Thursday, July 24, 2014

The birth of a new state in Europe

Since the massive demonstration of the Catalan people in September 2012, but specially since the Catalan Way human chain last September, when more than 1.6 million people joined hands to demand independence for Catalonia, many Spanish politicians have been predicting all kinds of disasters were Catalonia to become an independent country. Fortunately, as we will see below, many economists and academics have produced reports refuting this point of view, so far from the economic and political reality of an independent Catalonia. This article sets out to circulate these arguments as far and wide as possible, with the goal of removing unfounded, artificial fears. Fear should never be the guiding force of a nation.

Firstly, we analyze the threat that Catalonia would be banned from Europe. The concept "banned from Europe" does not really make sense because Europe is a continent and Catalonia, for obvious geographical reasons, cannot be banned from it. However, if we speak of political Europe, this is made up of a multitude of treaties, conventions and institutions, each with its own different rules.

In this sense, the most important in the case of Catalan independence is that companies established in Catalonia should enjoy the free movement of goods, services, capital and people among European countries. For this purpose, it is not necessary to become a member of European Union. In fact, this objective would be achieved if Catalonia becomes a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA is a European common market formed by the European Union (EU) member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. While becoming a full EU member requires the unanimous vote of all state members, Catalonia need only attain a qualified majority to join the EEA (19 of the 28 member countries). Therefore, Spain could not unilaterally block the accession of Catalonia to the EEA.

But why should European countries support Catalonia joining the EEA?

There are a lot of solid reasons that reinforce this, the most important being that Catalonia is the main route connecting Spain with the rest of Europe. Furthermore, there are over 5,300 companies that have set up facilities in Catalonia. These multinationals are not here to supply the Catalan market, but to supply the EEA market (including Spain). The imposition of customs duties on Catalan exports would damage the interests of these multinationals. And these interests are enormous: Seat-Volkswagen (Germany), Renault-Nissan Alliance (France), BASF (Germany), Solvay (Belgium), Carrefour (France) and thousands of other foreign companies have made strategic investments in Catalonia.

The second argument used by Spanish politicians is that a Catalan state cannot have the Euro as its legal currency. This is a ridiculous and unrealistic argument because you can use the Euro without belonging to the Eurozone (like Montenegro or Andorra). Nevertheless, the European Union needs Catalonia in the Eurozone because the two main Catalan banks (CaixaBank and Banc Sabadell) are classed as systemic for the European financial market, i.e., if these two banks were to fail it could seriously destabilize the whole Eurozone. Therefore, the European Central Bank will have a firm interest in having the Catalan banks under its supervision.

To summarize, we have shown that if Catalonia becomes a new state, Europe will not leave Catalonia to its fate. It is not the end of the world; it is simply the birth of a new state in Europe.

Economists for Independence, Economy Section of the Catalan National Assembly.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Kurdistan, Scotland and Catalonia: They just want to be free, or do they?

Supporter waves Kurdish flag at soccer game in Sweden in June. (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP/Getty Images)

Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan region, rattled many cages this month when he announced in parliament that the KRG would be moving ahead soon on a referendum on independence from Iraq. If Kurdistan goes ahead with such a vote, it would be joining two other parts of the world embarked on similar paths: Scotland and Catalonia.
Independence for all three of these regions makes little sense at this point in time.- 

In Scotland, First Minister Alex Salmond has set the referendum on Scottish independence from Britain for Sept. 18. The Catalonian government, led by Artur Mas, has scheduled its referendum for Nov. 9. Although the British government in Westminster has not stood in the way of a referendum, Scottish opinion polls show a narrow lead for those who want to stay within the United Kingdom. In Catalonia, by contrast, the central government in Spain has declared the referendum illegal, but the polls overwhelmingly favor independence.

Independence for all three of these regions makes little sense at this point in time.

Kurdistan probably has the best case: It has been divided and repressed, and its population subjected to unspeakable horrors, especially during the Baath years and Saddam Hussein's murderous dictatorship. Today, the Kurds have fashioned a stable region for themselves. After the disintegration of the Iraqi army in Mosul, the Kurdistan government, confronted by a determined Islamic State-led insurgency, sent in its own forces to protect nearby areas not recognized as being within its boundaries. Some have a Kurdish plurality, others a majority.

The Kurds are unlikely to withdraw from these territories, which include the vast Kirkuk oil and gas reserves. Independence is likely to be contested by all of the putative state's neighbors, including the rest of the Arab world, which refuses to recognize a separate existence for Kurds.

But Barzani would have been better off remaining silent and waiting for a weak and imploding Iraqi state to one day concede to the inevitable. Certainly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has done his best to alienate just about everyone, whether Sunni Muslim Arabs or Kurds; in a recent fit of pique he replaced all the Kurdish ministers in his Cabinet. By acting too quickly, the Kurdish government is unnecessarily perceived as usurping lands that in all likelihood would willingly have elected to join it in a breakup of Iraq.

If the Kurdish demands are understandable, what of the others? Neither Catalonia nor Scotland has suffered as much as the Kurds. Catalonia, to be sure, was not a favorite during the Francisco Franco dictatorship years. Nevertheless, with a population of 7.5 million of the nation's 47 million, it is today Spain's most prosperous region. Unlike the Kurds, who are landlocked, Catalonia borders France and enjoys a coastline on the Mediterranean.

Were Catalonia to secede, its status in the European Union would be indeterminate. Would it have to apply as a new member state? Would the rump state of Spain, out of spite, then veto Catalonia's efforts to join? That would be worrying since much of Catalonia current prosperity depends on its continued membership in the EU.

Scotland, like Kurdistan, has oil, and, like Catalonia, faces the prospect of having to apply for EU membership. Unlike Spain, though, Britain is not part of the Eurozone, and Scottish independence leaders have signaled that they would prefer to continue using the English pound as their official currency. Of course, that assumes the government in London would allow an independent government to use its currency. There are precedents: Panama uses the U.S. dollar, but the small size of the Panamanian economy has little effect on U.S. monetary policy.

Scots may elect to remain in the United Kingdom, especially because Westminster has followed a policy of not alienating the Scottish voter. Catalonia, which may face a more uncertain future in Europe, could be persuaded by Madrid to not secede if the latter were more accommodating on budgetary and other issues. Madrid's generally uncompromising role has exacerbated separatist feelings.

Of course, there are probably many who secretly root for these new countries to emerge. For one, international relations specialists, who would love to have "new countries" to study, new inter-state relationships to explore, new entry points for data sets and concomitant occasions for new grant proposals to write.

What of diplomats? New countries mean openings for new ambassadors, deputy-chiefs of missions, political officers, etc. Even future would-be campaign funding bundlers, be they soap opera producers or Long Island shopping mall builders, can dream of representing the United States in Barcelona. The embassy in Irbil, in Kurdistan, on the other hand, would more likely go to a career foreign service officer.

But those advocates notwithstanding, the prospect of independence for these regions does not look promising — at least not yet.

Henri J. Barkey is a professor of international relations at Lehigh University.

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If I Were Swedish

If I happened to be Swedish and I was watching one of the TV reports these days about those people with tall hoods and all the typical religious celebrations in the streets of Spanish towns, which are so baroque flavoured, as if time had stopped and stood still right there, my first thought would probably be to go there some time and attend some such exotic event as a tourist.

Then perhaps I would have a look at the weekly press only to find out that serious allegations had been made in Andalusia of an outrageous €2 billion fraud committed by regional authorities and derived from recycling courses for unemployed workers; that would remind me of the last EU report on unemployment, published recently, according to which Spain, together with Greece, is not only the country with the highest unemployment rate in Europe but also seven of its regions are among the top ten by unemployment, led only by two regions in Macedonia and by the remote Reunion island in the Indian ocean. Which means that even most of the French overseas colonies have better unemployment rates than they have in Spain.

I would then look at the map, also provided by the EU, and would soon realize that this structural problem is related mainly to the regions in the South, as is also the case in Italy; in the Northern regions unemployment rates are just one third of the highest ones. In Spain, though, the equalizer system of the so called State of Autonomies has reached an outstanding record: even the most developed, economically driven regions —such as Valencia, Aragon, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands— go beyond the ominous red line of a 20% unemployment rate.

There is still more. As a Swede, if I was keeping an eye on both the youth- and long-term unemployment rates, I would see that Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish cities on the Northern African coastline), the Canary Islands and Andalusia are on the front line with rates of over 55%, together with the French overseas colonies of Guadalupe, Martinique and Guyana.

Not knowing of any official explanation for this picture, I would think that all these Spanish territories, parallel to the French ones overseas, must still be colonies of the old Kingdom of Castille that were submitted 500 years ago to the dominant oligarchic class which is now also stopping the most industrious territories within the peninsula from developing any further.

If I went on revising last week's news I would gather information that Spain also leads the ranking of students dropping out of school, just as it leads the ranking of best paid footballers.

Anyway, it has the longest high speed train track and also the highest and most expensive energy costs too. Then, as a Swedie, I would scratch my head in astonishment and would say to myself: why should I contribute at all to that 1.27% of the European GDP to be sent deep down into any dark bottomless pit like Spain? Being a fair Swedish citizen I wouldn’t be happy if I knew I were to keep paying even one cent devoted to maintaining such an immense absurdity called Spain any longer.

But if I were Catalan instead of Swedish, my contribution to the absurdity of Spain would be so great it would reach between 8% and 10% of GDP. Then I would probably begin to wonder if Europe is really able to fully understand that such extractive oligarchic economies —of which Spain is the most prominent— must be profoundly changed and thoroughly reoriented; so if Europe was not to comprehend why a nation like Catalonia —one of the few territories able to react against such absurdity— really needs emancipation, then maybe Europe does not deserve Catalonia’s interest in being an active part; why should Catalonia remain in Europe if it only backs the strong and allows oligarchic minorities to maintain their wealthy lifestyle on the back of the productive hard work of other less eminent people? If I was considering all this as a Catalan, I am not sure I would be dreaming about being Swedish. Maybe being Norwegian would be better.

Josep Huguet Biosca, former Minister of the Government of Catalonia (2004-2010).
President of the Irla Foundation.
Industrial engineering.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Catalan bill on Consultation Votes passes its last-step-but-one with 80% of parliamentary support

Barcelona (ACN).- The future Law on Consultation Votes, which should enable the organisation of a self-determination vote in Catalonia on the 9th of November, has been approved by the parliamentary committee in charge of drafting it and sending it to the plenary for the final approval. It has passed with the support from all the parties – including the Socialists (PSC) – except the Spanish nationalist People's Party (PP) and Ciutadans (C's), which only hold 20% of the Catalan Parliament's seats. This means that 80% of the Catalan chamber has backed the text, which should be now approved by the plenary in late September or early October, in order to use the new law to call November's self-determination vote. 
Since the Spanish authorities are not authorising a binding referendum on independence, Catalonia is developing its own legal framework to make a consultation vote on the issue possible. This law was already foreseen in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which is Catalonia's main law and was approved by the Spanish Parliament and the Catalan people through a binding referendum in 2006. 
The parties supporting the self-determination vote will probably take the bill to the Catalan Council for Constitutional Guarantees – the body in charge of assessing if new regulations are in line with the Constitution – in order to be certain they approve a text in line with the current legal framework. However, it is expected that the Spanish Government will take the new law to the Constitutional Court once it is approved in order to cancel it or at least to temporarily block it. 
The PP, which runs the Spanish Government and holds an absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament, has appointed the majority of members of the Constitutional Court, which lost most of its credibility and legitimacy in the ruling against the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, approved through a citizen referendum in 2006. Back then, the Court took 4 years to reach a decision and it issued an extremely controversial sentence in 2010, after the law had been into force for years and after years of political manoeuvres by the PP to influence the Court and to modify its composition.

On Wednesday, the bill on Consultation Votes has been approved by the parliamentary committee in charge of drafting it, the last-step-but-one, before its definitive approval. The PP and C's have strongly criticised the initiative, which they consider is "a trap" and "a fraud" to democracy as it will be used to call the self-determination vote that they frontally oppose. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), has given its support to the bill, although they consider the future law cannot be used to organise a self-determination vote, since the topic falls beyond the exclusive powers of the Catalan Government, they argue.

The rest of the parties, which represent around two thirds of the Parliament, have welcomed the legal tool and have reaffirmed their commitment with November's self-determination vote. The centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, which runs the Catalan Government, stated the bill "is not a law only for the 9-N [self-determination vote], but it is also a law to be used also for the 9-N". The left-wing Catalan independence party ERC stressed that the new bill "is fully constitutional" and represents "expanding democracy". The Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA considered the new law "a valid and useful tool" to allow citizens to express their views, since it will enable citizen consultations. Finally, the radical left-wing and independence party CUP insisted that the bill is "a legal, legitimate, specific and regulated base for political consultations to the population".

The bill's details

The new bill enables consultation votes in the entire Catalan territory, in individual municipalities or in a specific geographic areas, including counties. Depending on the area, they will be called by the President of the Catalan Government or by local governments, such as municipalities or county councils. Furthermore, the Catalan Parliament (2/5 of the chamber or a minimum of 3 groups, with the support of a simple majority of the Parliament) and citizens (though the formula of popular legislative initiative with a minimum of 50,000 signatures) can also ask to hold such a vote.

The bill also foresees some conditions regarding the vote's timing. It cannot be called less than 6 months before a scheduled election. In addition, when the vote is for the entire Catalonia, it has to be organised between 30 and 60 days after the Catalan President signs the vote's decree. In addition, the President has a maximum of 90 days to sign the decree once the organisation of the consultation vote is requested by the Catalan Parliament.

16 year olds will be able to vote

The vote will use the census of the Catalan Statistics Institute (Idescat), which is built through the residence census of municipalities. It is therefore different than the census managed by the Spanish Home Affairs Ministry, used in regular elections. In the Idescat census, those aged 16 years or more, being Spanish citizens and living in Catalonia are included and therefore will be allowed to vote. In addition, some foreign nationals are also included, under certain conditions. For EU citizens (who are not Spanish citizens), they will be allowed to vote if they have been registered as Catalan residents for a minimum of 1 year. For non-EU citizens, they will be allowed if they received the residence permit at least 3 years before the vote. Furthermore, Catalan citizens living abroad will be allowed to vote though a volunteer register. However, Catalans living in other parts of Spain will not be allowed to vote because their census would depend on the will of Spanish authorities to transfer the information.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Neo-nazi 'not sorry' over 'blood bath' speech

A far-right demo in Madrid in 2012. File photo: Dominique Faget/AFP
Neo-nazi 'not sorry' over 'blood bath' speech

The head of a Spanish far-right group appeared in court on Wednesday over statements he made justifying a blood bath in Catalonia if the Spanish national government failed to quash an independence movement in the region.

The leader of Alianza Nacional (National Alliance), Pedro Pablo Peña, made the comments during a neo-Nazi rally held in Barcelona on Spain's October 12th National Day 2013.

"Catalonia won't become independent without a lot of blood being spilled," he is reported to have said in a speech during the demonstration which saw the group's members carrying banners calling for Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas to be sent to the gas chambers.

Catalan leaders are pushing for a November 9th referendum on the issue of independence for the region with 7.5 million people. Many in Catalonia feel they would be better off without Spain, saying they feel short-changed by the central government which redistributes their taxes. 

But the far-right Alianza Nacional, which is anti-immigrant and anti-gay marriage, believes the region is an essential part of Spanish territory. 

On Wednesday, an unrepentant Peña refused to back down over his 2013 comments, Spain's 20 minutos newspaper reported. 

He is now on trial for charges of inciting hatred and discrimination.

The leader of Spain's far-right Falange group had also been summonsed to appear in court on the same charges on Wednesday but failed to show.

He did, however, answer questions from Madrid. During that declaration he said the "Spanish people" could legitimately use violence if the government failed to prevent the independence of Catalona.

The Falange leader, however, refused to answer questions relating to charges of inciting hatred and violence.

Source: The Local

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mariano: Lose Catalonia or Lose Everything, Your Choice

At this stage, it is clear to any informed observer that Catalonia is going. There is no longer any hiding it, Swiss bank UBS recently revealed it had set up a working team to consider the implications of Catalan independence. This is not the end of the story though, since while there is nothing Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy can do to prevent it (the White House has already said loud and clear that there is no ammo for Mariano) he can still try to save most of Spain. Let us have a good look at some of the potential implications for Spain of a failure to promptly recognize Catalan independence and negotiate in good faith an orderly agreement covering, among others, a civilized split of assets and liabilities:

* The Basque Country and Navarre. The Basques currently hold a very comfortable status whereby they enjoy tax sovereignty while not having to send any troops to Mali. How long would their acquiescence to remain within Spain last if Mariano asked them to contribute more to the Spanish Treasury's coffers? Can anyone doubt he would be forced to do that to plug the gap, should he have to deal with Spain's national debt as it stands? Surely he does not expect Catalonia to take up a portion without being recognized by Madrid, does he?

* Valencia. The region's ruling elites have traditionally been rather pro-Spanish, to put it mildly, but even they have a breaking point. Could they survive an even more savage discrimination than they currently suffer? Would they accept to remain within an autarchic, isolated, Spain, or rather gravitate toward a much more prosperous and EU-connected Catalonia? Would they not be tempted to seek bilateral agreements to facilitate exports, bypassing Madrid?

* Balearic Islands. Here the Catalan language and culture is much stronger, and widespread protests have already taken place against Madrid's attempts to roll back Catalan in school. Furthermore, economic discrimination is rampant, with Madrid failing to authorize essential infrastructures, while treating the Islands as a mere milking cow. It is not very difficult to imagine some interesting developments …

* Morocco. The irony here is that while most of the population in Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish cities in North Africa, wishes to remain Spanish, Mariano's non-existent democratic beliefs prevents him from holding a referendum and relying on self-determination to preserve them. With that door closed, Madrid has to rely on deterrence to prevent them from following in the wake of Western Sahara. The question is then, faced with a 125 % debt-to-GDP ratio, would mainland Spanish public opinion push for further cuts in the military, thus facilitating a Moroccan takeover at some stage?

Mariano is thus facing a scenario with no optimal outcome. He is no longer able to preserve Spain within her current borders. Catalonia is leaving, and any attempt to use force will only accelerate that development. However, not all is lost. He can still keep most of his country's territory if he adopts a pragmatic attitude and recognizes Catalan independence in exchange for an orderly split of assets and liabilities. If that is then followed by extensive economic reforms, a big if but something only possible once Catalonia is gone, since Catalan tribute allows “rational underdevelopment” to persist, Spain may survive. If, on the contrary, pride overcomes wisdom, and Mariano prefers to go down with his ship, there is little doubt that Catalan independence will sooner or later be followed by the breakdown of Spain.

Alex Calvo is an expert in Asian Security and Defense

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

UK Parliament Briefing Paper: "Debate on possible independence of Catalonia"

The briefing paper provides an overview of recent developments and key issues in the debate. Its author is Rob Page of the International Affairs and Defence Section. The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.  The note is presented in theses terms:

 "Catalonia, a prosperous region in north-eastern Spain, has an autonomous Parliament. At present, parties in favour of Catalan independence have a majority in this Parliament, and the regional administration requested Madrid’s permission to hold a binding referendum on independence. However, the Parliament of Spain rejected this proposal, so the proposed referendum will now take the form of a non-binding “popular consultation.” This “popular consultation” will be held on 9 November 2014."

From Help Catalonia we are fully delighted of this report in so objective terms. Keep working.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Spanish police keeps a watch on the political party of the President of Catalonia

On Monday, March 10th, at the headquarters of the CDC party, the private security services detected the presence of three suspicious individuals around the building. The subjects were seen again on Tuesday and Wednesday, so CDC’s officials alerted the Catalan police, who demanded that they be identified. The three men belonged to the Spanish police force, and allegedly they were keeping a watch on suspicious activities for top-secret case.
It is not known whether the Catalan policemen demanded that the Spanish policemen give them the name of the judge name that issued the investigation order. After that, the policemen did not come back.
As always in these cases, the Spanish police rushed to say that it was ridiculous to think that they were spying the CDC party headquarters. All in all, very suspicious.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Catalan independence movement is “democratic example” unparalleled in Europe, says Catalan President Mas

The President of Catalonia, Artur Mas, said on Friday that the Catalan independence movement is a “democratic example” unparalleled in Europe. In a conference in Barcelona, Mas stated that the current situation in Catalonia –where an overwhelmingly majority of citizens want a vote on the future relationship of the country with Spain- is an important “democratic challenge” that needs to be addressed. “It is an example of a democratic mobilization like few others in the European continent”, Mas said. More than 1 million Catalans took to the streets in 2012 and 2013 asking for independence, but Madrid has refused so far to authorise a referendum. Catalans plan a new large mobilization for the 11th of September in Barcelona. 

The Catalan President argued that citizens in Catalonia respect the law and have demonstrated this “constantly” during history. However, he added that they do also know that “the virtue of the law is its capacity to accommodate changing circumstances”. Mas reiterated his petition to the Spanish government to adapt the law to allow a referendum on the independence of Catalonia.

The Spanish government is refusing to authorise a referendum on the future of Catalonia on legal grounds. The Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, argues that a consultation is illegal under the constitution but refuses to engage in a discussion with the Catalan government to change the law. He also rejects the 5 legal ways identified by a team of experts in Barcelona that would allow a referendum to be held in compliance with the law.

Mas argued that, while in Europe some citizens are seduced by the extreme right or the anti-EU parties, in Catalonia people are showing “positive values” that are radically democratic. The Catalan President said politicians should “stand up to the challenge” and understand that the legal framework should allow citizens to express their democratic wishes.

Mas compared the political situation in Catalonia to that of a river which is about to overflow its banks. “If the people in charge of expanding the river edge don’t do it, they risk an overflow of water”, he warned. “But while a fire can be stopped, it’s not the same with water”, he added, asking Madrid to “canalize” people’s demands. 

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

1982-2014: The Soviets Did Not Save Galtieri, The Russians Will Not Save Rajoy

The decision by Spain's Rajoy administration to facilitate Russian naval operations in the Mediterranean and Atlantic by providing logistical support to the Russian Navy at Ceuta (right in front of Gibraltar) has shocked some, in particular given the mounting crisis between NATO and Russia. Furthermore, coming from a party founded by leading figures of the Franco regime, it may seem even more odd. After all the Spanish Government keeps paying public homage regularly to the Nazi Wermacht, while Russia is extremely sensitive to any attempt to revise her narrative of the Great Patriotic War (Second World War).

However, a look at history shows that it is not so unusual for Fascist, or neo-Fascist, regimes to have strange bed fellows when trying to confront British democracy. In 1982, following the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, the Junta received military aid from the Soviet Union, including satellite intelligence. This was despite Buenos Aires being considered to be a bastion of anti-communism. This was so much the case, that cooperation with Washington in Central America was one of the reasons why the Junta made the mistake of thinking that America would come on her side after the landings. When, despite General Haig's shuttle diplomacy and official neutrality, Washington came squarely in favor of Great Britain, providing key logistical support and some essential equipment like the air-to-air Stinger missile, those fantasies quickly gave way to a desperate attempt to get support from any quarter. Ideology was quickly tossed aside in the name of real politik.

Something similar may be happening in Spain. Rajoy, who like Galtieri and his successors, has never renounced to use force to conquer what he believes is his property, namely Gibraltar, regardless of the wishes of the Rock's inhabitants, and who has the same approach towards Catalonia, was confident to secure American support. However, after US President Obama failed to speak out against Catalan independence at a joint meeting with the media present, and some White House high officials went as far as publicly suggesting that at the end of the day it was up to the Catalans to determine their future status, Rajoy may have concluded, just like Galtieri, that his only hope lied elsewhere. Prime Minister Cameron's public warning not to use force against Catalonia, and the people of Gibraltar's resolve to remain loyal citizens of Her Majesty the Queen, can only have reinforced Rajoy's feeling that the West could not be relied on when it came to crushing a people's will by force.

When we take all this into consideration, what may seem at first surprising, ceases to seem so. There is nothing strange with two semi-democratic regimes cooperating in the naval sphere. What would be strange would be to see a neo-Fascist like Rajoy work side by side with democracies like the US and the UK. Birds of the same feather … 

The coming months will be harsh, for both Gibraltar and Catalonia, and we can expect growing tensions and even more incidents. However, there is nothing stronger than a heart where the flame of freedom burns, and it is no coincidence that the English and the Catalan Parliaments were the first in the world. Soviet help did not save Galtieri, and Russian assistance will not save Rajoy. Democracy will win in the Western Mediterranean, just like it triumphed in the South Atlantic.

Alex Calvo is an expert on security and defence in Asia

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Madrid asks Catalonia to pay 6,057 euros for every pupil being privately educated in Spanish

Spanish Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert
The Spanish government is asking the Catalan Government to pay 6,057 euros annually for every pupil that enrols in private education in Spanish if there is no such an offer in the public system. Catalan is the main language of instruction in schools in Catalonia, but this has caused a conflict between the PP government and the Catalan executive that is now coming to a head. Madrid says that Catalonia should pay for this private education if it refuses to make Spanish the language of instruction together with Catalan. Recently, the State Council, the Spanish Government’s main advisory body, asked the Ministry of Education to “reconsider entirely” its decision.

The plan of the Spanish government is to pay the sum of 6,057 euros to every child enrolling in private education because his or her family is not satisfied with the linguistic offer in the public system. Afterwards, Madrid will ask Catalonia to pay this money back.

Irene Rigau warned that there are no private schools in Catalonia offering full education only in Spanish. “The move aims to create a new offer, it is not designed with current education offers in mind”, she said in an interview. “There is not a single private school offering all classes in Spanish”, she warned.

According to the Catalan Minister, the Spanish Government “is not hiding” its intention to introduce “the Basque model” in Catalonia. In the Basque Country, there are schools teaching only in Spanish, bilingual schools and schools teaching only in Basque. “Our model is different, we don’t separate pupils for language reasons”, she warned. “The final results at the end of compulsory education show pupils’ linguistic competence” in both Spanish and Catalan, she added.

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Salamanca Documents

After 75 years, Catalonia still awaits the return of the documents. Here three articles about this topic:
From Pillage to Reparation: The struggle for the Salamanca papers

It is a great pleasure to have been asked to talk to you today about the case of the so-called "Salamanca Papers". I greatly appreciate Professor Preston's invitation. I think that there are a couple of things I should say to introduce myself. I have only ever spoken in public in England once before. That was thirty-one years ago, in 1975, at a meeting held in Oxford in protest over the last death sentences decreed by the Franco regime. I hate to think what I must have said. I was born and brought up in England, my father having been a London-born ex-RAF pilot and my mother -still alive and kicking- the eldest daughter of a Catalan surgeon, Josep Trueta. Like several hundred thousand fellow Catalans and Republicans, he went into exile in February 1939, at the end of the Spanish Civil War. His exile in England was prompted not  read more..

A tale of two archives

As Viewpoint's Special Correspondent in Catalonia, I am moved to get into print a version of a talk I gave a few months ago to my old Department, the School of Modern Languages. The topic is one that I have been involved with a little over the past year or so, and it has given me reason to recall with nostalgia the exemplary manner in which, over the past twenty years, the University has become a renowned repository of historical archives, thanks, in particular, to the initiative of former Vice-Chancellor John Roberts in obtaining the deposit of the Wellington Papers in the early 80s and to the vision, commitment and expertise of former Librarian Bernard Naylor and (still going strong) Archivist Christopher Woolgar. The Hartley Library is now a major centre for the study of 19th- and 20th-century British history and Anglo-Jewish relations.  Contrast the way in which the owners of family and institutional papers have entrusted them to the expert care of the Hartley Library read more..

Salamanca Documents Not Yet Returned

After years of non-compliance, the Spanish Minister of Culture promised that the Spanish State would return to Catalonia, by 30th June 2012, all the documents that were looted by Spain during the war and stored at the Spanish Civil War Archive in Salamanca. Months after this deadline, the documents that belong to individuals and to private organizations and were meant to be sent to the Catalan government never made it back. It seems history will repeat itself as with the previous shipment promised by the Spanish Minister of Culture under Spanish president Zapatero, when everything was ready for the return of the documents and the Spanish administration stopped the shipment.
Yet hundreds of boxes full of documents are pending return. For this reason, when on the 26th of April the Spanish Minister of Culture told his Catalan peer that the documents, filed as war booty in the General Spanish Civil War Archive in Salamanca, would be returned before the 30th of June, we breathed a sigh of relief.
After facing year after year of non-compliance and delays, Mr. Wert's words were welcome. In this context, it must be taken into account that the last Minister of Culture read more..

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

The creator of Wikipedia about Catalan language

The creator of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales
Speaking at the V Fórum Impulsa in Girona last Friday, the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, discussed how the online encyclopaedia "protects and expands knowledge" of Catalan. In fact, it was one of the first languages to launch articles on the site, after English and German, and has now already amassed more than 400,000. Wales has highlighted Catalonia’s "passion for its language," and compared it with the Welsh Wikipedia, which is also “extremely active” despite Welsh being a relatively little spoken language. The creator of the free encyclopaedia was one of the featured speakers at the fifth edition of the Fórum Impulsa in Girona, along with others such as the President of the World Bank, James D. Wolfenshon, and Antonin Léonard, the creator of Ouishare, a movement which promotes collective and collaborative consumption.

Jimmy Wales was one of the big names speaking at this fifth edition of the Fórum Impulsa, an international showcase of entrepreneurship annually held in Girona. The 2014 edition bore the slogan “open and collaborative" and held Wales as an example of someone who embodies this spirit.

The free encyclopaedia he created today attracts more than 550 million monthly visitors from around the globe, and is funded entirely by donations. Last year, the budget of Wikipedia was $ 50 million, thanks "to a large majority of small donors", as Wales explained (donors who on average contribute between 30 and 40 euros).

The online encyclopaedia, which already has an app for iPhone and Android, has rapidly developed, expanding knowledge around the world. "Our application 'Wikipedia Zero has no charge, and that gives us access to developing countries, where sometimes users may pay for little more than the phone" explained its creator. 

But the potential of Wikipedia does not just lie here. The free encyclopaedia also serves to protect and expand the knowledge of "sensitive tongues,” according to Wales. To illustrate this, the Wikipedia creator referred to the similar situations of Welsh and Catalan. Both have an active presence on Wikipedia despite being comparatively little spoken languages. 

"Extremely active"

Jimmy Wales said that Welsh and Catalan pages are "extremely active" demonstrating "the passion for language" that their speakers share. In addition, he highlighted the drive to teach Catalan in Catalonia, a contrast to Wales, where its use on the street is “limited”.

The Wikipedia founder explained during his presentation that today, there are 430,000 entries in Catalan within the free encyclopaedia. And, indeed, this was one of the first languages to have articles on the site. The first language set up after English was German, and “just a few moments later,” Catalan. Wales explained this was because “some Catalan people were very eager that we should set this up.”

Wales illustrated the push of Catalan in Wikipedia with some statistics. "The Catalan Wikipedia, with respect to the volume of entries, occupies the 17th place in the world rankings," he announced. "In addition, for every million speakers of Catalan, Wikipedia has 56 publishers, compared with 21 in English or 8 in Spanish”, he added.

Finally, with regards to the global regulations that pertain to the Internet, the Wikipedia founder believes that it is not necessary to tighten and restrict the web with new laws. "Those in smaller countries, however, need more government transparency," he argued.

Internationally renowned

The fifth edition of the Fórum, organized by the Prince of Girona Foundation (FPdGi), has brought internationally renowned speakers to the city. The conference opened on Friday with a lecture by the former President of the World Bank, James D. Wolfhenson. During his speech, Wolfhenson talked about the international perception of the new Spanish King Felipe VI (who had just chaired the FPdGi Awards ceremony on Thursday), which he generally considered to be very positive. 

"He is a new face, and all I can say is that you are very lucky to have him," said the former President. "At least, people on the outside, and in particular non-Catalans, think of him as a great leader for Spain, and want to keep the country together," said Wolfhenson, who also stated that he believed Felipe VI could help eliminate the economic crisis. 

The morning’s presentations were divided into three sections: The Opportunity, the Present and the Horizon. Among those speaking on the stage of the Auditorium in the Palace of Congress of Girona were the inventor of Internet identities, Paul Mockapteris; the creator of the collaborative movement OuiShare, Antonin Léonard and CEO of Repsol, Josu Jon Imaz.

Over 1,300 people, mostly young people, attended this year's V Fórum Impulsa. The presentations in the auditorium ended early in the afternoon on Friday, and the programme was closed by the second annual meeting of the “talent sponsor”.

The initiative promoted by FPdGi aims to improve young people’s access to the labour market, putting them in contact with employers. This second meeting was held at the Hotel-Ultònia in order to open the forum to the city with the participation of 150 people (including youth and mentors).

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Catalan Independence Leader Vows Never to Quit Fight

Barcelona: The leader of the largest pro-independence force in Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, has vowed never to quit in his fight for a referendum on redrawing the map of Spain.

File Photo: Leader of the ERC party (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya -
Republican Left from Catalonia Oriol Junqueras at a press conference.
Junqueras, a bearded, 45-year-old former university historian who now leads the secessionist Republican Left of Catalonia, said he was confident the Spanish government would eventually have to bow to the wishes of Catalans to hold a vote on independence.

Political leaders in the northeastern region are campaigning to hold a vote on November 9 on whether to break away from the rest of Spain.

But they face outright opposition from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling conservative Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists, which refuse to countenance a breakup of Spain and say it would flout the constitution.

"I am convinced that democracy will eventually find a way," Junqueras told AFP in an interview, saying Catalans were largely in favour of holding a vote whether or not they favoured independence.

"I will do everything possible to make it so, so that the dignity of the citizens be respected," he added.

"Obviously I will not surrender, I will not give up, I will not leave, I will not tire. I will carry on trying. If many of us try and we are a majority, obviously we will end up winning."

When Oriol took over his party in 2011, it was riven with internal dissent.

Three years later, Republic Left of Catalonia is the second largest force in the regional parliament, ruling in alliance with regional president Artur Mas's Convergence and Union coalition.

In the European Parliament elections in May, Republican Left of Catalonia emerged victorious in the region for the first time since the 1930s.

How will they stop us? 

Nevertheless, the pro-secessionist party faces major obstacles in its campaign for independence for this region of 7.5 million people, which is fiercely proud of its distinct language and culture and increasingly resentful of its treatment by Madrid.

In April, Spain's national parliament rejected Catalonia's request to hold a November 9 independence referendum by a landslide 299 votes to 47.

Catalonia's political leaders nevertheless remain determined to find an alternative legal route to a referendum.

Junqueras has previously refused to rule out even a unilateral declaration of independence, and he questions whether the Spanish government is able to stop a determined region from going ahead with the referendum.

"The key question is what does the Spanish government think it will do to stop citizens from voting," he said.

"When there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of voters with papers in their hands queueing up to vote, what does the Spanish government think it will do to stop it?"

Even if a referendum is held and it eventually leads to an independence process for Catalonia, Junqueras argues that ensuing negotiations would have to include Spain and the European Union.

"This would not be a unilateral exercise. Not even bilateral between Catalonia and Spain because the various interests of the European states in Catalonia are immense, such as the public debt or the stability of southern Europe," Junqueras said.

"We are in a multilateral scenario and it will be resolved multilaterally."

Junqueras moved from the university classroom to politics in 2009 when he became a member of the European Parliament before taking over in 2011 as mayor of Sant Vicenc dels Horts, a commuter town near Barcelona.

He soon took the reins of Republican Left of Catalonia, which was still nursing its wounds after heavy electoral losses.

Riding the wave of growing pro-independence sentiment, Junqueras's party was the second-biggest vote winner in regional elections in 2012, giving it the power to extract an agreement from Mas to hold a November 9 referendum on self-rule.

"Our conviction is that agreements should be respected," Junqueras said.

"The referendum is the best possible democratic instrument and it generates a broad consensus among the Catalan people."

Source: ndtv

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

US ambassador to Spain says American companies would “make adjustments” to adapt to an independent Catalonia

James Costos, US Ambassador to Spain
Madrid (ACN).- The United States Ambassador to Spain, James Costos, said on Tuesday that American companies would “make adjustments” to adapt to a hypothetical independent Catalonia. “The United States, my embassy, my team, the business community, American companies are watching this and are of course interested in what the outcome will be”, he said, referring to the political situation in Catalonia, where the government is planning to hold a referendum of independence on the 9th of November.

The American ambassador said that the situation in Catalonia is “an internal question” of Spain, but admitted that they are following the process “to see what happens”. “My position has always been that, in any business, as people look into the future, things change, and the economic environment changes”, he said.

Costos added that businesspeople need to “have a look at things that are coming down the pike and take decisions based on that”. The US ambassador admitted that “if things change” in Catalonia, American companies “will make adjustments accordingly”. He did not mention, however, what kind of adjustments.

The ambassador avoided commenting on the economic consequences of independence, and, unlike the Spanish government, he did not warn of any potential business risks in case of separation. In January, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, also rejected commenting on the political situation in Catalonia. In a press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the White House, Obama avoided the issue. However, in June the US president intervened in the Scottish debate, saying that he would prefer a “strong and united” United Kingdom.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

496 Spanish State Vessel Incursions into BGTW Last Year

In a recent UK Commons debate on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton Jim Dobbin questioned Europe Minister David Lidington on the number of incursions by Spanish state vessels in BGTW between December 2013 and now. Minister Lidington stated that there had been a total of 496 incursions throughout 2013, with 9 being carried out in December. This year there has been 77 unlawful incursions as of 28th February. Guardia Civil carried out 53 of these, with two being carried out by the Spanish Navy.

Minister Lidington went on to say that the Government continues to make diplomatic protests to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding these incursions. He added, ‘unlawful incursions do not weaken or undermine the legal basis for British sovereignty over Gibraltar territorial waters.’

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Barcelona Moves Forward in Participation, Democracy

Recent years have seen Barcelona gain growing international exposure, while gradually leaving behind any temptation to try to be Spain's second city, acting instead as the capital of a nation working to recover her sovereignty. Under a new administration, small yet significant steps have taken place. They include frequent trips to the United States by Mayor Trias and a renewed drive, working in tandem with the Catalan Government, to secure intercontinental flights and break the Spanish blockade on rail connections between the city's harbour and the European railway network. Following his trip to Ireland and Portugal, Help Catalonia talked with Carles Agustí, commissioner for citizens participation and associations at Barcelona City Council. 

1.- Help Catalonia:  Big cities can be anonymous and distant from citizens. What is Barcelona doing in order to avoid this?

Thinking of persons. Our project is “the city of persons” and everything revolves around this concept. For example, since we are the world mobile phone capital, and we top the rank of the Smart Cities, our goal is to secure services aimed at improving quality of life for citizens.

2.- Help Catalonia: What are the main concerns that Barcelona Local Council hears from people and associations?

The different, overlapping, crisis that we are suffering.  The economic crisis, of course, which is giving a lot of people a hard time. Also the political crisis, though, with a great mistrust by citizens toward the ruling institutions. The national crisis too, with exhaustion concerning coexistance with Spain, and mutual fatigue in relations between Catalonia and Spain.

3.- Help Catalonia: Concerning this effort to get closer to citizens, to grant them a role in the city's governance, is it related to the gradual taking root of the democracy – right to self-determination duet?

It is all democracy.  Involving citizens in the city's governance, what we call “ruling with the people,” is democracy. So is, obviously, the right to decide, the right to self-determination. In other words the right to vote, which is democracy's core.

4.- Help Catalonia: You have recently travelled to Ireland and Portugal. Is Barcelona's experience in the field of citizens participation prompting any interest?

It is. However, Barcelona is such an international brand that our model prompts interest in whatever field. Also, of course, when it comes to citizens participation. This is an area where we have a concrete model, which we want to export to the world while enriching it with experiences from abroad. All of this is easier thanks to the fact that Barcelona hosts the international headquarters of the main network of cities in the field of citizens participation, the IOPD (International Observatory on Participatory Democracy).  Actually, the IOPD acts as the international organization in this field.

5.- Help Catalonia: On the other hand, which experiences from other cities would you stress?  Have you observed any that Barcelona may be pondering to adopt?

Porto Alegre, the capital per excellence of participatory democracy since it set up participatory budgets. Also different open government experiences such as those from some US and Basque cities, in addition to London.

6.- Help Catalonia: Spain is considered to be a backward, little competitive, corrupt country, with a weak work ethic, obsessed with getting subsidies, unconcerned about international security, freedom of navigation, and the rule of law at sea, and a not very trustworthy ally. In international meetings such as those you have recently attended, how does Barcelona Local Council manage to avoid being tainted by that image?

We travel representing Barcelona, which sports its own brand, and a very powerful one. We try to associate Brand Catalonia to it, in order to promote it. Brand Catalonia remains unknown in a great deal of the world. We do not need any other brand.

7.- Help Catalonia: More generally, despite the impact of the 9/11 Catalan National Day demonstration in 2012, and the 2013 Catalan Way (mass human chain), many tourists and business visitors still associate the Catalan capital with Spain. How can the local council help promote an alternative image, based on modernity and Catalan identity?

I would answer with the same arguments explained in the reply to the previous question. That is, betting on brand Barcelona itself and linking it to Catalonia, the latter standing behind brand Barcelona. Catalonia must gradually get to be known internationally. Plus, actually stressing the distinctive values making up both brands, such as their Mediterranean, European, entrepreneurial nature and the presence of a strong civil society and popular culture, among others.

8.- Help Catalonia:  In the case of tourism, Madrid's anti-Gibraltar campaign is prompting a growing number of calls for a tourist boycott against Spain.  Julie Girding, a member of the European Parliament, has issued one such call, while making it clear that she recommended travelling to Catalonia. What can Barcelona Local Council do to ensure that British tourists are not confused and stop visiting Catalonia's capital?

I believe that precisely concerning this issue, Catalonia's and Barcelona's own position has been made clear, different from that of Spain proper.  Our position is far from the ancient claims by others. On the contrary, it is based on respect and solidarity toward the people of Gibraltar's right to self-determination. They also have that right.

9.- Help Catalonia:  In your recent trip to Ireland you had a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. What were the main issued discussed?

First of all, Barça. He is a football fan and appeared most happy with FC Barcelona. It was a trip with the Leading Cities network of municipalities, led by Boston and where Barcelona plays a significant role. As a result, the rest of the exchange dealt with Ireland's economic recovery model, based on betting on new technologies. This has born fruit, since a large portion of the world's main enterprises in the technology industry have their European or global headquarters in Dublin. Google and Linkedin among them.

10.- Help Catalonia:  Is there any interest in Ireland in Barcelona City Council's citizens participation policies?

Yes, above all those concerning co-innovation and co-creation. We have a number of precedents under our belt, and a certain experience in this field. This was of interest to the Irish, and to other members of the Leading Cities network.

11.- Help Catalonia:  At the Portuguese city of Cascais you co-chaired the 13th IOPD Conference on “Citizenship for Sustainability”. Could you tell us a bit about the issues discussed and the participants' conclusions?

This was the IOPD World Congress, which I referred to earlier. Thus, participants discussed all sort of issues connected to citizens participation. Above all participatory budgets, this is the most widespread experience at the world level, but also open government case studies. One of the conclusions was the need to coordinate among ourselves in making known this sort of experiences. Also a warning on the risk of supranational institutions having excessive power to impose their thesis, something that was considered to be able to weaken the democratic mechanisms whereby citizens may express themselves.

12.- Help Catalonia: The suggested theme for the 14th IOPD Conference is “A radicalization of democracy and citizen participation”. Can we say that it is further evidence that democracy, and associated concepts such as participation and self-determination, are gradually moving forward in the world agenda? What contributions can Barcelona make in this coming conference?

We are contributing our model of citizens participation, called “Ruling with the people”, which is Barcelona's answer to the crisis in citizens' trust in politics, and which is based on involving them in the tasks of government.  The neighbourhood councils, the management of local council facilities by popular entities, the strength of civil society, and electronic participation, are part of the model which Barcelona is exporting, which also includes Catalonia's right to self-determination.

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