Spain is facing one the most significant challenges to the coherence of its nation-state in its history. The regional parliament of Catalonia, a formerly independent kingdom bordering France in the northeast of the Iberian peninsula, Catalonia has a language and culture that are related but distinct from that of the dominant central plateau of Spain wherein lies Castile. It was Castile, when it was joined to León in the mid-1500s, that formed the critical mass necessary to build Spain as a modern state.
During the late medieval era and the early Renaissance period, Catalonia was an important center of textile manufacturing power. It was long the richest part of Spain and had mercantile influence throughout the Mediterranean and much of Europe. The Catalonian language is spoken in Catalonia and in neighboring Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Highly-industrialized Catalonia is now seeking to reinvent itself as a technology hub. The unique architecture of its capital, Barcelona, and its beaches attract plenty of tourist dollars.
The resolution that the Catalan regional parliament passed this week called for secession from Spain, while setting out a plan to inaugurate an independent Catalan republic within 18 months by establishing government institutions such as a tax collection office. The independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country were among the factors that led to the onset of Spain’s fratricidal Civil War in 1936. Since the 1970s and the death of President Francisco Franco, bombings and assassinations by Basque separatists have not managed to seriously contest control over the nation from Madrid. The legal approach taken by Catalonia, may prove to be more effective at disintegrating Spain.
The current government, which is under the Popular Party – a right-of –center liberal party – filed an appeal with Spain’s Constitutional Court on November 11. The government seeks to block the independence push while preserving national cohesion.
"It's not just a reaction to a motion passed in parliament, this is about defending a whole country," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a news conference after a cabinet meeting on November 11. Rajoy vowed that Catalonia will not be allowed to divorce itself from Spain. Catalonia accounts for approximately one fifth of Spain’s economic output.
A national election is due on December 20, resulting in an escalation of debate over the possible national breakup. Rajoy and his party are calling on Spaniards to support national unity. In addition, Spain is still suffering the effects of the 2008 economic and financial meltdown: one out of every five Spaniards are unemployed. Rajoy declared, "This is blatant disregard for the state's institutions. They are trying to do away with democracy. I will not allow it." Rajoy declared.
Critics of Catalan independence point out that other regions of Spain also have unique linguistic and cultural assets. By conceding Catalonia’s nationalist demands, the door would be open for regions such as Galicia and the Basque Country to do the same.
The Constitutional Court unanimously declared itself today in opposition to the separation of Catalonia. Any move by Catalonia to flout the ruling, whether by its government or parliament, will be considered a crime. Among them would be the president of the Catalonian parliament, Carme Forcadell and the acting leader of Catalonia’s regional governing body (La Generalitat) Artur Mas. Mas lost his bid on November 10 to remain at the head of the regional government, while further rounds of voting will be held.
The fission in Spain comes at a time when the unity of Europe as a whole has been held up to scrutiny. Besides restless Spaniards, other regions of Europe have long held irredentist and separatist ambitions. For example, Corsica – a Mediterranean island near Italy that is ruled by Greece – has long had a terrorist movement, while French Basques have also had such ambitions. Scotland has not quite broken off from the United Kingdom, but a clamor for independence still remains. Also, the Frisian region of The Netherlands has long nurtured a desire for independence.
With the influx of what is expected to be a cohort of more than 1 million migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere that have been welcomed into Europe due to the generous attitude of the current German government, the cohesion of the European Union is at stake. Due to the Schengen Treaty, citizens of signatory countries of Europe can travel freely within the European Space. The admission of hundreds of thousands of non-European mostly Muslim migrants has sparked concerns over national security and sovereignty in places like Croatia, Greece, and Hungary. The latter is now embarked on building a wall to either prevent the entry of non-Europeans or to divert them away from Hungarian territory. Nationalist parties, such as New Dawn in Greece, have emerged and called upon governments to deport immigrants and prevent their entry.
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