The “Catalan Question” (II)

Part I

Catalonia’s autonomy

Catalonia regained her autonomous status in 1978, three years after Franco’s death. Despite the conditional support in North Spain, the constitutional charter approved in the plenary session of Congress and Senate on October 31st, 1978, ratified by the nation on December 6th and sanctioned by the King on December 27th, provided a framework of guarantees to ensure democratic coexistence within the Constitution and the laws of the country. The most novel aspect of the 1978 Constitution was the reorganization of the Spanish administrative territory into 18 autonomous communities[1] as de facto federal state.

The formal and legal regional autonomy of Catalonia is guaranteed by a new democratic post-Franco 1978 Constitution of Spain. This practically meant that for the first time in Spanish history, the Catalans and Catalonia received significant ethno-regional autonomy and sovereignty with a high degree political and administrative rights to be exercised that, in fact, Catalonia became according to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of the State a state within the state (of Spain). According to Article 1 of this convention, the state has four features:

  1. A defined territory.
  2. A permanent population.
  3. An effective government.
  4. The capacity to enter into relations with other states.[2]

What it has to be mentioned is the fact that according to this view, the political existence of the state is not dependent on its formal recognition as “independent” by other states. It means further that, according to Article 3,  the state even without its formal recognition has the right to defend its integrity and sovereignty, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit.

Nevertheless, the main feature of the concept of the state is the sovereignty – the principle of supreme and unquestionable authority, reflected in the claim by the political unity to be the sole author of laws within its territory. What was the most important,  the Catalans, within the constitutional framework of their sovereign autonomy, had right to decide whether or not to accept the decisions of the central government in Madrid concerning Catalonia in the senses of economy, justice and social security, what means they had a legal power to exercise their political-regional sovereignty in competition with the central government of Spain. In short, such kind of a state within the state in the federal system of political unity is historically very rare and this Catalan case can be in this sense compared, for instance, with the case of Kosovo’s Albanian sovereignty in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1974 to 1989 with the common conclusion: de facto political-regional independence is at the and leading to the requirement of its formal international recognition as an independent state.[3]

Amid celebration in Catalonia’s capital Barcelona pre-autonomy status for this region was recognized with the re-establishment of the Generalitat. The ethno-regional sovereign privileges of Catalonia in the senses of politics and economy according to the Generalitat, were:

  1. Juridical Regime: The Generalitat as the constitution of Catalonia,[4] mentions that:

“The High Court of Justice of Catalonia is the supreme jurisdictional body of the legal system in Catalonia and it is competent, under the terms established by the corresponding organic law, to hear the appeals and cases of the different jurisdictional areas, and to protect the rights recognized in this Estatut. In all cases, the High Court of Justice of Catalonia is competent in the areas of civil, penal, contentious-administrative and social law and other areas of law which may be created in the future.”[5]

This guarantees the equal treatment of all citizens, decreases the level of conflicts derived from lack of central administration. Also, it gives confidence to Catalonia that it has right to implement juridical process about the issues of the Catalan region. Nevertheless, by having a separated juridical regime it makes Catalans stronger within the state of Spain.

  1. Trade and Trade Fairs:

The Generalitat has exclusive power in matters of trade and trade fairs, including the regulation of non-international trade fair activities and the administrative planning of trading activities.”[6]

This indicates that Catalonia has the right to implement its own trade activities according to its own wish and benefits. In practice, when this legal right concerning the hinterland of Barcelona come together it gets easier to increase the welfare of the region.

  1. Education:

Determination of the educational content of the first cycle of infant education and the regulation of the center is which this cycle is taught, and also the definition of the staffing arrangements and the qualifications and specializations of the other staff.”[7]

This shows that Catalonia has the right to exercise the manner of education in regard of its own culture. Although it is obligatory to teach Spanish lesson at schools, still Catalans are being educated with Catalan culture. This also makes them both more integrated into the Spanish society and gives a sense of Catalan separate identity.

  1. Public Security:

“In matters of public security, the Generalitat, in accordance with State legislation, is responsible for planning and regulating the public security system for Catalonia and organization of the local police and public safety and public order.”[8]

This gives the autonomous region right to protect the welfare of its citizens. Due to the fact that peoples of the region know problems of their own better, providing security while being aware of the real problems makes the region stronger.

  1. Participation in the Treaties of the European Union:

The Generalitat shall be informed by the State Government of initiatives for review of European Union treaties and of subsequent signing and ratification processes. The Government of the Generalitat and Parliament shall address, to the State Government and to the Cortes Generals, the observations that it deems pertinent to this effect.”[9]

This indicates that although Catalonia does not have a direct influence on the European Union (the EU), still the central government in Madrid has to inform Catalonia about the issues of the EU-Spanish relations. Nevertheless, this point again shows how, in fact, the Autonomous Region of Catalonia within Spain is legally powerful.

  1. International Treaties and Conventions:

The Government of the State shall inform the Generalitat in advance of the signing of treaties which have a direct and singular effect on the powers of Catalonia. The Generalitat and Parliament may address the observations that they consider relevant to these matters to the Government.” and “In the case of treaties which have a direct and singular effect on Catalonia, the Generalitat may request that the Government include representatives of the Generalitat in the negotiating delegation, the Generalitat may request that the Government sign international treaties in areas within its jurisdiction.”[10]

This indicates a very important issue that although Catalonia is just formally an autonomous region of Spain, it has, in fact, a real right to influence Madrid about the Spanish decisions in regard to Catalonia which has right to challenge the decisions by the central Spanish authority.

Catalonia between Madrid and Brussels

The conflicts between Catalonia and the central government in Madrid are of the multi-issues in which the EU is directly involved since 1986 when Spain became a member-state of the European Community (the EC). The fundamental problem-issues on the relations of Barcelona-Madrid are:

  1. The conflict between Catalonia and Madrid was about taxing issue. Except Basque and Navarro regions, all the provincials pay their taxes to the central government of Spain.[11] 33% of the collected taxed was paid back to those provincials.[12] However, Catalonia demanded 50% of the collected tax being paid back. Nevertheless, if only Catalonia would paid-back for 50%, there will be no problems but the central government feared if the other autonomous regions will also demand the same amount (50%) to be paid back of collected taxes by them then the central government of Spain would go bankrupt.[13]
  2. The second problem was about “Catalan nation.” If Catalonia is accepted as “Catalonia is a nation” as it is accepted in the Catalan Parliament, Spain feared to face the same demands from other autonomous regions. Catalonia’s one of the demands was being recognized as a nation and because they were not recognized so, they just had privileges, there again arose a conflict between Madrid and Catalonia. The conflicts about regional-administrative taxing and being recognized or not as a nation became the most critical political problems between Barcelona and Madrid for the very reason if Madrid would recognize Catalonia as a nation then this region will acquire full legal set of rights to proclaim their state’s independence (what they already did, in fact, on October 27th, 2017).[14]
  3. Another problem is the language. The official language of Spain is Spanish but every administrative region is allowed to speak its own language unless Spanish is not being taught. However, Catalonia does not implement the necessary 3 hours per week Spanish language lessons at schools and, therefore, Madrid and Catalonia again have a clash because the central government fears that Catalonia can totally lose its identity of Spain. That is why Madrid wants that the Spanish language is going to be taught at schools in Catalonia officially for the proper Catalan integration into the Spanish society. However, Catalonia, on another hand, had a large residue of resentment and mistrust over certain features, including and the language issue, symbolizing the centralizing and repressive tendencies of the Spanish central government.

Catalonia between Madrid and BrusselsCatalonia is faced with the problem of both globalization and the Spanish membership to the EU in the process of seeking the international recognition of its self-proclaimed independence. As it is quite clear, in today’s globalized world order, no state or autonomous region is able to survive without relations with other states or international organizations. Such problem exists concerning the relation of Catalonia and the EU – a supranational organization, which did not recognize Catalan independence declared in October 2017 but, on another hand, the same supranational organization which majority of member-states recognized self-declared independence of Kosovo in February 2008. Here is clearly applied a double-standard policy of the EU: Brussels concerning the Catalan case of declared independence did not want to interfere into the internal matter of the independent and sovereign Spain but did it directly by brutally violating Serbia’s Constitution when Kosovo Albanians proclaimed their independence from Serbia.

The EU, as the most unique supranational political structure in the world, is not willing to share its power with a non-state entity. Catalonia under the autonomous region conditions does not have the right to influence the EU’s politics as the central government of Spain does. This brings the problem that, although Catalonia is a powerful region, it is not accepted as an influential figure of EU as it is not an independent state. Due to the fact that Catalonia is a regional-administrative entity which belongs to Spain, the central government in Madrid does not accept for Catalonia to have the same rights with Spanish administration in dealing with the EU.

Catalonia between independence and Spain

The possibility of a proclamation of Catalonia’s formal independence became the most problematic issue of the “Catalan Question” either for Madrid or for Brussels. It was clear for a longer period of time, as it happened in reality in October 2017, that in the case of Catalan declaration of independence, central Spanish authorities will not recognize it but the problem left how the EU central bureaucratic apparatus (Council and Commission) are going to react to the Catalan right on national self-determination including and the political independence: the same right which Brussels recognized in the cases of dissolutions of ex-Yugoslavia and the USSR, for instance. We have to remember that the EU (at that time the European Community) formulated in 1991 four basic principles in regard to the question of delimitation between Yugoslavia’s (6) federal republics and their unilateral declarations of political independence formally based on the right on national self-determination:

  1. Yugoslavia’s state (external) borders are unchangeable.
  2. Inter-republican borders can be changed only by collective agreement of the republics.
  3. Until the time when such agreement is reached the former inter-republican borders are protected by international law (the principle Uti possidetis iuris).
  4. Forcible change of such borders is not producing the legal effect.[15]

Nevertheless, the border issue of Catalan independence problem did not affect the “Catalan Question” either by Madrid or Brussels differently in comparison with the case of the dissolution of ex-Yugoslavia. However, the nature of Brussels reaction to those two cases was quite different as the EU’s administration did not imply the policy of noninterference into the inner (Spanish) affairs in the case of Yugoslavia just 25 years ago. Moreover, the EU’s recognition of Slovenian, Croatian and Bosnian-Herzegovinian anti-constitutional and unilateral separation basically fueled the civil wars in the western territories of ex-Yugoslavia. What Catalonia did in October 2017 was, in fact, the same what Yugoslav separatists did in 1991−1992 (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina) and in 2008 (Kosovo). It has to be noticed that Spain is one out of 5 EU’s member-state which did not recognize Kosovo’s independence as in this case Madrid has to do the same with Catalan one. For Madrid, both of these two cases are illegal and anti-constitutional. However, as Spain is an EU’s member-state (since 1986) the EU’s recognition of the independence of Catalonia will surely dramatically deteriorate the relations between the EU and Spain that would not go to the benefits of Brussels. In addition, Brussels also fears that if Catalonia becomes independent, this would encourage other nationalistic movements within the EU’s countries (for example, Flemish, Scottish, Corsican, Basque, Lega Nord, Sardinian, etc.) so that such process can disintegrate the EU.

Catalonia has many privileges within Spain which the Catalans exercise for the good of a Catalan society. However, there are, in fact, a majority of Catalans who struggle for political independence. The question is basically do Catalans want to have politically recognized independence or to obtain more privileges from the central government in Madrid? Concerning this issue, there is a huge diversity inside the Catalan society which is divided between those who support the independence and those who are satisfied with getting more privileges. The second group has four crucial arguments not to support the independence but instead to struggle for higher autonomy:

  1. It is impossible to survive without having political and economic relations with other entities and without being recognized by the rest of the world. If Catalonia becomes independent, most of the states (especially the EU’s and NATO’s members) will not recognize it in order not to deteriorate their good and beneficiary relations with Spain.
  2. Many Catalans prefer more privileges instead of independence as in order to get the independence Catalans have to use force like the Basque nation[16] what can provoke a civil war like in ex-Yugoslavia with unpredictable consequences. It is seen that in the history of Catalans, they prefer solving problems with Madrid by using political methods, not by force. As historically they have acted according to the political rules, many Catalans are suspicions whether Catalonia will be successful if the force is going to be used. In essence, it is seen by many Catalans that more privileges are going to be more beneficial for Catalonia, in contrast, becoming recognized as an independent by some countries especially if Spain would introduce an economic blockade of Catalonia as a repressive measure to beat its independence.[17]
  3. It is obvious that the central government of Spain does not want to recognize declared independence of Catalonia what again indicates the “Yugoslav syndrome” – no independence without violence.[18] According to the international law and the United Nations’ Charter, if the existing statues is changed by using a force and as a consequence a new political situation is established, no state can recognize the independence of a new political unity otherwise it is a violation of the international law and the states which violate it are considered as transgressors. It practically means that in order not to be a transgressor, a majority of states would not recognize Catalan independence based on using force. This is an argument for the option to stay in Spain as an autonomous region and to continue to struggle for its improvement.[19]
  4. From one side, Catalans have a strong sense of the regional-historical identity but at the same time, many Catalans do not want to lose their Iberian-Spanish identity and origin. The consciousness of pertaining to a distinct community sharing the same historical background and the political desire as an autonomous region is what is desired. This indicates that many Catalans admit having a double identity and have a desire to live with both of them and Spanish and Catalan. Admitting a Spanish identity also brings the demand of services like better education, healthcare, police service and willingness to share economic and social developments, etc., from the central government, and because they believe that they have a significant impact on Spain’s domestic affairs, Catalans are pressing for more privileges in these areas.

However, the set of privileges which are given by Madrid to Catalonia’s autonomous region is fairly enough to implement the Catalan affiance to Spain. Catalans are very closely involved with the decisions about Catalonia in the senses of judgment, international agreements, teaching the Catalan language, preserving Catalan culture followed by some important international issues. Therefore, the crucial question is: What does Catalonia want more from Madrid instead of independence? Basically, there are two cardinal requirements concerning the improvement of Catalonia’s autonomous status as compensation for her independence:

  1. Catalans want to be paid back more from the taxes which is given to Madrid, in comparison to other autonomous regions. The realization of this requirement is, in fact, leading to the so-called “asymmetrical federation” which, for instance, Slovenia and Croatia advocated in 1990 in their relations with the rest of Yugoslavia. However, the “asymmetrical federation” is unfair as it makes the first and second class of the members of the federation, i.e., those who are more and those who are lesser privileged within the same political-economic system. Nevertheless, till April 2006 this Catalan demand did not meet but after the long negotiations between Madrid and Barcelona, Catalonia got right to be paid back 50% of the collected taxes from her territory.[20] Regardless the fact that the central government of Spain feared that all other autonomous regions can demand the same, Madrid recognized such right to Catalonia primarily due to the fact that this decision was made according to the Constitution of Spain and advantaged position of Catalonia which other autonomous regions could not object. Undoubtedly, this progress was very beneficial for the good of Catalonia but because the Catalans required more demands, it became clear that it was not enough to satisfy all Catalan wishes.
  2. Catalans wanted to be recognized as a nation. Like being paid back 50% of the collected taxes, during the same negotiations, this request was accepted as well. This gave Catalans the feeling that Generalitat is getting stronger and that Catalonia is at the same time getting the features of a state with the state. Like taxing privilege, the recognition of Catalans as a nation was also made under the Constitution of Spain so that there were no much objections from other autonomous regions as everything was done within the constitutional framework. Basically, only due to the fact that other autonomous regions in Spain are not as powerful as Catalonia is, they do not protest or demand the same privileges as Catalonia enjoys. Although Catalans achieved the most important desires they wished, still they are not satisfied in full because they believe that Madrid could do more for Catalonia after the 2006 negotiations and that is, in fact, the endless political game between Madrid and Barcelona (with Catalan blackmailing of Spain). Catalans, actually, want to have as much political power as Madrid has and at such a way to transform Spain into a dual state like it was Austria-Hungary since 1867 according to the Ausgleich.[21] If this demand is met, not on theory but in practice Catalonia will be an independent entity. However, that is a “red line” which Madrid cannot accept at any price but on another hand, if Spain recognized Catalonia and Catalans as a nation it means that, theoretically, such ethnic group has right to live in its own independent state.


Catalonia with the Barcelona hinterland is a very important economic region for Spain which Madrid cannot separate easily as it brings a huge amount of taxes to the center. Catalans themselves have a strong sense of both Catalan and Spanish identities followed by successful historical experience in coping with a central authority in Madrid. Therefore, since 1978 Catalonia is enjoying a great degree of self-administration being seen by many experts as a state within the state.

Although Catalonia had the right to have a voice in the issues related to Catalonia, they demanded more. At first sight, Madrid did not meet the demands of Catalonia so that problems occurred between them. Another problem occurred between Catalans and the EU as the EU never shared its centralized power with autonomous regions although Catalans had powerful economic resources. However, the most important reason for a strict pro-Madrid policy by Brussels is that the EU does not want to deteriorate good relations with Spain – a country that is much more important for both the EU and NATO in comparison to separate Catalonia.

Spain with Catalonia
Photo from Catalonia

After a long time of clashes between Madrid and Brussels, a significant part of Catalan society understood that having more privileges can be more beneficial instead of getting formal political independence. Therefore, they persuaded Madrid to get more privileges in some important aspects of national life but still, Catalonia demands more as Barcelona wants to be as powerful as Madrid. Due to the fact that Catalans are being recognized as a nation and they are being paid back 50% of the taxes other autonomous regions are not happy with that, but because all decisions about Catalan privileges between Madrid and Barcelona are justified by the Constitution, other autonomous regions are up to now staying silent. However, dealing with the “Catalan Question” within Spain, that is going to be an endless political game, the central government in Madrid should be careful in order not to face serious problems inside the country on relations with other autonomous regions. Finally, as the 2017 case clearly shows, Catalonia can get independence only if some global great power(s) will directly support Catalan secessionism.

Finally, at least from the Madrid’s point of benefits, in order to solve the “Catalan Question” probably is the optimal solution that historical lands of Castilla would proclaim their own political independence from Catalonia – Castilla, nevertheless, was one of two founding independent states (kingdoms) of Spain.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[1] Juan Lalaguna, A Traveller’s History of Spain, Fifth Edition, London: Phoenix, 2003, 224−227.

[2] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 112.

[3] Concerning the Kosovo case, see in [Hannes Hofbauer, Experiment Kosovo: Die Rückkehr des Kolonialismus, Wien: Promedia Druck- und Verlagsges. m.b.h., 2008; Pierre Pean, Sébastien Fontenelle, Kosovo: Une Guerre „Juste“ pour Créer un Etat Mafieux, Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2013].

[4] Scott L. Greer, Nationalism and Self-Government the politics of Autonomy in Scotland and Catalonia, New York: State University of New York, 2008, 107.

[5] Generalitat. Article 95 [].

[6] Generalitat. Article 121 [].

[7] Generalitat.  Article 131 [].

[8] Generalitat. Article 164 [].

[9] Generalitat. Article 185 [].

[10] Generalitat. Article 196 [].

[11] İspanya Çatırdıyor, [].

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Catalans, however, have been recognized to have all necessary characteristics of the nation: common language, history, territory, religion, history [Richard W. Mansbach, Kirsten L. Taylor, Introduction to Global Politics, Second Edition, London−New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2012, 434].

[15] On this issue, see in [Vladislav B. Sotirović, “Emigration, Refugees and Ethnic Cleansing in Yugoslavia 1991–2001 in the Context of Transforming Ethnographical Borders into National-State Borders”, Dalia Kuizinienė (ed.) Beginnings and Ends of Emigration: Life without Borders in Contemporary World, A collection of scholarly essays issued by Vytautas Magnus University and The Lithuanian Emigration Institute, Kaunas: Versus Aureus, 2005, 85–108].

[16] Akın Özçer, Çoğul İspanya, Ankara: İmge Kitabevi Yayınları, 2006, 71−75.

[17] The economic issue of independence is also playing the crucial role in the case of those Scotts who do not support Scotland’s political independence from the UK.

[18] This syndrome was mostly visible in the case of the Kosovo War 1998−1999 when a terrorist Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army did everything in order to provoke Serbia’s security forces to accept violence as a part of the game [Др Радослав Ђ. Гаћиновић, Насиље у Југославији, Београд: Евро, 2002, 289−305]. The rest of the story was in the hands of the Western corporate mass media and the US/EU’s diplomacy of gangsterism.

[19] However, if such argument would prevail in those Yugoslav separatist republics and province of Kosovo, Yugoslavia will never be destroyed.

[20] Katalan Ulusu Tanındı, [].

[21] On the Austrian-Hungarian compromise (Ausgleich) of 1867, see in [Robert A. Kann, A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526−1918, Second and corrected Edition, Barkley−Los Angeles−London: 1977].

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