EU, Russia and the ‘Inglorious End’ of Catalan Self-Determination

13 november 2017

Daria Kazarinova

Resume: The forces inclined to continue the “process” of ever-increasing, but never final, independence of Catalonia from Spain continue to play a crucial role in the politics of this region.

he forces inclined to continue the “process” of ever-increasing, but never final, independence of Catalonia from Spain continue to play a crucial role in the politics of this region. The “inglorious end” of Catalan self-determination is explained by the fact that the Catalan elites themselves did not need such a result, as the process itself was what mattered for them.

  The public opinion about the future of Catalonia continues to be 50/50 split. According to a poll by El Periódico newspaper on November 9, 2017, out of 20,000 respondents answering the question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state with the republican form of government?”, 46.1% of respondents were in favour and 53.9% were against. The same figures are given by other polls, which predict that parties supporting independence will together gain 45% of the vote.

  There is no real civil confrontation that could spill out uncontrollably into the street. Nevertheless, the so-called Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), local public groups, which emerged a few weeks before the October 1 referendum with the purpose of seizing the buildings of educational institutions where the voting took place, are actively destabilizing the situation. The CDRs, associated with the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, have shown high ability to rapidly mobilize the population during the strike using Twitter messages, involving thousands of people in the blockade of roads and rail lines.

  Thus, the forces inclined to continue the “process” of ever-increasing (but never final) independence of Catalonia from Spain – the so called procesistas – continue to play a crucial role in the politics of this region. According to the Russian scholar Irina Semenenko, the “inglorious” end of Catalan self-determination is explained by the fact that the Catalan elites themselves did not need such a result (Carles Puigdemont only prolonged the situation, preserved intrigue, etc.), as the process itself was what mattered for them.

 How does Catalonia prepare for the elections?

On December 21, more than 5.5 million Catalans will vote, both inside and outside Catalonia (over 200,000 are not living in Spain, but they have the right to vote). Elections in Catalonia mean the development of a new political agenda for the region. For a very long time, the idea that Catalonia had been ready for independence for a long time was the formative myth of Catalan politics. In October 2017, this idea was in many ways discredited.

Ex-President Carles Puigdemont and four ex-advisors of the Catalan government, exempted on probation by the Belgian authorities, are engaged in negotiations to find a candidate who would head the list on the December 21 elections. But on the eve of the election the supporters of independence are disunited. The Junta Electoral reports on four small-format coalitions of independistas, registered for the elections: the left Esquerra Republicana – Catalunya Sí, the small coalition of Puigdemont’s party Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català – Pacte Democràtic, which is urgently looking for a new leader; populist anti-systemic En Comú Podem – Catalunya en Comú, and almost marginal Recortes Cero – Grupo Verde.

International organizations and the EU reaction to the Catalan crisis

Amnesty International did not recognize the arrested leaders of Catalonia’s independence supporters as “prisoners of conscience”,but it recommends that they should be released and charges removed. In general, with respect to the supporters of independence there is some kind of instruction at the European and national levels: to act within the laws and established procedures, but following the most moderate scenario.

The position of the European Union on the issue of Catalonia received a very characteristic expression in the speech of Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, on November 11, 2017, when he was awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of the oldest Spanish university in Salamanca. He never used the word Catalonia and did not mention the crisis, but declared a resounding “no” to any form of separatism that “weakens Europe and further widens the existing fissures”, as well as to threats and risks to the European project from all kinds of “nationalism, populism and separatism.” Juncker stressed the importance of the EU unity in the face of forces that put into question its very existence and try to split the European community.

The “Russian trace” in the Catalan crisis

The idea of “Russian involvement” in the Catalan crisis is being actively promoted within the EU. A special group of experts, East Stratcom Task Force, under the leadership of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, works to expose the “propaganda” and “fake news” of the supposedly pro-Russian media, using the specially created website EUvsDisinfo.eu.

Russia is presented as a major threat to Spain and the EU by prominent members of the European Parliament. Direct accusations against Russia and its involvement in the Catalan crisis were expressed by Sandra Kalniete from Latvia, vice-chairman of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, and by Victor Bostinaru from Romania, vice-president of the European Socialist Group.

It seems that the European Union is actively using the anti-Russia rhetoric to legitimize its third pillar – foreign and defence policy. There has been talk about a unified defence strategy of the EU for a long time. Presenting Russia as the main threat will speed up this process. In this context, the Catalan elites are presented as stray sheep and toys in the hands of secret Russian forces, which means that the EU must strengthen its supranational European sovereignty, with considerable budget allocations along the way.

Valdai International Discussion Club

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