in Catalonia turned out in record numbers on September 27 in support of a
growing regional aspiration: independence. The winning Parliamentary coalition vowed to
begin the process of secession as early as mid-October. With the idea gaining greater traction in
Catalonia, the region has confronted novel issues in law, economics, and its
relationship with the European Union.
desire for independence has deep roots in Catalonia. The region’s culture and distinct language,
Catalan, have been intermittently suppressed throughout Spain’s history. In September, a separatist coalition won a clear victory in the regional
parliament with 72 out of 135 possible seats. Regional President Artur Mas i
Gavarró had framed the election as a de facto referendum on
independence. Pro-independence parties won forty-eight
percent of the popular vote, while pro-union parties won just thirty-nine
percent; most of the remaining votes went to a party that advocates a
plebiscite to decide the issue.
The EU's lawyers are studying how Catalonia might become an EU member.
earlier November 2014 consultative vote on Catalonia’s independence indicated eighty
percent of Catalan voters supported independence from Spain; however, Spain’s constitutional court struck
down the vote on the basis that “Spanish regions do not have the right
under the Spanish Constitution to call referenda on matters affecting all
Spaniards.” Spain has refused to engage Catalonia on the
issue of independence. Spain’s prime minister has not discussed
independence with Catalonia’s president since 2014. Furthermore, two days after the recent
vote, Mas was charged with “civil disobedience, perversion of
justice, embezzlement, and usurpation of power” for conducting the November
2014 independence referendum.
If Catalonia becomes independent, the European Union
will have to reevaluate its relationship with the newly formed nation. Whether
an independent Catalonia could remain in the European Union is still unclear. Although
secession movements have become more commonplace, the European Union still has
not developed an effective policy for dealing with an actual secession.
Catalonia is in a unique position, because, as a
Spanish region, it already belongs to the European Union. While European and international law regulate
how countries completely outside the European Union can become members, they
are silent on how accession would operate for a region that is already part of
a member state. The two alternative approaches available to
the European Union place it in a particularly sensitive predicament. Many
countries have tried to quell the growing tide of secessionism because of its possible
ramifications. If the European Union recognized Catalonia as a
state its decision could possibly affect secessionist movements in Belgium,
Slovakia, Romania, and Cyprus. Consequently, how the European Union chooses to interact with Catalonia and
whether it can attain membership has larger implications for its other members.
Catalonia, however, remains hopeful that the member
states of the European Union would be open to trade negotiations. Attaining European Union membership is a major
aspiration for Catalonia. In talks with international European leaders
and EU representatives, Catalonia concluded that the EU would take a calculated,
reasoned approach if independence occurred and that automatic expulsion is
highly unlikely. Catalonia and regions
seeking greater autonomy find solace in the European Union because it
encourages democratic regional cooperation while also allowing for autonomy. Catalonia has been able to assert regional autonomy and compete
internationally. Catalonia has asserted
itself within European Union, by maintaining its own regional delegation in
Brussels since 1986 and by participating in the EU’s Committee of the Regions
that the Maastricht Treaty created in 1994. Refusing to recognize a newly independent
Catalonia would undermine the European Union’s democratic social underpinnings and
negatively affect its economy. Isolating
Catalonia, an economic powerhouse, would cause unnecessary stress on the
Alternatively, some leaders in the European Commission
and the European Council have opined that “European treaties would
automatically cease to be applicable in the territory of a new state resulting
from the division of a member state of the Union” and that such a new state
would have to apply for membership. These leaders believe the European
Union’s position on the matter is quite clear and the possible division of a
current member does not pose novel issues. Yet the Commission refused to issue a formal
statement in 2004 about the process for such a nation until a specific case
arose and a full legal analysis done.
If Catalonia were to secede without its independence
being recognized by the European Union, it would remain part of the European
Union. The question of EU entry would not arise
unless the EU recognized Catalonia as an independent state. In order to join the European Union a country
must meet the so-called Copenhagen requirements:
institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect
for and protection of minorities
A functioning market economy and
the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU
The ability to take on and
implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the
aims of political, economic and monetary union.
Familiar with European law and an economic powerhouse in its own
right, an independent Catalonia would be able to meet these requirements.
Whether or not the European Council will approve an independent Catalonia is a
question that may not be completely clear unless and until the region
successfully secedes from Spain.
The 27S2015 Vote, Catalonia Votes, http://www.cataloniavotes.eu/the-27s2015-vote [http://perma.cc/9UEC-HKBE] (last visited Oct. 24, 2015).
 Hannah Strange, Catalonia elections: What next for
independence campaign?, Telegraph (Sept. 28, 2015), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/11896156/Catalonia-elections-What-next-for-independence-campaign.html [http://perma.cc/9RKK-D2HM].
Why a vote?, Catalonia Votes, http://www.cataloniavotes.eu/why-a-independence-referendum-incatalonia [http://perma.cc/3T8B-CQPR] (last visited Oct. 24, 2015).
See Strange, supra note 2.
Hannah Strange, Why are Catalans voting on Sunday and what
does it mean for independence?
(Sept. 26, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/11893832/Why-are-Catalans-voting-on-Sunday-and-what-does-it-mean-for-independence.html
 See The 27S2015 Vote, supra note 1.
 The 9N2014 Vote , Catalonia VOTES, http://www.cataloniavotes.eu/independence-referendum [http://perma.cc/PJ5S-FTCL] (last visited Oct. 20, 2015).
 Spain’s Constitutional Court
Declares Catalan Preparations For November 9 Vote Unconstitutional, Spain Report (June 11, 2015), https://www.thespainreport.com/articles/88-150611171350-spain-s-constitutional-court-declares-catalan-preparations-for-november-9-vote-unconstitutional [http://perma.cc/B4SR-EHH7].
 President Mas evaluates the
Constitutional Court’s ruling against the 9N2014 vote , Catalonia Votes (June 12, 2015), http://www.cataloniavotes.eu/president-mas-evaluates-the-constitutional-courts-ruling-against-the-9n2014-vote [http://perma.cc/RS46-V4TR].
 Eric Maurice &
Helena Spongenberg, Catalonia separatists on EU charm offensive, EU
Observer (Oct. 16, 2015), https://euobserver.com/political/130721 [http://perma.cc/8DNJ-8Z2P].
 See Jon Yeomans, Why
Catalonia’s bid for independence is Europe’s next headache, Telegraph (Sep. 10, 2015), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11849126/Why-Catalonias-bid-for-independence-is-Europes-next-headache.html [http://perma.cc/U4QK-YB2R].
 Paul R. Williams et al., Earned Sovereignty Revisited: Creating a
Strategic Framework for Managing Self-Determination Base Conflicts, 21 ILSA J. Int’l & Comp. L. 425, 439
 Paths for Catalonia integration in the European Union, Gov’t Catalonia, 1, 8 (Oct. 2014), available at http://presidencia.gencat.cat/web/.content/ambits_actuacio/consells_assessors/catn/informes_publicats/inf_6_angles.pdf ().
 Williams, supra note 13.
 See id.
 Spanish banks suggest they
might leave Catalonia if it becomes independent, Catalan News Agency (Sept. 18, 2015), http://www.catalannewsagency.com/business/item/spanish-banks-suggest-they-might-leave-catalonia-if-it-becomes-independent [http://perma.cc/6J7B-7AUV].
 Richard Gillespie, Between Accommodation and Contestation: The
Political Evolution of Basque and Catalan Nationalism, 21 Nationalism and Ethnic Pol. 3, 4 (2015).
 Automatic expulsion from the EU
of an independent Catalonia "unrealistic" say experts, Catalan News Agency (Sept. 18, 2015), http://www.catalannewsagency.com/politics/item/automatic-expulsion-from-the-eu-of-an-independent-catalonia-unrealistic-say-experts [http://perma.cc/MNH9-XS9C].
 See Esther Gimeno Ugalde, Regions
and ethnonations in Europe: The particular case of Catalonia, 2 Eurolimes 51, 57 (2006).
 Id. at 56.
 Williams, supra note 13.
 Gov’t Catalonia, supra note 14 at 1, 8.
 See id.
 Id.; see also E.U. Parliament Committee on
Constitutional Affairs, Minutes of January 20–21, 2014, meeting, available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-%2F%2FEP%2F%2FNONSGML%2BCOMPARL%2BPE-528.065%2B01%2BDOC%2BPDF%2BV0%2F%2FEN (directing the body’s
legal staff to analyze the procedure for an independent Scotland to join EU
under the procedures of Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty, which governs EU
 Gov't Catalonia, supra note 14.
 Conditions for Membership, Eur. Comm’n, http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/policy/conditions-membership/index_en.htm [http://perma.cc/F9TP-Z2P3] (last visited Oct. 20, 2015).
Posted by Keturah T. Reed on Thu. October 29, 2015 11:04 AM
European Union, Independence movements, Spain