Joan Costa-i-Font (LSE): new elections would not solve Catalonia crisis

Joan Costa-i-Font (LSE): new elections would not solve Catalonia crisis

The Spanish government has given Catalonia’s president Puigdemont until Thursday to end his pro-independence push after he failed to clarify whether he declared independence or not by Monday’s previous deadline. If he fails to give again a convincing answer then Madrid will move to apply article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which could have severe consequences for the autonomy of Catalonia. To shed light on the current situation The Media Interview spoke to Dr Joan Costa-i-Font, professor of political economy at the London School of Economics (LSE). 

There is a bit of confusion. The Catalonia regional government has declared and signed independence but at the same time has requested dialogue with Madrid. PM Rajoy has demanded a clarification from Puigdemont. What is exactly the state of play right now?

Basically, a UDI as it was stated without negotiation would have led to as violent reaction by the Spanish state. To avoid the social unrest and the knock on effects on the Spanish economy and the euro, a more calmed negotiation is called. Slovenia followed a similar procedure. This could lead to a negotiated referendum with a promise of constitutional reform, the outcome of which will be either independence or a collective choice of staying in Spain. Both a win win for Spain and Catalonia, as Spain will be able to claim that Catalans have collectively chosen Spain. Still the memory of conflict will endure and some people will remain bitter about it.

Does Catalonia have the legal power to declare independence unilaterally? If yes, what can Madrid do to stop that from happening? What does triggering article 155 imply?

Now there is a conflict of legislation and legitimacy. They both have legal power. If art 155 is invoked it will lead to unrest and a lose –lose scenario.  The Spanish constitution was reinterpreted in a centralist way in the 2010 ruling on the Catalan Statue, and was only passed as an alternative to a dictatorship in 1978, it was not meant to keep Catalans trapped in Spain for ever.

How could Madrid have handled this differently? Does it share responsibility with Barcelona for what’s happening? Could for example the police crackdown at voting stations be avoided?

The PP could have called a referendum and offered a Constitutional reform. Most Catalans would have accepted a improvement in self-government. However, after the brutality of last October 1, it is unlikely that this will be feasible unless the offer was very generous. The police crackdown was totally unnecessary, more akin to non-democratic states.

Is the country’s unity on the brink of collapse? Are there substantial risks that other autonomous communities would follow in Catalonia’s footsteps?

I think it has been for a long time, and there is a risk of knock on effects on the Basque Country.

Could new elections or a change of government facilitate or make this transition smooth?  

Elections would not change much as they Catalan government will not call them, and if they are forced upon the Catalans they could use them as another referendum of independence. Polls suggest an increase I the majority of the independent coalition.  A change in government would not make a difference as to change the constitution you need the adherence of the PP.

Some businesses have already left the region or moved their HQ elsewhere. What are the economic consequences of this crisis? Do you expect to see broader repercussions on the economy and on political stability?   

Some companies have changed their headquarters to have access to ECB funds or avoid the boycott of the rest of Spain.

These are mainly companies operating in Spain, international companies such as Grifols who sell to entire world (mainly the US) cannot be bothered. In a way,  HQ changes signal how would Catalonia change after secession, it would be less dependent on the Spanish market and focus on the European and international markets.

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