Ley y política en Cataluña

Why Catalonia Should Stay with Spain

BARCELONA, Spain- “García,” my second name, is the most common surname in Spain. It is also the most common surname in Catalonia, in each and every one of its four provinces. Culturally, too, Catalonia and the rest of Spain are basically the same: We mostly watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music and enjoy the same movies.

Our shared history, too, is long and deep. Catalonia has been an integral part of Spain since the nation’s inception. To be sure, Spain is also a country with a complex history formed by the joining of different medieval kingdoms. The Catalans actively participated in that process, helping to draw up the first Spanish Constitution, the Cádiz one in 1812, which established Spain’s modern nationhood.

Before that, Catalonia, as a part of the Kingdom of Aragon, was an essential element in the political unity that began with the Catholic monarchs in the 15th century. Even the very beginnings of Catalonia, back in the ninth century, are linked to the creation by Charlemagne of the Spanish March, the Frankish empire’s defensive buffer against Moorish rule. The history of Catalonia itself is unintelligible outside the Spanish framework.

Spain’s complex history is reflected in language. While Catalan, Galician and Euskara (or Basque) are all languages spoken by the Spanish, Castilian Spanish is the mother tongue of most Spaniards, about 82 percent of the population, according to a 2012 Eurobarometer survey. Spanish is also the mother tongue for a majority of Catalans, about 55 percent.

In short, Catalan society is fully a part of Spanish society, and it is easy for Catalans to identify as compatriots with all other Spaniards. Spain’s economy and Catalonia’s are likewise inextricably linked — about 40 percent of Catalonia’s exports go to the rest of Spain.

I insist on these ideas because the Catalan separatist movement likes to highlight the presumed differences between Catalonia and Spain, as if they could be considered two different realities. Only a minority of Catalans shares that view: According to polls, less than 23 percent of the population feels exclusively Catalan; more than 72 percent of respondents identify as Spanish to some extent.

The current Constitution of 1978 was successful in setting up a country that, while maintaining unity, allowed for the creation of “autonomous communities,” which let the different regions of Spain gain limited rights of self-government. The system of governance is far from simple, since not all of these autonomous communities enjoy the same powers, and there are shared powers between the central state and the regions. But the arrangement is probably the one that best responds to the country’s characteristics.

Since the establishment of the 1978 Constitution, the Catalan community has acquired considerable autonomy. At present, the regional government oversees education, health, some infrastructure, policing and prisons. The Spanish government retains authority over customs, borders and international relations, although this doesn’t prevent the Catalan government from carrying out what is referred to as “external action” — involving dealings with other countries — provided it doesn’t interfere with the state’s prerogatives. Many Catalans are perfectly satisfied with the current situation, which includes, through Spain, membership in the European Union.

That is why many Catalans like me have concerns about the secessionist movement that now controls the government and the regional Parliament. We do not want a movement to full independence that would separate us from Spain, turning Catalonia into something different from what it is now.

We are also worried that such a separation would distance us from the European Union. Despite the secessionists’ mantra that independence for Catalonia would not lead to exclusion from the European Union, the practical matter is that if Catalonia became a new state, it could not be a member of the European Union until the member states approved its incorporation. That would take years of negotiation, at best — a scenario of uncertainty and risk that is neither justified nor desirable.

Many Catalans are also concerned about the regional government’s use of the powers it already has. In its push to create a new state, the regional government is already breaking the law, defying the courts and usurping state powers. For example, public schools give most classes in Catalan, including to those children who speak Spanish as their mother tongue.

The power the regional government wields in foreign affairs is being used to try to establish diplomatic relations with other countries to win international support for secession. In the process, the Catalan government is suspected of using public funds to build the structures that a new state would need. This has involved, it has been alleged, the setting up of databases, illegally and outside the regulatory framework, to enable the future collection of taxes now largely managed by the Spanish state.

These actions by the regional government threaten the democratic guarantees of Catalans under the Spanish Constitution. If the secessionists in the Catalan Parliament and executive branch continue their reckless push for independence, it will threaten all the advantages of stability, prosperity and security that Catalans have enjoyed for decades by being part of the European Union, and for centuries by being part of Spain.

Rafael Arenas García is a law professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.






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