Should the EU step up in the Catalan crisis?
On December 21st, the Catalans took a break from decorating for Christmas to go cast their votes in a snap election called by the prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy. Against all odds, a unionist party, Ciudadanos (Citizens), placed first in elections, but did not manage to win enough votes to form a government as the three pro-independence parties together got 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament. This came as a slap in the face to Mariano Rajoy who called the snap election due to his anticipation that the anti-independence parties would obtain a majority. Therefore, the election result has left more questions than answers in regards to the deeply divided Catalonia.
But as the result of the referendum which happened on October 1st has been highly contested due to its turnout – the 90 percent in favor of independence was only 43 percent of voting population – it can be argued that the snap election has brought to light the disagreement between Catalans. While the conflict is still being presented as the Madrid vs Barcelona
football teams rivalry, the snap election result requires us to keep our eyes open. The nationalist feelings in Spain have been hiding the conflict of class interest. As it can be seen from the last elections, the districts with high levels of income voted for pro-independence parties while those with incomes below the city average voted for parties against independence. This unequal distribution of income has come from the public policies implemented by the governing nationalist parties over the years. Yet, as the differences in identity, culture and language are highly mediatized, the corruption of the parties and class divisions are issues which are still not being brought into discussion.
Obviously, in this times of political turmoil, the European Union’s role in the Catalan conflict cannot be left aside. As Catalonia is not the only region in desire of independence, the fear of a ‘domino effect’ has been spreading and therefore, massive question marks hang over the cohesion of the European Union. And while the EU does not want to lose its fundamental values, the support which secessionist Catalans ask for cannot be offered as the EU does not have the necessary equipment to solve the conflict. Since the EU cannot dictate how member states organize themselves or interact with their regions, officials’ hands are tied. And while this does not mean that the EU should not get involved in the conflict, the risk of creating a precedent should be taken into consideration.
While the EU might have a duty to uphold democracy, at this point, staying on the sidelines is undoubtedly a sensible choice since the political stability of Catalonia is more ambiguous than ever.