Foreign Policy Blogs

An Independent Catalonia May Promote Worldwide Independence Movements

People fly “Estelada” flags (Catalan separatist flag) during a pro-independence rally in Barcelona, Spain June 11, 2017. (REUTERS/Albert Gea)

National governments in federally unified states rarely allow for a national legal process to break up its own Federation. The legality of the upcoming referendum on Catalonia’s independence from Spain did not meet the legal requirements it needed to in order to depart from Spain, but if they declare independence, the Spanish courts may no longer have the presumed jurisdiction to stop a separation.

Catalonia was always a strong contender for independence due to its economic strength as a region, the historical divide via culture and language to the rest of Spain, and the existence of the EU that gives more of a weighed representation to regional governments in national forums. With the possible fracturing of the EU, the recent referendum might be the last best opportunity to separate from Spain for the Catalan people, or at least may give Catalonia a stronger position in a federated Spanish state.

A case in Canada in the Supreme Court of that country set to legitimize Quebec’s separation from the rest of Canada many years ago. The requirements were not met to separate Quebec from Canada constitutionally at the time. While cultural differences are recognized by most people who have spent anytime in Quebec, financially Quebec was heavily linked to the rest of Canada. With Catalans citing the amount of tax dollars going to Madrid’s central government as one of the catalysts for separation, Quebec and even the Canadian province of Alberta may take a separation of Catalonia from Spain as a sign of the times for their own provinces. The impression of a unified community in one region having to financially support the rest of Spain links pocket book issues with that of culture.

In Canada, the largest and most industrially developed province that is the home of the national capital, Ontario, has what many claim as the largest sub-sovereign debt in the world. This means Ontario as an independent province has more debt than any other regional government in the world, and more than many nation states and large US states like California and New York. With Quebec and other provinces moving ahead economically, the view is that Canada’s main economic hub is deteriorating.

With economic interdependence turning into an economic burden, places like Catalonia and Quebec may be able to remove some of the shared debt that comes with being in a federated state by shedding the very governments that have accumulated the majority of the national debt. While financial situations are not a sole cause of leaving a state, it does point to an opportunity for independence. In Ontario, recent corruption trials involving the current government also does not help show a positive trend to Quebec, Alberta or the rest of Canada.

Scotland’s fight against being removed from the EU post-Brexit or Quebec leaving Canada depends heavily on economic independence as much as cultural and political independence. With those regions being such a large part of the UK and Canada respectively, it is hard to imagine either country existing without the other. When the vision is that those regions can exist on their own without the need or ties to the capital, the recipe for independence comes as it has in Catalonia. A lesson for federal states is to remember that bad policy can lead to the end of the current incarnations of a state, and that measured policies may suit a federation better than radical policy moves that are established mostly just to keep one’s job in politics. These issues should be presented clearly in the upcoming referendum vote or any others in the future.



Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration


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