Catalonia: The collision course of independence

Article published on Feb. 11, 2014
Article published on Feb. 11, 2014

Yesterday the Catalonian government - who have described their independence process as an unstoppable train- announced that their proposed referendum will take place on 9 November 2014 and ask two questions: Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If yes, do you want it to be an independent state? But the Spanish government says that the consultation will not go ahead. A train crash seems inevitable.

So it fi­nally left the sta­tion, the train which is supposedly driving Cat­alo­nia towards a head-on col­li­sion with Spain at some in­def­i­nite, un­pre­dictable mo­ment over the coming year. The train's en­gine, the referendum on independence, has been instigated by a 100% Cata­lan con­sor­tium. Aboard the train are the Cata­lan na­tion­al­ist coali­tion, CiU- the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, the left-wing in­de­pen­den­ce party ERC as the head of dream en­gi­neer­ing, the Ecoso­cial­ist party ICV-EUIA is to bring a qual­i­fied work­force and some small in­vest­ment (risk-free, of course), and fi­nally the rad­i­cal left-wing in­de­pen­den­ce party CUP, whose local sup­port will en­sure the de­mo­c­ra­tic qual­ity of the seats from the pas­sen­gers' point of view.

Which station to alight at?

This train, which, dis­ap­point­ing the more op­ti­mistic of Span­ish hopes, started its jour­ney from Barcelona to Madrid on 1 February, is made up of two coaches. Or rather, two ques­tions. Those wish­ing to board the front coach, pre­dictably crammed, will need to buy a ticket to 'The State' (sup­pos­edly fed­eral, though this is not spec­i­fied), but this does not mean there will be any­one wait­ing for the pas­sen­gers who alight at this uni­lat­eral sta­tion. For the most dar­ing pas­sen­gers, those who pur­chase the sec­ond ticket, their final des­ti­na­tion awaits with a crash, a giant leap and an arrival at the 'In­de­pen­dent State'.

As­sum­ing of course that there is no sud­den de­rail­ment due to the wear and tear on the track or the sab­o­tage of a gov­ern­ment civil ser­vant. Even be­fore the news of the train's de­par­ture, Spain opted for the Ser­bian tack, mak­ing threats left right and cen­tre: "If there has to be a crash, let it be against a con­sti­tu­tional wall, that's if we don't man­age to blow up the train in its path at some ju­di­cial stop over." Nothing new here.

So what does the world think of the lat­est Iber­ian mess?

On the other side of the chan­nel, both the Eng­lish and the Irish press have lim­ited them­selves to de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Al­though the most con­ser­v­a­tive media out­lets have made the Gov­ern­ment's veto head­line news while the rest have opted for more neu­tral head­lines, cov­er­age of the news has been in gen­eral fairly im­par­tial, par­tic­u­larly in light of the fact that the coun­try faces a Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence vote due to take place just be­fore the Cata­lan poll.

The BBC does high­light the steady de­ter­mi­na­tion of the Cata­lan par­ties to crash their train and even Reuters notes that it would be dif­fi­cult to stop the vote whilst it is tak­ing place. But no-one in the UK seems to be afraid of the Cata­lan in­de­pen­dent train. They did in­vent the rail­ways after all!

The French press, tra­di­tion­ally more ret­i­cent than the Eng­lish when it comes to such is­sues, con­tin­ues to lean to­ward the Span­ish gov­ern­ment. The head­line in Le Monde thus fo­cuses on the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the in­de­pen­dence vote as an "im­broglio" and re­ports the state­ment made by the pres­i­dent of the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil, Her­mann Van Rompuy, who con­firmed that any sep­a­rate state would be­come a third party in re­la­tion to the EU and made short work of the lat­est protest from the sup­port­ers of the Cat­alon­ian Con­sti­tu­tion. This is gen­er­ally the view held by all the major media out­lets in France, with the ex­cep­tion per­haps of Li­bé­ra­tion, which re­mains more im­par­tial.

In Ger­many, where they are more used to pass­ing judge­ment on re­sults than hopes and wishes, the news went al­most un­no­ticed ex­cept by one of the coun­try's lead­ing news­pa­pers, the Süddeuts­che Zei­tung. They re­ported that the Cata­lan local gov­ern­ment had scheduled the referendum for 9 No­vem­ber 2014. They ex­plained how this would work - if you vote for independence, you have to choose between one of the two destinations detailed above, The German newspaper also noted the eco­nomic weight of Cat­alo­nia within the state as well as its in­hab­i­tants' wish for fis­cal and fi­nan­cial au­ton­omy.

On the other side of the pond, the New York Times fol­lowed the line of Reuters and added their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion: "Will it be a dead-end?" asked the New York daily, high­light­ing Spain's de­ci­sion to veto the vote and putting the Cata­lan sit­u­a­tion - which it com­pared to that of Scot­land - in the con­text of a rise in such in­de­pen­dence move­ments back in the old con­ti­nent.

The coun­try's sec­ond news­pa­per, the Wash­ing­ton Post, wrapped up the issue with news from the As­so­ci­ated Press. The story con­trasted the Span­ish gov­ern­ment's intransigence with the compromising approach of the Cata­lan ad­min­is­tra­tion. It also com­pared Cat­alo­nia's au­ton­omy within Spain with the sta­tus of Puerto Rico as a part of the United States, despite the fact that both states have lit­tle in com­mon in terms of po­lit­i­cal recog­ni­tion.