In his interview with Diplomaatia, Jaume Clotet, Director General for Communications for the Government of Catalonia, says that Catalans have the right to decide over their future like the Baltic States.
How possible is it now to hold a Catalonian independence referendum this October? The Spanish government is trying to block it.
The Catalan Government is planning to hold a referendum on 1 October. This is supported by the majority of the Catalan population, according to most polls published to date, and the majority of the members of the Catalan Parliament. These lawmakers will approve the Catalan legal structure that will allow this referendum to take place. Therefore, the Spanish Government could only stop this referendum through the use of exceptional measures, which would be unacceptable according to democratic standards in Europe in the 21st century.
What would the outcome of the referendum be? The polls have shown support for independence? And why? Spain is not the Soviet Union from which the Baltic States wanted to break free.
Spain is not the Soviet Union and Catalonia is not a Baltic State. There is no doubt about that. But the key issue is still the same: the right to self-determination. Catalonia is a nation, as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are. And all nations have the right to decide their future. I am sure that the Baltic States would have also wanted to be independent even if the Soviet Union had not been a dictatorship. Focusing on Catalonia, all the polls show that if a referendum on independence takes place, the “yes” option will prevail. That is why the Spanish Government wants to ban it. There are several reasons that explain this clear support for independence. On the one hand, many Catalans think that only through directing their own country can their language and culture be guaranteed in the future. On the other hand, Catalonia’s fiscal deficit with Spain is enormous, and many Catalans think that an independent country would be better off also from the economic point of view. Finally, the attitude of the most recent Spanish governments, which have tended to recentralize many policies, is seen by many as a threat to Catalan autonomy.
(The very latest polls have shown that support for independence has decreased – ed.)
If the referendum is carried out and people say yes to independence, what would the next steps be? Negotiations with Madrid?
The logical step is to open negotiations with Madrid, and maybe also with other political actors, such as the European Union (EU). The Catalan Government would like a short transitional period, let’s say a few months, because Catalonia has already consolidated institutions in many fields that would accelerate the creation of a full administration for an independent country. We are ready to manage our country in every respect.
Have you witnessed any international support for your referendum plea?
We are convinced that most European countries agree with us that political problems must be solved through political negotiations and democratic instruments. And a referendum is a good instrument that has been widely used in similar cases. That is the common ground for everyone. Regarding the result, as the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont always says, we are not yet in the phase of international recognition, but in the phase of generating knowledge about the Catalan political process around the world, and especially in Europe. The Catalan Government knows that it cannot ask for recognition before the referendum. This knowledge is now quite intense in many places and the Catalan Government is convinced that if a clear majority of Catalans express their will to be independent, we will enter the phase of recognitions after a transitional and negotiated period.
How closely do you follow the political developments in Scotland?
The Catalan Government, but also the Catalan media and population, follow the political evolution of Scotland with great interest, as we follow other similar situations around the World, such as Quebec and other countries. That is a logical interest due to the political and historical similarities of all these cases. I would say that there is more a political or academic interest than an institutional interest. However, this interest does not imply any other intention or will to influence these situations. We deeply respect every situation and do not want to interfere anywhere, as we would not like others to interfere or use the Catalan political process to their own interests. All these cases may be similar, but each one will have to find its own solution.
What about Gibraltar? Don’t you afraid that Spain might put more pressure on Gibraltar for compensation if Catalonia leaves?
We do not see that. We do not understand why the United Kingdom, and especially the people of Gibraltar, should compensate Spain for the loss of Catalonia. We think that the future of Gibraltar should be decided by the people of Gibraltar, which have already expressed their will in two referendums, and that is why Catalonia has little to say regarding the present or future status of Gibraltar.
What would an independent Catalonia’s relationship be with both NATO and the European Union? Membership for Catalonia cannot be taken for granted and probably you will have to start accession negotiations with both organisations.
Catalans have always been pro-European and that will not change if Catalonia becomes independent. Catalonia is already part of the European Union (EU) and we are sure that this situation will not change because political mechanisms will be found to solve that. Who would be interested in expelling Catalonia from the EU? No one would gain anything and it would be prejudicial for everyone. As one top EU official once said, the EU attitude in cases like the Catalan one often is “initial reluctance followed by pragmatic acceptance”. We are sure that this will be the case, again. Regarding NATO, along with the issue of defence, this is a question that the first Catalan Government and Parliament of the new country will have to deal with. However, taking into account that Catalonia wants to be a reliable and serious partner with the rest of Europe, we intend to do our part to create a safer Europe.
An independent Catalonia will border Spain, Andorra and France. In your opinion, what kind of border regime will Catalonia have with these countries?
As I said in the previous answer, provided the fact that Catalonia wants to remain in the European Union (EU) and the fact that the Catalan movement has always been deeply committed to a united Europe, we would like to have open borders for people and trade with our neighbours and the rest of the European countries. We see no reason to act otherwise and we are convinced that common sense will prevail, also in matters related to borders and customs.
Immigration. What do you intend to do with illegal immigrants?
That is also an aspect that will have to be decided by the first government of the new state, but we think that this is a European issue, as we see with the refugee crisis in the sea, and therefore we would like to find a common solution at a European level. Immigration, legal or not, is not a single state issue anymore.
The interview was conducted via e-mail.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.