Carlos Flores Juberias, Professor at the University of Valencia
Separatist movements in Europe are an epidemic
22.12.2017 12:30

The entire European and world community is following early elections in Catalonia. Will they stabilize the situation temporarily or finally put an end to the protracted and tense Catalan crisis? Carlos Flores Juberias, a Spanish scientist, doctor of science, professor at the University of Valencia, and a member of the "Transparency Council" of the Parliament of the Autonomous Community of Valencia, spoke in an interview with Ukrinform about the causes of the escalation of the conflict between Madrid and Barcelona, the "epidemic" of separatist movements in Europe and other urgent issues.

Q: Mr. Professor, I would like to start from the very beginning, from an analysis of the causes of the Catalan crisis. What provoked the escalation?

A: The Catalan government has repeatedly been arguing that this battle for segregation, for succession has its origins in the Constitutional Court decision of 2010 by which the Highest Spanish Court, the guardian of constitutionality, declared the number of the provisions of 2006 Statute of Autonomy contrary to the Constitution. From the perspective or in the line of argumentation of the Catalan government, this was the proof the Catalonia could not reach the highest possible degree of self-government or the level of self-government they want or they decide within the existing constitutional framework and therefore there was no other choice, but a separation.

I don't agree with that argument. First of all, because autonomy is a right recognized by the Constitution whose content is determined by the Constitution and who is subordinate by the constitutional mandate. There is no natural right to autonomy, there is no natural right to admit this. The extent of autonomy is defined by the Constitution so you cannot confront the autonomy and the Constitution and you cannot confront autonomy with what the guardian of the Constitution - the Constitutional Court - says.

And second, because that decision of the Constitutional court was quite eclectic. The Constitutional Court was very short from declaring the entire concept of autonomy unconstitutional and only declared unconstitutional a number of very specific provisions in this attitude. Some of them are symbolic. Some of them are very technical. I am sure that 99% of those who support independence in Catalonia would be incapable of quoting just one single disposition of this attitude to the Statute of Autonomy. But again the history or the story of this process is set to begin at that point 2010.

Q: Experts call the early elections in Catalonia, which are scheduled for December 21, as the elections of change. In your opinion, will they be able to put an end to the Catalan crisis?

A: Definitely. And it did happen on the 21st. Frankly, I have no clue of what might be happening in the future. I mean, this last month, this last couple of years, but especially this last month have been extremely polarizing and extremely dissuasive up for both sides of the political spectrum. For the Nationalist side, because they have realized that unilateral independence is simply not going to happen. That the international community is not going to recognize it, that the national government is not going to accept it and that there is even no overwhelming support within the Catalan society for it.

While the non-independentist section of the electorate has realized that they can mobilize and if they do, they can be extremely powerful. For many years opinion polls have been revealing that there was a kind of silent majority in the Catalan people. There was a sizeable proportion of the Catalan electorate that did not go to the polls, did not verbalize their positions out of fear of being considered bad Catalans.

There were a very vocal nationalist minority and a very silent non-nationalist majority. And this silent majority has now realized that if they become more vocal and more active, they can change things. You won't believe this, but it was a surprise to discover that this portion of electorate, the non-nationalist portion of the electorate was able to celebrate huge demonstrations. This had never happened! And this became even a shock for nationalists to see a central square in Barcelona full of people waving the Spanish flags. Wow! Where were those people?!

In this climate polls predict that turnout will be very high. That usually happens when the political climate is very heated, very conflicted. The turnout tends to be very high. And that those who previously didn't show to vote will show to vote and this might change the panorama. And I'm confident that this would be the case.

Q: There really were many supporters of independence, but they have never been a majority. What do numerous polls show now, and what can be expected from the elections?

A: Polls are predicting that the most voted party would be by a slim margin Ciutadans, which is a non-nationalist centrist party. In fact, it is a national party right now, but it was created in Catalonia. That the Republican Left and the Union for Catalonia will come in second or third – they are both nationalist parties. And then the Socialist party and the rest of the parties will come in fourth, fifth positions etc.

Nevertheless, the issue is not who's going to be the most voted party, the issue is which government you are going to be able to form. I mean, it would be senseless to say that if you are the most voted party - you have won elections, because you are going to have seven parties in parliament and there are going to be very different positions or possibilities.

So now the key issue is whether the constitutionalist parties will have the majority of the seats or whether the nationalist parties would keep this majority of the seats. It may depend on one single vote, it may depend on one single seat. But I mean again if turnout is very high, at least we will really have a reliable portrait about how the Catalan society feels. And we have not had this reliable image so far, because turnout has been very low in previous elections. Because, obviously, the legal referendum cannot be trusted as a representation of what real people think.

Q: Maybe it's time to discuss changes in the Spanish Constitution? It has been untouched since 1978...

A: It has only been changed twice, but in very specific issues. Virtually, the constitutional building remains unchanged since 1978.

Let me put it this way: the constitution is now 39 years old. It will be 40 next year. It was passed before Spain became an EU member state, before Spain entered NATO, it was passed before Internet was discovered, before we had mobile phones and before we had Twitter and e-mail and all other stuff. What I want to say is that yes, you can argue that there are things that should be updated in the Constitution, that should be improved, should be modernized in the Constitution. The Constitution does not say that Spain is an EU member state to begin with. So yes, there are technical adjustments that should be made in the Constitution, and, yes, I agree that there are new rights that should be enshrined in the Constitution, but this is not the problem. Because the courts, the law, the Constitutional Court has been very active in promoting these rights and carrying out this modernization of the constitution.

Now a different issue is a regional issue. This has proven to be a very disruptive aspect of our system. No one is happy with that. The government because they think they have their hands tied, the autonomous committees because they would like to have more autonomy. So this is the real question now on the table. How should we provide ourselves with a better functioning regional system? There are two problems however. First, while everybody agrees that the actual system is far from perfect, not everybody agrees in which direction change should happen. I mean some parties, basically parties in the right and in the center, argue that we should reinforce the state. The problem is that the state is too weak, the autonomous committees are too strong, the problem is that they are not properly coordinated, so we should recentralize the country, because we have gone too far in sub-government.

While nationalist parties and some parties in the left think otherwise. That we should still go on in this direction and give autonomous committees more autonomy in, for example, raising their own taxes. So while we agree that the actual system is not working, properly, we disagree on what direction we should take. That's the first problem.

And the second problem is that you cannot reform the system that has to work for everyone having just in mind the problem raised by Catalonia. I mean if you try to reform the Constitution in order to please Catalans two bad things will happen. First, the rest will say: "Hey, we don't agree with that." And second the Catalans will say: "Yes, we want this, but we want more." So reforming the constitution in order to please the Catalan nationalists really leads nowhere. Because they will not be happy with this minor change and the rest will be quite unhappy with that. So we are in rather complex situation in which we agreed that we have a disease, but we don't agree about the treatment.

Q: Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has recently stated in public that there is evidence of Russian interference in the process of preparing for a referendum in Catalonia. What do you think about that? Is the Kremlin trying to create another "pain point" in the EU?

A: That is exactly what Joe Biden, the former Vice-President of the U.S., has just written in a recently published piece in I think it was in Foreign Affairs that the United States is pursuing a growing interference of Russia in affairs of European and non-European countries. If this is the case. I cannot say it categorically: we are now discovering things, we are now finding things. If this is the case, then I think we should differentiate two possible scenarios. Spain is a democratic country, we can confront different opinions, and I don't have any objection that media like radio, TV or a newspaper holds a particular vision of the problem.

Even I don't have any objection whether this position is biased, partial, subjective, and I don't have any problem even if this position is financially supported by a foreign government. I mean we have a free society, we have a critical society and I expect my fellow citizens to be able to differentiate between manipulation and real information. But in a free society manipulation is a risk that you have to leave with. I think it is morally unacceptable, I think it is professionally rejectable, I think it is politically dangerous but something you have to live with in the democracy. I mean, liars have also place in the democratic debate and a free society.

A different thing is when a state uses its power and its technology to disrupt the normal functioning of the institutions of another state. I am talking about rigging elections, I am talking about providing false information about what a government is doing, I am talking about spying on the government that is supposed to be in good diplomatic relations with yourself and so on. When you are undermining the normal functioning of the institutions of any state – that's an act of aggression even though there's no weapons involved, that's an act of aggression and that cannot be accepted.

I wouldn't go as far as to say this is what is happening in Catalonia or what has happened in Catalonia, but if that were the case, certainly the Spanish government should provide a very energetic response.

Q: This crisis is inherent not only in one country or region, but is evidence of a wider tendency – a tendency toward self-organization and self-determination of certain ethnic groups, peoples... Is it dangerous to Europe at all?

A: It has a tendency, it's an epidemic. I mean we have separatist movements in Spain, in Catalonia also in Basque country, also they are more calm right now, more pragmatic right now. I mean, the Brits have them, the case in Northern Ireland, in Scotland. Italians had it in Padania even though they are quiet calm. French are going to face them in Corsica. I mean there where elections in Corsica, the nationalists won big in a Corsican elections. Not to mention Romania with Hungarians, in Serbia with Kosovo at that time, in Macedonia with Albanians, in Montenegro with Albanians as well, in Croatia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, of course, and so on and so forth.

There is a general tendency of putting into question the so-called national states. On the grounds of what? On the ground of "I want better guarantee or more respect for my national identity?" On the grounds that "I want closer government," that "I can control better and the smaller the country is the more I will be able to control what the government is doing?" On the basis of what? I mean I don't take any of these arguments. First of all, we live in a world of states and it is your state the one who protects your rights. The more powerful your state is, the more efficient your state is, the more guarantees you have for your rights. What makes my life livable is the fact that I am a Spanish citizen. And that I can rely on the Spanish justice, the Spanish law, the Spanish diplomacy, the Spanish defense, police forces, judiciary and so on and so forth.

Even less so, if you are living in a pluralist state like all of these countries that I have mentioned are. Living in a pluralist state means that you have this protection and you also have the right to be yourself. I mean the Scottish can speak Scottish or Gaelic, Catalans can speak Catalan, Italians can speak their own dialects and they can eat their own regional food and they can make movies in their own languages and so on. I mean, sorry, we consistently send Catalan singers to the Eurovision Song Contest. We provide literary prizes to books written in Catalan and so forth and so on. , I don't know how rohinguas are protected in Myanmar, I don't know and I don't know in which situation they find themselves but this is not the case of any minority in any European Union state.

So why is this happening? Maybe, it is another dimension of anti-politics? I don't like politics, I don't like authority,  I don't like the government, so let's destroy what we have. Maybe it's another dimension of this utopian idea that the closer your government is the more you will be able to control it, the more powerful you are. But again it is a utopian idea. I mean petty politicians that would like to be heads of a state, of a smaller state instead of being regional president of a larger state. I mean, in Spanish we say: you prefer to be a head of a mouse instead of being a tale of a lion.

Q: Is there any possibility that Spain will turn from a unitary state into a federation? Is the country prepared for such a scenario, as even now many people talk about it?

A: We are almost a federation, we are a federation in everything but in the name. If you compare the powers of the regions, of the autonomous communities in Spain with those of the lands in Germany and Austria or with those of the territories in Britain, with those of departments in France, of course, you will find out that they are more powerful in many aspects than even the German lands. If you compare financial power, regulatory power, legislative power, and so on and so forth, the comparison is highly positive for the Spanish regions.

We don't call ourselves a federation, because back in 1978 that was very exotic idea. We only tried to become a federation once in the 19th century and it ended up pretty badly. So the term "federal" didn't sound good at that time, it sounded too radical. So the Constitution did not establish that we are a federal monarchy or whatever. Quite on the contrary, what characterizes federation?

OK, there are many different kinds of federations, we can live with that. But one of the things that characterizes federations is that all the federal units are somehow equal in the federal framework. I mean, with the states in the U.S., California has the same number of Senators as Montana. In the Russian Federation, Moscow has the same number of members of the upper house as far distant territory in Siberia. I mean would Catalonia, would Catalonia government, Catalonia nationalists be happy to have the same number of senators as La Rioha? Does it make sense?

And one more third difference. What makes a federation workable is that you have "federal loyalty." What does it mean? It means that okay, you are part of a higher unit and that means that you are loyal to this higher unit. You exercise your competence with the respect of the state and you let the state do its duty in due respect and you collaborate among each other. That’s why Germany works. Because the German Bund (the federal government) can trust the German land (the German state) to carry out the policies, designed by the German federation in the fields where the German federation is competent. And the land cooperates with the German Bund in order to make decisions.

We don't have this. There are territories which don't have this federal loyalty, which are not willing to cooperate for common good and cannot be trusted by the central government to carry out this. We have in Spain an institution that is not in the Constitution but has been put in motion and has acquired some degree of importance which is the Conference of Presidents. A meeting of all presidents of the autonomous communities. It is not in the constitution, but it is a way of making the presidents of autonomous communities meet with each other and discuss with them issue that otherwise you should be discussing in 16 different meetings. The Catalan government never shows up. Even though there are important issues being treated there. Their position is that "we have a problem, come to Barcelona and we will talk about it." Or I will go to Madrid and we will talk it one on one. I don't want this other 16 guys be around. Because I want a bilateral relation, I want a privilege relation, I don't want to be one among 17. I want to be one among two. This does not belong to federal arrangement.

So in terms of real power, we are there. In terms of name, we are not there. In terms of what remains for Spain to be a real federation is loyalty to the federal structure and we don't have an expectation that this might happen.

Natalia Bukvych, Maksym Nalyvaiko. Kyiv

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