that was once key to the development of Western society and much of the industrialized world. Four conditions prove it.

First, Catalonians have chosen to go down the easy but risky path of furthering their goal through a celebration of chauvinistic nationalism and xenophobia, just as most European states once did. Finding justification in a defense of freedom or local governance would have been more appropriate. The chosen road not only sparks rejection of behaviors considered “Spanish,” but also implies the acceptance of prejudices against immigrants and cultural differences. In that sense, an independent Catalonia would wind up being part of the many notorious cultural conflicts between European peoples, and yet another country with absurd restrictions on free immigration.

Second, among the many changes an independent Catalonia would undergo, a reform or removal of the welfare state is not on the cards. Most Catalonians are convinced, like other Europeans, that solidarity between individuals can only stem from the implementation of paternalistic policies to transfer wealth to those considered weak or excluded.

Essentially, no one has questioned whether that idea of solidarity could be the wrong one. There has also been a distinct lack of debate over the evidence of welfare-state failure, not only in terms of unmet goals but in terms of the economic disasters they brought about, such as the loss of competitiveness and the fiscal crises, to name but a few.

Besides, the focus on political debates has eclipsed the fact that countries like Sweden and the Netherlands are reforming their welfare frameworks. Nothing has been said on the issue. A Catalonian state, as is expected in Europe, would perpetuate dependence and keep the same policies of economic waste.

Third, the possibility of leaving the European Union is not even considered. This is also the easy, and lazy, road. There has been no debate on the possibility of creating a state with a unilateral policy of openness, the likes of which are but a few in the world. Instead, the only conceivable source of commerce is Europe’s protectionist institutional structure.

This stance also reveals a fundamental weakness in the arguments for independence: the idea is to gain autonomy from the Spanish government, only to yield that autonomy to supranational organizations which are even farther from and less accountable to the interests of the common citizen.

Many Catalonians appear to blame their economic woes on the Spanish government, and at the same time they think that supranational organizations are not centralist, nor regulation-happy, nor irresponsible, nor wasteful — yet another aspect in which they have lost touch with reality.

Last, should it gain independence, Catalonian society would keep its well-known leanings towards prohibition based on political correctness. It’s nothing new: the rest of the European states show the same leanings, since they not only regulate commercial activities, but also private, individual choices.

My concerns do not mean independence is undesirable or that it does not further the Catalonian right to adopt a political structure of their choosing, in whichever way they choose. However, given the political climate and the direction of the movement, the situation would not change much there, nor in the European context in general.

Unfortunately, a Catalonian state would not differ from the states known in the rest of Europe: a mixture of rejecting capitalism without getting to the point of completely abandoning it (someone has to pay the bills); constructing identity based on the rejection of differences; giant, heavy, and parasitic states; and broad restrictions on individual freedom — all justified with superficial, busybody reasons.

We often forget that crises are also opportunities for individuals to identify past mistakes and work to correct them. As the cold facts show, Europe’s reaction to the current crisis is nothing like that. Europeans have not even acknowledged their mistakes, so we can safely assume they will continue to make them. There’s no knowing how many more crises it will take.

The emergence of independence movements could be a chance to see something new, a superior vision. Unfortunately, this is not the case of Catalonia, which stands for a projection of the mistakes of the past into the future. It seems that, whatever the decision, this particular opportunity will be lost.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.