22 October 2017

UGlobe's Rapid Response on Catalonia

Thursday 19 October 2017, UGlobe organised its first ever rapid response. The goal of these rapid responses is to offer a platform for reflection and discussion on important current events or themes concerning the contested global order, and there is no better event to kick off with than the referendum concerning Catalonian independence – which was reflected in the turnout, which was so big we had to change to a larger room. The rapid response opened with the story of a Spanish exchange student, who travelled back to her home village in Catalonia to vote in the referendum and was willing to share her experience with us. After this our guests, prof. dr. Cedric Ryngaert and lecturer Stefanie Massink, shared their insights from their respective field of research.

Ryngaert, who is a professor of public international law, looked at the legal aspects and implications of the referendum and an eventual Catalonian declaration of independence. Even though international law does not explicitly prohibit declarations of independence, the right of external self-determination does not apply as there are no gross human rights violation in Catalonia. Even more, a unilateral Catalonian state secession would likely not be internationally recognized if it is not recognized by Spain, and even if a secession did succeed, Catalonia would not automatically become a EU-member, nor would it be able to fall back on WTO rules regarding international trade. Ryngaert concluded that it would be best to solve the current situation within a Spanish context, with far-reaching devolution probably being the best option.

After this, Massink, an expert on the history of Spanish democracy, gave us insight into the historical developments within Spain leading up to the referendum. Catalonia has a complex relation with autonomy, but in general the gist is that during times of democracy Catalonia has historically enjoyed considerable autonomy, while during dictatorship it had to virtually relinquish its autonomy and regional identity. The call for independence has only become a strong voice in recent years, especially since the contested 2006 Statute of Autonomy, the fear of recentralisation by the ruling Partido Popular and the economic crisis. Massink then argued that the conflict between Spain and Catalonia is also a conflict of framing and perception, in which the political divisions within Catalan society are often underexposed. She concluded that a transition 2.0 may be the necessary solution to this conflict, but in what direction a transition 2.0 is bound to head remains to be seen.

The event then turned to the public, which offered many interesting points of view, questions and discussion. This once more showed that a platform for reflection on these complex event is much needed, and which we hope to be able to provide.