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In 1453, the region of Catalonia
became part of the Spanish Empire after King Ferdinand II of Aragon (Catalonia)
married Isabella I of Castile (Spain), creating the modern country of Spain.
Under the Spanish Empire, Catalans continued to speak their regional language
and they stuck to their cultural ties, thus keeping the region from fully
integrating into the Spanish culture and language. Over the course of time,
Catalonia’s autonomy began to decrease as the central Spanish government began
to increase its political influence over the region. In 1716, after the War of
the Spanish Succession, Catalonia lost its statehood and was annexed by the Spanish
government. The region became independent for a short period of time around the
1930s, before it was quickly reclaimed by the brutal dictator Francisco Franco.
Some view Franco’s time in power as a turning point for Catalan Independence,
as his harsh suppression of the regional culture and language emboldened
Catalans to reclaim their identity, as separate from that of Spain. Thomas Y.
Patrick mentions that, “The 1978 Spanish Constitution and the 1979 Statute of
Autonomy restored democracy in Spain and provided for significant Catalan
autonomy” (Patrick 2016, 203). Nevertheless, Catalonia continued to keep to its
distinct culture and language, while also becoming one of the wealthiest and
highly industrialized regions within Spain.

Since 1979, Catalonia’s lawmakers and
leaders have pushed to make the region truly independent from Spain; this
movement hit its breaking point following the 2008 Global Recession, which
drove the unemployment rate to hit 24.45% in Catalonia, back in 2013. Catalans
came to realization that they were paying about 223.6 billion euros a year to
Spain, which Catalans perceived as, “a burdensome contribution to an
inefficient Spanish state. Combined with the rediscovery of its national
identity, the unequal economic pairing of Catalonia and Spain is making Catalan
independence in the near future a serious possibility” (Patrick 2016, 204). In
the past three years alone, Catalonia has held two referendums for independence
from Spain with the October 1st, 2017 referendum being the most
controversial one because of the reaction from the Spanish government on
election day. A day before the vote, the Spanish Government ruled that the
referendum would be unconstitutional and illegal, so the central powers in Madrid
ordered police officers to block voters from entering their polling locations
and in the process injured hundreds of civilians, shocking the global community
as gruesome videos and images quickly circled around the internet. The results
indicated that only about 40% of Catalonia’s electorate showed up to vote and
90% of them voted for independence.

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Carles Puigdemont, the leader of
Catalonia, has called on the global community to recognize the region as an
independent state, on the grounds of self-determination. Major European
countries have already indicated that they would not recognize Catalonia as an
independent state, holding back the regions push to secede from Spain. It is
important to look at how international law and international politics are
intertwined in the debate and how the concepts of self-determination, of state
sovereignty, and of recognition will ultimately dictate whether or not
Catalonia will be recognized as an independent state. In order for
international law enthusiasts to understand this situation, one must look at
this crisis through the lenses of an international lawyer, and one must closely
examine what the law says in regard to these concepts, how the laws and
concepts apply to the Spain and Catalonia Crisis, and finally, I will give a
case as to why I believe Catalonia will most likely not become an independent

Self-determination, is defined by
Shirley V. Scott as, “the principle that those people within a particular
territory have the right to choose their own political system” (Scott 2017,
22). Chapter 1, Article 1, part 2 of the UN Charter includes the right to
respect self-determination when it states that, “To develop friendly relations
among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination
of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal
peace” (United Nations 1945). At the time when the United Nations’ Charter was
being drafted, the right to self-determination was a concept applying to the
areas that were once under colonial rule whom were now free to govern
themselves without any overarching rule from another nation. In the case of
Catalonia, they were granted a level of autonomy under the post-Franco
constitution, and therefore were never a “colony” of the Spanish government.
Though, as noted by Thomas Y. Patrick, “three non-colonial states—Kosovo,
Bangladesh, and Eritrea—have successfully unilaterally seceded without the
consent of their governing states” (Patrick 2016, 206). In those three cases,
self-determination was the claim they used to push for independence but more
importantly, sub-state self-determination or national self-determination were
the concepts at hand. National self-determination is defined as, “The idea of
national self-government, in other words, speaks of groups determining the
character of their social and economic environment, their fortunes, the course
of their development, and the fortunes of their members by their own actions,
i.e., by the action of those groups, in as much as these are matters which are
properly within the realm of political action” (Margalit and Raz 1990, 440).  Catalans push for independence on the grounds
of self-determination is a result of the rise of nationalism within the region,
so it is important to specifically look at the concept of national

National self-determination is not
mentioned in the United Nations’ Charter, so it is difficult to determine
whether or not sub-states have the legal right to self-determination. Many
states would not deny the intrinsic value of self-determination, but they would
argue that this “right” has its limitations. For example, the right to
self-determination is interpreted as a right for groups that were once colonized
by another state. More importantly, “Ethnic or other distinct groups within
colonies did not have a right to separate themselves from the ‘people’ of the
territory as a whole” (Hannum, Encyclopedia Princetoniensis). In addition,
under international law, sub-states do not have the right to secede from their
state and that action is not officially recognized in international law. One
can interpret this and make the argument that Catalonia’s claim to secede on
the grounds of self-determination, is invalid because nowhere does the
international law recognize the right to secede. Self-determination is reserved
as a right to groups that have previously been colonized by another state or
groups that face political inequality and that face humanitarian injustices by
the state that governs over their region. Finally, if Catalonia wishes to
secede from Spain it would jeopardize the legal status of non-Catalans who live
in the region and put Spain’s sovereignty at risk.

The problem for constitutional
democracies is that if every region within a central given state wished to
become an independent entity from that state, it would provoke chaos across the
globe as states’ constitutions would be violated by acts of secession.
Democratic societies function best when there is a constitution that protects
the people’s rights and if every region was going against that constitution so
they could form their own state, that breaks the democratic order. In the case
of Catalonia, there are Spanish citizens living within the region of Catalonia,
most notably, in the city of Barcelona. If Catalonia separated from Spain they
would jeopardize the status’ of thousands of Spaniards who are living within
the region which would led to a crisis. Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, wrote an opinion piece
on the topic of state sovereignty in regard to Catalonia, and stated that, “Madrid’s
post-fascist constitution, endorsed at its promulgation by the people of
Catalonia, invests sovereignty in the people of Spain. Catalans cannot vote to
secede without affecting Spanish citizens in Castile or Andalusia. There is no
magic formula to reconcile these competing nationalisms” (Stephens 2017, Financial Times). Max Huber explains the
importance of the concept of state sovereignty in Shirley V. Scott’s book
where, “‘Sovereignty in the relations between states signifies independence. Independence
in regard to a portion of the globe is the right to exercise therein, to the
exclusion of any other state, the functions of a state'” (Scott 2017, 20).
Catalonia’s claim that international laws support the region’s right to self-determination,
is countered by the Spain’s right to be in control of its internal affairs
through the concept of state sovereignty. A writer at The Economist, explains why Catalonia’s push for secession would go
against Spain’s constitution when they state that, “Spain’s democratic
constitution of 1978, which was approved by more than 90% of Catalan voters,
gave wide autonomy to the regions but affirmed ‘the indissoluble unity of the
Spanish nation.’ Only the Spanish parliament can change the constitution. Mr. Puigdemont’s
referendum is therefore illegal” (M.R. 2017, The Economist).

The United Nations’ Charter,
Article 2, section 1, states that, “The Organization is based on the principle
of the sovereign equality of all its Members” (United Nations 1945). What this
means is that each state has the right to be in control of its own political
and economic affairs, therefore that right must be protected and reserved in
order to have a fully functioning global organization. This also means that
each state’s constitution must be respected to preserve the sovereignty of that
state. A state’s constitution is what spells out the way in which that state will
operate under certain laws and no outside actor or internal region can violate
those rules without causing a constitutional crisis within the state, thus jeopardizing
the sovereignty of that state. Catalonia’s push to secede and to become its own
separate state would go against Spain’s constitution, therefore jeopardizing the
sovereignty of Spain. Margaret Moore wrote a piece addressing this issue where
she states that, “the 1970 U.N. Declaration regarding the right to secession
makes it clear that the United Nations condemns ‘any action aimed at the
partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of
any other State or country'” (Moore 2004, 1323). The national unity and the territorial
integrity of a given state refers to the sovereignty of that state, so any
region that wishes to secede cannot do so if it means that it would cause massive
disruption within the state and jeopardize the territorial lines of that state.
Timothy William Waters wrote a piece regarding Spain’s sovereignty and how
Catalonia’s move to secede, “brings it into conflict with Spain’s constitution
and government; secession clearly violates numerous constitutional provisions on
the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Spain” (Waters 2016, 18). Finally,
if Catalonia were to secede from Spain the chances of the region being
recognized by other countries as a sovereign state are very low which would make
it impossible for the region to act as an independent state.

The act of recognition, is defined
as an act, “by which one state recognizes that another exists, may be either
express – via a formal statement recognizing the new state, or implied through
actions such as, for example, the making of a bilateral treaty arranging for
commercial relations” (Scott 2017, 23). The United Nations website states that,
“the recognition of a new State or Government is an act that only other States
and Governments may grant or withhold. It generally implies readiness to assume
diplomatic relations” (United Nations Website). The law regarding the act of
recognition has been one of international debate because even if a “state”
meets all of the criteria to become an independent state, it does not always
mean that it will be recognized as an independent state. For example, “SOMALILAND,
a slim slice of Somali-inhabited territory on the southern shore of the Gulf of
Aden, ticks almost all the boxes of statehood. But it has yet to receive
official recognition from a single foreign government in the years since it
declared independence in 1991” (T.G. 2015, The
Economist). A reason for this may be that politics is playing a role in the
decision-making process on whether or not the region should be recognized as an
independent state. Recognizing a state could cause a separatist wave amongst regions
that wish to secede from an already sovereign state and could cause massive
disruption for the international community. That is why there are cases where a
“state” may meet all of the criteria to become an independent state, but due to
a lack of recognition by foreign states, that “state” will not be treated as an
independent state by the international community.

In the case of Catalonia, the
European Council President and the European Parliament President stated that
they would not recognize the region of Catalonia as an independent state, along
with France, the U.K., Germany, and the United States. Politico, published an article where they quoted a German
government spokesman by the name of Steffen Seibert, when he stated that, “‘The
sovereignty and territorial integrity of Spain are and remain inviolable'” (Saeed
2017, Politico). One of Catalonia’s only
chances of operating as an independent state would have been if the European
Union, and its members, recognized the region as an independent state.  The reason for this being that if the region
had the full backing of the EU, and its member states decided to enter into
treaties with Catalonia, then the region would have recognition from the world’s
most powerful nations which acts as a stamp of approval for Catalonia’s claim
on independence. Since the EU, and its members, formally came out and said they
would not support an independent state of Catalonia, the region has a little to
no chance of becoming an internationally recognized state.

            International law plays a role in
the Spain and Catalonia case, but I do not believe that it answers all of the
questions that need to be answered in order justify Catalonia becoming an independent
state. I believe the international laws themselves make a case against
Catalonia’s claim for independence. For example, the protection for the state sovereignty
of Spain and its constitution, and the lack of recognition of Catalonia as an
independent state by foreign nations, all make the argument against Catalonia’s
push for independence. When it comes to the international laws regarding self-determination,
that is where I believe the laws are unclear as to how a region like Catalonia
can become an independent state by claiming a right to self-determination. The
laws regarding self-determination originally applied to colonies and does not mention
the right being extended to regions or sub-states. International law is ambiguous
on the topic of self-determination so it is difficult to adequately use
self-determination as a right for sub-states to become independent states. The
international community should be pushing for the Spanish and the Catalan
leaders to negotiate with one another on a deal that would satisfy both sides
of the situation. In addition, I believe the international community should be
emphasizing on the fact that this is a domestic situation in which the central
government of Spain is the ultimate decision maker in the situation. This is an
issue that would affect the economic, the political, and the cultural landscape
of Spain and the country should handle its internal affairs without foreign interference.
Catalonia’s plea for recognition by foreign states was a mistake because it
dragged foreign states to formally say whether or not they would recognize the region
and most of the foreign states stated that they would not recognize the region
as an independent state. This issue should be left between the Spanish
government and the leaders of the region of Catalonia.

the region of Catalonia became part of the country of Spain, a portion of the people
who have lived in the region for many generations have been pushing for Catalonia
to secede from Spain and to become an independent state. In 2017, the same
drive and the push for independence still resonates with many Catalans who
believe that they are Catalan before they are Spanish. With the rise of nationalism
spreading across Europe and the Americas, it is no surprise that a region like
Catalonia, which has always wanted to secede from Spain, has pushed for the
international community to recognize the results from the November 1st
referendum and to be recognized as an independent state. Catalonia’s claim to
have the right to self-determination is invalid due to the fact that
international law is silent on the matter of sub-state self-determination and
reserves the right to colonies and other regions that are experiencing human
rights violations or political inequality. In addition, if Catalonia were to
secede from Spain, it would be violating Spain’s constitution, thus jeopardizing
the sovereignty of Spain. International law defends the right of state sovereignty
so anything that jeopardizes a state’s sovereignty is quickly condemned by the international
community. Finally, if no major foreign state will recognize the region of
Catalonia as an independent state, then the region has a little to no chance of
becoming an independent state, since it would not be able to enter into treaties
with other states. Instead of Catalan leaders calling on the international
community to take a stance defending their right to be independent from Spain,
they should sit down with Spanish lawmakers and work out an agreement that
would satisfy both sides of the situation. Catalonia cannot become an independent
state without impulsively damaging the economic, the political, and the
cultural landscape of Spain, so the leaders of Catalonia that are pushing for
independence need to acknowledge that fact and figure out how both sides can
come to a mutual agreement on the situation. International law is resourceful
when looking at this case but at the end of the day, the situation needs to be
dealt with between the Spanish government and the Catalan leaders. Bringing in
foreign states is only going to polarize the situation and if the two
governments wish to have peace and stability within the country, they need to
come a resolution that is mutually acceptable and that would uphold the laws
within the constitution of Spain

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