Let’s welcome the Catalonia-Europe tandem

  • Written by  Jaume Ventura
  • Published in Articles
Let’s welcome the Catalonia-Europe tandem Foto: Xavier Cervera (Arxiu La Vanguardia)

Which services do we, the citizens of Catalonia, expect from our state? How can we design our state to ensure that these services are provided efficiently? The purpose of these lines is to offer some thoughts on the model of state that would be useful for Catalonia. This state is based on the Catalonia-Europe tandem.

I expect three services from Europe: (1) to ensure the well-functioning of markets; (2) to ensure democracy, human rights and the freedom of individuals and peoples to choose their destiny; and (3) to defend the European space from external aggression.

Could the Spanish state provide these services? Let us start with the well-functioning of markets. I think that everybody would agree today that our economic borders no longer coincide with those of Catalonia, not even with those of Spain. They are much broader. One of the great accomplishments of the XXth century has been the construction of a single European market for goods, assets and people. Even though most regulation regarding goods trade is already decided at the European level, a lot of regulation concerning financial and labor markets is still decided at the country level. This has created some coordination problems that have aggravated the current crisis and have slowed the recovery. There are few doubts among experts today about the need to regulate and intervene in financial markets at the European level. There is also a growing consensus about the need to coordinate the regulation of the labor market also at the European level. In any case, the Spanish government (or the Catalan one in the future) cannot ensure by itself that markets work well.

Another great accomplishment of the XXth century is the acceptance by all Europeans of a common set of beliefs based on democracy, human rights and the freedom of individuals and peoples to choose their destiny. Unfortunately, I do not believe either that the Spanish state can ensure the application of these principles. The current conflict between the governments of Spain and Catalonia clearly shows that you cannot be an involved party and judge at the same time. The underlying problem is quite simple. If the large majority of the population of a given region with its own language and differentiated culture wants to have its own state, the principle of democracy requires that this wish be respected. But the Spanish government ignores this principle because it believes that its application would have a negative economic and emotional impact on Spaniards, even though this denial of a basic freedom is very unfair to Catalans. One could compare this attitude with that of the British government when faced with a similar request from Scotland. But this is not the point here. We cannot depend on the Spanish (or Catalan in the future) government’s good or bad will to solve those problems in which the Spanish government is an involved party. This conflict, and others to come, should be solved at the European level, and with the single-minded objective of finding solutions that conform to the set of basic beliefs that guide Europe.

I expect three services from Catalonia: (1) to ensure law and order; (2) to ensure a generous and efficient welfare state; and (3) to provide infrastructures that are adequate for the economic activity of the country.
Could the Spanish state provide these services? Here we must go back to history to find an answer. In particular, there are two problems worth mentioning. The first one is that the Spanish state is very expensive for the Catalans. Of every 100 euros that Catalonia pays in taxes, only 57 euros are spent in Catalonia. The remainder, 43 euros, we “give away” to Spain. We are not talking here about an occasional gift, the result of a single year or the outcome of an exceptional event. We are not talking here about a small problem that can be solved easily. We are talking about a situation that keeps repeating itself, at least since 1986, the first year we have data on interregional transfers in Spain. The worst aspect of the system is these transfers are not scheduled to end. Development programs of the World Bank, the United Nations and other institutions are designed to ensure that the countries that receive aid develop and eventually stop needing this aid. The regional funds of the European Union are also designed to ensure that the poorest regions in Europe grow and stop needing these funds. Why is it that the same principle does not apply to the relationship between Catalonia and Spain? Why is it that Catalans cannot use their own taxes to raise our pensions, improve our educational system or build infrastructures that make us more competitive? A permanent system of forced “aid” does not qualify as aid, it is simply a theft.

The second problem that history shows is the tendency of the Spanish state to disregard the needs of Catalonia and create artificial problems. The Spanish map of infrastructures clearly shows that the needs of Catalonia are not a high in the Spanish state’s agenda. The recent debate on the educational system is a good example of how the Spanish government creates artificial problems. Our educational system can be improved in many ways, no doubt about it. But if there is something that everybody agrees upon is on the value of using Catalan as the main language of instruction. This system has allowed the children of immigrants to integrate and to participate in the labor market with the same opportunities as the children of those who have been living in Catalonia for many generations. And yet, the Spanish government insists that the Catalan educational system has to change and become much more similar to that in Spain. Why does the Spanish government want to penalize those that want to live and work in Catalonia by giving them an education that has been designed for Albacete or Leon, but not for Catalonia? Or even more directly: Why is it that the Catalans cannot decide the education of their children?

We reach the end of these lines. I expect many services from the state. In some cases, the Spanish state cannot provide these services because they are beyond its capabilities. In some other case, the Spanish state provides services that are expensive and inadequate for reasons that I cannot understand. It is easy to reach a conclusion. The Spanish state is not the right one for us. The citizens of Catalonia need a new state that is better adapted to our needs, a state which is based on the Catalonia-Europe tandem.

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