Catalonia is not Spain… but will it be Germany?

Today’s Diada (the Catalan national holiday) has seen an unprecedented mass rally for Catalan independence in Barcelona.

The independence movement is growing in strength, with the Guardian reporting that 51% of the population of Catalonia is now in favour of breaking away from the Spanish state. With the economic and employment crises showing no signs of abating, the argument is no longer ‘just’ about historic grievences and issues of language and culture. It’s about whether independence would facilitate desperately needed improvements in the areas that affect people’s everyday lives.

Whatever the answer to that question, one of the notable features of the independence movement is the uncontested assumption that Catalonia would and should be a member of the European Union. In fact, this years’ slogan has been ‘Catalunya: nou estat d’Europa’ (Catalonia: a new European state).

The lack of controversy over EU membership is all the more surprising given how often Switzerland is cited as an example of a successful, multilingual state of comparable size and population to Catalonia. Yes, Switzerland is rich, but has its own currency and isn’t part of the EU.

One of the classic independence slogans is: ‘Ni Espanya Ni França, Països Catalans!’ (Not Spain, Not France, Catalan Lands!). This is a reference to both the historic conquer of Catalonia by France in 1714 and the country’s more recent incorporation into Spain. But Catalans surveying the current European economic and political landscape may start to feel that France and Spain are the least of their worries. The Eurozone is teetering on the brink of collapse, and Greece, Portugal and Spain have been reduced to mere vassals of their EU overlords. Why would Catalans want to risk liberating themselves from Spain only to start taking orders from Germany?

It will be interesting to see whether, as the situation in Europe evolves, the question not only of whether an independent Catalonia could join the EU, but of whether it should, will become a live one.