Catalan Independence? An Interview with Miguel Medina

On November 27, 2012, Sharnoff’s Global Views interviewed Dr. Miguel Medina, adviser to the Catalan Parliament in Spain. Dr. Medina received a BA in politics from Barcelona (1994-1999); a Masters in European Political Studies from Bruges (2001-2004); and a PhD in International Relations from Cambridge (2006-2011).

He has worked in various capacities including human resources, research, politics, teaching, project management and politics. He has published on Turkey, the Middle East, European Union foreign policy and energy security. He is a lecturer in international politics in Barcelona (Universitat Abat Oliva and European University).

SGV: Can you tell us a bit about your background, your political inspiration and your current position?

MM: I have always been interested in politics, since I consider politics is a fundamental instrument for civil society to get its voice heard in the institutions. I hold a Bachelor in politics (Barcelona, Spain), a Masters in European Political Studies (Bruges, Belgium) and a PhD in International Relations (Cambridge, United Kingdom). I am now an adviser to the Catalan Parliament and Lecturer in International Politics in Barcelona (Universitat Abat Oliva and European University).

SGV: Recently, there have been calls for Spain’s province of Catalonia to secede from Madrid. Can you explain why these calls have been made, how they are perceived by the Catalan government, its people and the Spanish Government and people in Madrid?

MM: Catalan nationalism/separatism has always existed, but there are three factors that play a role over the last months that have made this process possible. First, the current economic crisis, which has been the motto of the Catalan Government to hail the argument that “Spain is a thief” and that there is fiscal spoliation from Madrid. Second, the disastrous economic management of the Catalan Government, who sees in the separatism process the best cover to mask its real intentions (go on with the cuts, privatize the basic services of the welfare state, and so on). Third, the top of the iceberg was the massive demonstration on September 11, which influenced the Catalan President to move to early elections.

The Spanish Government has been worried about this “quest” from the beginning and has repeated intensively that the so-called “referendum” for independence would be illegal and that any change in the territory of Spain requires changing the Constitution, bearing in mind all the legal consequences of that.

SGV: On Sunday, voters in Catalonia did not back their leader Artur Mas on his bid to make Catalonia an independent state. How do you analyze the outcome of the parliamentary elections and why do you think the people voted against secession?

MM: Well, I consider Artur Mas made two strategic mistakes. First, he considered that his management as president would not be scrutinized (all the economic indicators are much worse now than in 2010, when he came into power; he imposed an endless list of cuts to civil servants, doctors, teachers, etc.).

Second, he was convinced that he would personalize the separatist movement, neglecting the fact that there are many political parties pro-independence (like ERC, which is now the second political force in the Parliament) and that people who are in favor of this process and of holding a public consultation come from all the political spectrum.

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SGV: At the movement, where does Spain stand on this issue? How have elections affected the Government of Artur Mas and relations with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy?

MM: Well, the central Government is relatively satisfied with the results and calls for prudence and moderation in the new Catalan Government, which necessarily has to be formed by at least two political parties. And it has repeated that the “referendum” should be held under the legal mechanism laid down in the Constitution (Article 92 of the Constitution clearly sets down that the Spanish Parliament is the only institution authorized to hold a referendum).

SGV: In spite of the elections results, will Artur Mas continue to seek Catalonia independence by holding a referendum or unilaterally declaring independence as in the case of Kosovo and efforts by Palestinians?

MM: My opinion is that he will freeze the process for at least half a year, as he has to face at least three challenges: to form a new, stable government; to approve the budget for 2013; and to draw the fourth wave of cuts, previewed for the first half of 2013. He would be mad if now he tried holding a referendum or unilaterally declaring independence. Catalan people have clearly expressed that there are other priorities, he has lost all the credibility and internationally there is no “support” to his messianic idea.

SGV: Suppose Catalonia did secede from Madrid. What would a new Catalonia Government look like and what would its relationship be with Spain and the European Union?

MM: This is very hard to imagine, legally and politically. Well, if this was the case I am sure that the Government would be composed of CiU and ERC, at least, which are a nationalist party and a pro-independence party. What is clear is that the new state would be immediately out of the EU (and of NATO, the UN, etc.) given that this new state would not be any more a “high contracting party” of the respective treaties. Relationship with the Spanish Government would be a mystery, but it will not be easy, as they both had to negotiate and bargain many issues.

SGV: Finally, what is your message to the Catalan people and to the rest of Spain?

MM: There are two clear lessons drawn from these elections. First, there are always two cleavages present in any elections: people vote with the heart and with the pocket. Second, public opinion is not silly.

SGV: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.