Would Any Foreign Governments Step In to Help Catalonia?

Updated on
  • External support unlikely, constitutional scholar says
  • Track record for unilateral secession moves is ‘abysmal’

Carles Puigdemont at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona.

Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

Spain is tightening the clamps on the rebellious Catalonia region, from probing its political leaders in Barcelona for sedition to freezing their websites.

With a deadline of Monday 10 a.m. Madrid time, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is preparing a last-ditch effort to avoid a possible suspension of his regional government. He’s under a government order to clarify whether he did, or did not, declare independence in a confusing parliamentary session Oct. 10.

With separatists seeing options waning, the question emerges: would foreign governments or groups extend a hand, helping Catalonia to preserve the case to break its 212 billion-euro ($250 billion) economy off from Spain?

“The UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights both uphold a right to national self-determination in theory,” said Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, a Chicago-based constitutional scholar at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “The historical success rate for unilateral secession has been abysmal and sometimes leads to terrible violence.”

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the Catalan crisis has presented a challenge for Europe that requires a political dialog to resolve the issue, diverging from comments of other European Union leaders, in an interview published Saturday in Le Soir. “There is a war of nerves which has to stop this moment to open up to a political dialog,” he said.

Lansberg-Rodriguez, who’s also a director for Latin America at Niall Ferguson’s geopolitical advisory firm Greenmantle, spoke with Bloomberg News on the movement’s foreign context after the Catalans on Oct. 10 declared independence and then suspended it.

1. Spain has never negotiated sovereignty. Why would it now?

Spain doesn’t have to respond on Catalonia’s terms. It has a lot of different responses it could go to -- there are legal channels, investigations and ways of exerting pressure without going through the international community. In fact, there’s really no actor in the international community that has a vested interest in Catalonia succeeding. In fact most countries don’t want to see a breakaway province. Look at China with Taiwan, India and Kashmir.

For an explanation of how the Constitution allows for regional-government shutdown, click here

2. Is international support likely, from the EU for example?

Potentially crucial players, such as the Trump Administration, China and the European Union, have responded coolly to the idea of independence. When Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont asked for “EU mediation,” Brussels immediately balked at the prospect of involving itself in what it called a “domestic issue” of Spain’s.

3. And if Spain shuts the region’s government?

Such reserve is certain to continue, with neighbor states not wanting to risk diplomatic backlash from Madrid or the economic-contagion risks of further destabilization in Spain, coupled with concerns as to what such a precedent might mean for independence dreams from their own troublesome nationalistic provinces such as Corsica or Flanders, renders it very difficult for any European state to cede ground on this.

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