The right of a people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.
Chapter 1 of The Charter of the United Nation states in Article 1.2 that one of the purposes of the UN is “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 from 1960 states in point 2 that: “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
The concept was first expressed in the 1860s, later encouraged by United States President Woodrow Wilson. Having announced his Fourteen Points, on 11 February 1918 Wilson stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. ‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.
Nations such as Estonia, Latvia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Quebec in Canada or Scotland have exercised their right to self-determination.
In the late 10th century, the Catalan counties stopped transferring taxes to the Frankish kings and, thus, became fully independent. The Principality of Catalonia integrated into the Crown of Aragon creating a confederation of individual polities or kingdoms. In 1442 it comprised the territories of Balearic Islands, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, Southern Italy (from 1442) and parts of Greece.
The Generalitat of Catalunya (the Catalan government) is an institution that has its origins in the Catalan Courts of the 13th century, which met with the convening of the King as representatives of the social estates of the time.
In 1469 with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the crowns of Aragon and Castile were united. However, this union of the crowns did not result in a union of the Parliaments and other institutions. In 1641 after the revolt of the Reapers, the Catalan Republic was proclaimed by Pau Claris. This short-lived independent state, under French protection, lasted until 1652.
In the early 18th century, the international conflict known as the War of the Spanish Succession ended with the victory of Philip V of the French House of Bourbon, who had been opposed by all of the Crown of Aragon territories, especially the Principality of Catalonia. Empires such as Great Britain and the Netherlands defended the Catalans, who were in favour of the Archduke of Austria Charles III’s claim to the Spanish throne. The Allies withdrew their forces in 1713 (under the Treaty of Utrecht), but Catalonia continued to fight on alone. After 14 months of continuous bombardment, Barcelona finally capitulated to the Franco-Spanish army. The subsequent repression was fierce. Philip V abolished the Catalan State and the rest of the Crown of Aragon and ruled them under the Castilian absolutist law. This represents the birth of Spain as a unitary State.
Since 1714, Catalans have only enjoyed twice the limited self-government granted by Spanish law: during the Second Republic (1931 – 1939) and since 1977, when, after 36 years of dictatorship by General Franco, the Generalitat was reinstated, the legitimate governing body of Catalonia.
Since 1714, the yearning to recover Catalonia’s self-government is a struggle shared between the majority of the citizens of the country. This yearning grew stronger during the Second Republic, and during Franco’s dictatorship went underground. Once the dictator died, however, Catalonia settled for a regional autonomy in 1978.
Franco’s death was followed by the beginning of the transition, a process that was meant to bring democracy to Spain and help its full integration into Europe but left the old sources of power intact. The necessary break with the past never happened. Spain is the only country in Europe that never truly had a break with its dictatorial past.
In 2005, the Catalan parliament approved a reform of the Statute of Autonomy with the support of 120 MPs (only 15 voted against) by which it recognized Catalonia as a nation, it gave Catalan language primacy over Spanish, it defined new areas of exclusive competence and established a new body to collect taxes. This reform however was taken to the Spanish Constitutional Court by Mariano Rajoy (the conservative opposition leader at the time) and finally in May 2006 a watered down version of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy was approved by the Spanish Congress and Senate, breaking the de facto constitutional agreement between Catalonia and Spain from 1978. This reform was then ratified in a Catalan referendum held in June 2006 with a very low turn out (just under 50%).
Again in 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court decided to modify the Catalan Statute by rewriting 14 articles and dictating the interpretation for 27 other articles, mostly related to language, justice and financial regulation. Catalonia as a “nation” was stolen of any legal meaning and the Catalan and Spanish languages had to have the same status. This curtailment of rights, added to the publication for the first time ever by the Spanish government of data on the net fiscal contributions of all regions that showed that up to 8.7% of Catalan GDP was spent elsewhere in Spain, drove Catalan citizens to the first massive march in Barcelona under the slogan “Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim!” (“We are a nation. We decide!”) in July 2010. Catalan public opinion grew increasingly in favour to hold a referendum on independence and since then, every year pro-independence Catalans have protested every year on 11th September (la Diada, Catalonia’s national day) in mass rallies to attract national and international attention to the cause.
At the political level, in 2012 Catalan President Artur Mas requested a new finance deal with Madrid, to which Spanish President Rajoy replied that the proposal was “contrary to the Constitution”. After the election in Catalonia of November 2012, the parties in favor of a referendum for independence were occupying 80% of the seats, and a referendum deal was discussed but denied by the Spanish Congress in April 2014. Nevertheless, despite a Constitutional Court ban, Catalan President Artur Mas called for a non-binding informal vote (”participation process”, for which he was later on banned from public office) where 2.3 million Catalans (36% turnout) cast their vote and 80.8% supported independence.
After the new elections at the Catalan Parliament of September 2015 which were presented as a de facto plebiscite, pro-independence parties won 48% of the vote and an absolute majority (unionist parties won 39% of the vote). Puigdemont came out as the new Catalan President and again a new attempt to negotiate Catalan finances and referendum was rejected by Madrid.
In September 2017 the Catalan Parliament passed a referendum law and called the October 1st referendum, together with a law that would regulate the transition if there were a Yes result. Madrid’s central government brought both laws to the Constitutional Court that called for an immediate suspension. Despite the arrest of Catalan government officials and the violence of Spanish police to suppress the voting and seize ballot boxes, the referendum took place with a turnout of 43% and 90% “Yes” vote, and on 27th October the Catalan parliament voted for secession.
Catalonia has one of the oldest parliamentary traditions of in Europe. During the 11th century, a primitive form of parliamentary system already existed in Catalonia: the Assembly of Peace and Truce. Formed by peasants and clerics, it aimed to limit the powers of feudal lords. Some years later, in 1283, one of the earliest parliament was created, Les Corts Catalanes, a deal-making system that prohibited the King from promulgating constitutions or levying general taxes without the authorization of the three estates: the military, the church and nobility.
This parliamentary, democratic and consensual tradition has always guided Catalonia when trying to solve the problem of its political relationship with Spain. The solution that the Government of Catalonia has repeatedly proposed to the Spanish Government since 2012 is that of a binding referendum in accordance with international legislation and the United Nations. It has always been rejected.
Catalonia started in 2012 an independence process (commonly referred as ‘the process’) as a way to gain independence through a binding referendum.
Catalonia has repeatedly tried to find common ground with Spain since in 1714 lost its rights. Many Catalans believe it is no longer possible and they see the Catalan Republic as the way to guarantee their political and civil rights. The problem has been aggravated in the last years with unjustified repression and police violence on the occasion of the October 1 referendum and with the imprisonment of Catalan civil and political leaders.
Catalan is Catalonia’s own language. In the 9th century, it had evolved from Latin and belongs to the branch of Romance languages such as French, Portuguese, Italian or Spanish. Catalan, Occitan (spoken in the Val d’Aran valley) and Spanish are official languages in Catalonia.
Catalan is spoken in an area of more than 68,000 km2 in four different states: Andorra, Spain (Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and eastern Aragon), France (northern Catalonia) and Italy (in the city of Alghero in Sardinia) .
About 10 million people speak Catalan actively and about 12 million understand it. It is the 9th most spoken language in the European Union.
2% of the EU population speaks or knows Catalan, more than Danish, Finnish, Lithuanian, Slovene, Estonian, Irish, Latvian, and Maltese. In spite of this, Catalan is not official in the EU due to the opposition of Spain.
With Franco’s dictatorship, Catalan was absolutely prohibited in educational, official and public scopes. That is why there are whole generations that have not enjoyed schooling in Catalan have trouble in writing it. In the 1980’s, after Franco’s death, Catalan was reinstated as the main language of the Catalan educational system with “linguistic immersion” methodology.
With the linguistic immersion every person (children and adults) has a total access to learning Catalan and Spanish As a result no one can be discriminated against for language reasons, and language serves as a basic tool for communication as well as a tool for social cohesion.
The Catalan language immersion model is a case study for educational communities around the world, except for Spain where it is periodically and systematically put to debate based on prejudices without any scientific basis.
Since 1988, Catalonia has been one of the 4 Motors of Europe; along with the German land of Baden-Württemberg, the Italian Lombardy and the French region of Auvergne-Rhone-Alps.
For a long time, Catalonia has headed the ranking of Spanish regions in terms of their share of Spain’s GDP. Currently, Catalan contribution is 19% of the total Spanish GDP, followed by the Community of Madrid.
According to Spain’s treasury figures, Catalonia’s fiscal deficit (difference between the money sent to Madrid and the money it receives back and is spent in Catalonia) reached 16.570 billion euros in 2014, equivalent to 8.4% of its GDP, according to a 2018 study published by the Catalan Government. Catalonia contributed to 19.5% of the revenues of the Central Administration and the Social Security and received only 14% of the Central Administration and Social Security expenditures (Catalan population is 16% of Spanish population; Catalan GDP is 18,9% of Spanish GDP). Excluding Social Security payments Catalonia contributed to 19.7% of the Central Administration revenues and received only 11.1% of the Central Administration expenditures. This means that the return of each euro paid in taxes to the central government is 56 cents. Of each euro paid 44 cents are not spent in Catalonia.
If a more restrictive criteria is employed (i.e. the benefit approach that considers that central ministries expenditures located in Madrid benefits equally all regions in Spain), Catalonia’s fiscal deficit was 11,590 billion euros in 2014. That is 5.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP).
In Spain, these fiscal flows cannot be attributed exclusively to a redistribution policy. There are rich regions that do not show fiscal deficit (Basque Country and Navarre); there are rich regions such as Aragon, Cantabria and la Rioja, that have a fiscal surplus (i.e. they receive net transfers). And finally, poor regions (with a GDP lower than average) have a fiscal deficit. The regional financing system, a system that overequalizes, and central government investment’s policy are mainly responsible for these results
The Catalan economy grew by 3.4% in 2017, just one tenth less than in 2016 and 2015. Thus, Catalan GDP growth stands three tenths above the whole of Spain and exceeds the euro zone average by one point. The results of the last three years (3.5% in 2015, 3.5% in 2016 and 3.4% in 2017), together with the results registered in 2014 (2.3%), represent a period of strong growth for the Catalan economy.
Many foreign companies have seen in Catalonia and especially Barcelona, the perfect place to settle in order to have a presence in southern Europe. At present, there are 8,642, with at least 50% of foreign capital, from 89 different countries, with Germany, France and the United States as the top investing countries. Catalonia is by far Spain’s top export region, with a quarter of all goods produced there sold abroad in 2016 and in the first quarter of 2017. It attracted about 14 percent of foreign investment in Spain in 2015.
Since 1986, with the integration to the EU market, as well as with world trade liberalization, the importance of the Spanish market for Catalonia has been reduced. In 2017, with an export record of 70,828 bilion euros, sales to foreign markets accounted for 64.5% of total external sales, while sales to Spain represented only 35.5%. Catalan exports represent 25.6% of total Spanish exports.
Catalonia, an exporting economy, would need a public investment complementary to its exporting industry, to favour the competitiveness of its firms in a globalising world. Yet, central government has systematically discriminated projects such as the rail freight transport connection with France and the improvement of the Mediterranean axis in favour of projects that interest political elites of the central government and give votes in the less dynamic regions.
The case of Catalonia in Spain is a good case study of the economic forces that shape the creation and break up of nations. The equilibrium of these forces has changed due to globalization and the development of regional blocs. Centripetal forces, pulling heterogeneous territories together, have weakened; and centrifugal forces, pushing towards disintegration, have been reinforced. In the case of Catalonia, the regional redistribution system is a key factor that would explain the growing dissatisfaction of the Catalan population but political and cultural issues are also very important.
Since the late 1990’s, both the conflicts of competences, the insufficient financing and the new challenges that the Catalan language and culture face in a globalizing world, have led to an increasing claim for independence. The failure in the implementation of the new Statute of Autonomy has been a key element for the electoral success of the independence movement.
There have been several moments in history when Catalonia has welcomed people from all over the world and we want it to continue happening.
In Catalonia, we believe diversity is essential for a rich and critical thinking society when it comes to making, sharing, living together and, above all, learning from each other on how to make a better society.
Many Catalans feel that Spain does not allow them to develop the social policies that the Parliament of Catalonia approves. Laws referring to energy poverty, climate change, gender equality, universal health, audio-visual tax and the welcoming of refugees have been systematically repealed by the Spanish courts of justice.
Sports, music, gastronomy, painting, literature… Catalonia stands out in different activities, from the most disciplinary to the most creative ones; it the result of this sense and fury (seny i rauxa) that are built in the Catalan character.
Names such as Kilian Jornet, Pep Guardiola, Mireia Belmonte, Xavi Hernández, Laia Sanz, Pau and Marc Gasol, Ona Carbonell, Ricky Rubio, Carles Puyol, Gemma Mengual, Marc Márquez, Pol and Aleix Espargaró and Dani Pedrosa excel in disciplines such as climbing, soccer, motorcycling, basketball and swimming; most of them are world champions. They are all just a sample of all the sporting talent that exists in Catalonia.
On the other hand, the sensitivity of Pau Casals with his cello and his commitment to the country during the civil postwar period, from exile, is an asset for all who live and work in Catalonia.
Dalí, Miró, Casas, Tàpias and Picasso they are all artists that were imbued with the Catalan creativity. Each one interpreted reality from Catalonia, be either through surrealism, abstract, dada, modernism or avant-garde.
Creativity also shows in the culinary arena. Many of the top restaurants in the world are in Catalonia: the Adrià brothers, the Roca brothers and Carme Ruscalleda, are among the world renowned Catalan chefs.
Every identity consists of several cultural traditions. Some have even crossed borders and are known beyond the Catalan countries. Sant Jordi, the book and the rose festival; Castanyada, the Catalan rendition of Haloween (much sweeter by the way); the Caga-tió, a trunk that for Christmas eats and brings children gifts when they hit it. And what about the Castellers, human towers 5 story tall built by as many as 300 people that are World Heritage. A metaphor of Catalonia, no doubt.