“In the last one hundred years, twenty-nine new states have been created in Europe”

Last Thursday saw the first conference on self-determination in Catalonia, organized by Sobirania i Justícia, and held at Palau Robert in central Barcelona. All sessions took place in English, and were given by an international assortment of academics and experts, whose field of knowledge stretched far beyond Catalonia.

The conference was not concerned with reasons and motivations for Catalans to seek independence, but instead focused on the practicalities of achieving it in a context altered almost beyond recognition in recent decades by globalization and the European Union. In his opening remarks at the afternoon session, Quim Torra, president of Sobirania i Justícia, addressed the commonly-stated belief that independence holds no place in the modern world by reminding attendees that “in the last one hundred years, twenty-nine new states have been created in Europe alone.”

Indeed, first speaker Dr. Charles E. Ehrlich, used Kosovo, the most famous state to gain independence in recent years, to raise many issues surrounding the process of independence. While acknowledging that the political situation in Kosovo was unique in many ways, he argued that there were nonetheless many lessons to be learned from the way in which the people of Kosovo sought to build a state both under the supervision of and independently from the United Nations, and a state moreover that would accommodate not only the Albanian majority, but the minority Serbian population of 5%. Drawing comparisons between Catalonia and Kosovo, Ehrlich suggested that Spain in the aftermath of Franco’s death occupied a roughly equivalent position to the UN in the Kosovo situation… that of heavy-handed regulation of the development of the democratic institutions.

Patrick Dumberry, professor of law at the University of Ottawa, focused more specifically on the Catalan situation in his address on the legal aspects of separation from Spain. He emphasized the necessity of a great deal of work on the part of the Catalans to ensure that other states, particularly European states and other world powers, will recognize Catalonia in the event of its succession. He addressed such open questions as those of territory, whether Catalonia would receive automatic membership in the EU or would have to reapply, and such issues as a possible
Catalan army, citizenship (and whether Spain would recognize dual citizenship), and potential trade barriers in the short term with Europe.

Describing himself as the “pessimist” of the conference, Dumberry nonetheless concluded that while many aspects of Catalan secession were illegal in Spanish and international law as it currently stood, this was not necessarily a problem provided that Catalonia were recognized by the international community, which he didn’t consider to be likely to cause many problems. The ascension of newly separated states into the existing European framework is untested waters in many particulars, Dumberry pointed out, but “either you or Scotland will be the first. I hope it’s you.”

Conclusions from the conference ran along the lines that preparation is key, and that the sooner Catalans begin preparing in earnest for the myriad of issues they will need to face in the event of secession from Spain, the easier that secession is likely to be.

Article and picture by Emily McBride. Emily is a Canadian who now calls Barcelona home. She holds an MSc in Urban Studies, writes freelance about tourism and style and is currently finishing her first children’s novel. Thanks Emily!

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