Mundeo asked Gerard Pasanau 4 questions about Catalonia in order to better understand this region.
1. What are the main specificities that characterize Catalonia compared to other Spanish regions?
Catalonia is an important asset of Spain’s economy as it represents about 19% of the Spanish Gross Domestic Product and about 16% of the Spanish population. It’s one of the richest and most highly industrialized regions and it attracts a powerful amount of investment from foreign companies as it happened with Amazon. Catalonia is a relevant site for small, medium and big companies.
Catalonia is a region with a strong identity. Among other things, it has its own language, its own flag with red and yellow stripes, its own anthem, called Els Segadors, as well as its own police with the Mossos d’Esquadra. Catalonia developed its strong identity through the years with key moments in the history. Two of them were “el Renaixement” (the Reborning”) in the late 19th century, a period of a regain of force of the Catalan culture after some decades of being in the shadows. The second moment is the Mancomunitat de Catalunya (1914-1925), a territorial administration that was the first Catalan institution recognized by the Spanish state.
As I was saying, it is through the years that Catalonia achieves a strong identity. There are more key points in history but these two specific periods have a major importance.
2. Political issues in Catalonia regularly concern the independence process. On the whole, are Catalans in favor of the independence?
On the whole, it was seen in the last regional elections in Catalonia (September 27th, 2015) that 48% of the voters voted for pro-independence parties (Junts Pel Si and Candidatura d’Unitat Popular). Those who were against the independence of Catalonia pointed out that 48% is not the majority, and that an election is not a referendum for independence.
If we look at facts:
– NO majority of votes for independence in the last election (48%), although independentist parties have the majority of seats: 72 out of 135.
– Most of the Members of Parliament are for the right to decide in a referendum what Catalonia wants to be.
So, the solution would be a legal referendum, yet the agreement of the Spanish Government is required for such an event, and the Government is against this idea, arguing that the Catalan independence movement threatens the territorial integrity of Spain. To host a referendum is something that would be very complicated in the future as well because the PP (right wing) and PSOE (left wing), the two main Spanish political parties, are against it.
After the regional elections of September, Carles Puigdemont has been invested new president of the regional Parliament. Carles Puigdemont, former mayor of Gerona, is a different politician than Artur Mas, well known for his tug-of-war with Madrid on Catalonia independence. They don’t have the same profile, yet Puigdemont is also in favor of Catalonia’s independence, however he is less antipathetic and he is a figure of a strong consensus. He is a humble person and a recognized independentist who knows his role in this table.
A mass demonstration calling for the independence of Catalonia on 11 September, 2015, Catalonia’s National Day (La Diada). Rights for the photo go to Day Donaldson. Photo Flickr.
3. While the EU countries and Turkey have recently concluded a controversial agreement to send back to Turkey all migrants arriving in Europe, the Catalonian government said that it was ready to host refugees.
Yes, the Catalonian government said that it was ready to host 4,500 refugees and that it could even immediately receive 1,800 of them. Here in Barcelona, the local government declared that the city could welcome refugees. There is a strong sentimentalization with the refugees in Catalonia. The Spanish Government should ask itself why they do not want to accept refugees. Catalonia does not have competences in this refugee’s drama, so it is trying to make some pressure for the Spanish government to do something with it.
The city hall of Barcelona, with « Refugees Welcome » displayed. Rights for the photo go to Europapress.
4. Does Catalonia have a foreign policy?
Yes, Catalonia do has a foreign policy. First of all, Catalonia has a Secretariat for Foreign and European Affairs. Secondly, it has offices spread around the world in important capitals (Paris, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Brussels, London and Washington). Moreover, the Catalan government deputy minister for external affairs, Roger Albinyana, declared in 2015 that Catalonia has the intention « in the coming months and years to open fifty offices around the world ». He explained that the Catalan representations would sometimes deal with multiple countries.
Taking this into consideration, we could ask ourselves what are the main guideline of Catalonia’s foreign policy? Well, the big guidelines of the Catalan foreign policy are to promote Catalan firms, to attract foreign investment, to promote the Catalan culture (like St. Jordi’s festival) and language abroad, especially throughout the Instituts Ramon Llull, and to foster tourism and cooperation.
Map of the government delegations abroad. The image is from the Secretariat for Foreign and European Affairs website of the Catalonian government.