Elephants in the Room

Catalonia Leaving Spain Would Be Like Illinois Leaving the United States

In Spain's hour of trial, it deserves full U.S. support.

Anti-separatist Catalans at a protest in Barcelona on Spain's National Day in 2012. (David Ramos/Getty Images)
Anti-separatist Catalans at a protest in Barcelona on Spain's National Day in 2012. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

Oct. 12 is Spain’s National Day — its Fourth of July. On Thursday, this Oct. 12, Spain’s allies ought to stand with Spain as it faces its greatest test in Catalonia.

Spain’s 1978 constitution is similar to the U.S. Constitution in a number of ways. The U.S. Constitution does not contemplate secession. Without being too melodramatic, the United States fought the Civil War partially on the issue of whether or not states could secede.  The U.S. federal government would intervene if, for example, Louisiana or Illinois sought to secede.

The Spanish government is doing the same in Catalonia. On Dec. 6, 1978, Catalonia voted 90 percent in favor of the 1978 constitution. This granted Catalonia many benefits including: Catalan as an official language, recognition of the Catalan “nation” within Spain, and bilingual education. The Catalans have gained a great deal. They have abused it with their recent referendum and do not deserve international support.

Spain has had 40 years of democracy, rule of law, and international prosperity. Spain joined NATO and the EU. Spain has been a net contributor to the rules-based international liberal order, as I have written before.

A smaller, weaker Spain is not in the interest of the United States, just as an independent Scotland and an independent Quebec have not been in the American interest in the past. President Barack Obama came out against an independent Scotland. President Bill Clinton came out against and independent Quebec. That is why President Donald Trump rightly came out against Catalan independence in informal remarks in the last couple of weeks.

The so-called vote that happened a few weeks ago was an act of political theater. Just as the United States would not tolerate such a vote in Louisiana or Illinois, the Spanish ought to undermine this illegitimate act. The vote did not enjoy a high turnout, there were numerous acts of fraud, and it was a massive provocation. Yes, there was police violence, but the king came out squarely on the side of the national government.

King Felipe VI gave the speech of his career after the vote. He called out the secessionists, asking them to return to legality. He reminded all, including the Catalans, that Spain has enjoyed peace, prosperity, and an important role in the world. The speech is very reminiscent of the speech that his father Juan Carlos I gave on Feb. 23, 1981, putting down an attempted coup.

The regional president, Carles Puigdmont, announced earlier this week a declaration of independence but put it in suspense. The Catalan secessionists are hoping for outside mediation and to be legitimized — seen as equivalent to Spain. The United States, the EU, the Vatican, and various important countries, including Mexico, have all come out and largely signaled they will largely not take the bait.

If there is an official declaration of independence by Catalonia, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said that Spain’s national government will invoke article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, under which the national government would intervene in the running of Catalonia, and region-wide elections would be called.

Spain is a great friend and ally of the United States. Just as we would ignore secession on the part of Louisiana or Illinois, the Catalan nationalist’s cause should be ignored, and the Spanish national government should be given our 100 percent support in this hour of trial.

Photo credit: David Ramos/Getty Images

Daniel Runde served in the George W. Bush administration at USAID. He also worked at the World Bank Group (IFC). He currently holds the William A. Schreyer Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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