Atlantic Council – January 16 2014, BY PAUL R. WILLIAMS AND ROUSHANI MANSOOR
Today’s vote by the legislature of the Spanish region of Catalonia to formally petition Spain’s government to authorize a referendum on Catalonian independence is a reminder that Europe will face a challenge this year for which it seems unready. Even though Spain has firmly opposed the referendum, the Catalonians are sure to press ahead. This fall, both Catalonia and Scotland are likely to hold referenda on whether to become independent states. Europe is treating the issue of independence as an internal matter for Spain and the United Kingdom – a mistake that risks cracking the continent’s delicate unity.
Scotland will hold its vote with the consent of the United Kingdom. The two governments are negotiating over how to manage the political and economic uncertainty and strain resulting from the referendum itself, and the possibility of an independent Scotland.
Catalonia’s regional administration last month announced a November date for its referendum, which the Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy immediately vowed to block. Yet Catalonia continues to move toward a unilateral declaration of independence. The separatist movement has sustained its momentum since it organized a massive demonstration in Barcelona in 2012 that led the region’s parliament, days later, to approve a resolution affirming Catalonia’s right to declare independence.
It will be Europe, in the end, that decides whether Catalonia will be an independent state. The continent’s phobia of self-determination and its lack of any coherent approach to newly independent states leaves it ill-prepared to make this decision, which will strain the very foundation of Europe.