Interviewing Josep Maria Reniu
Holding a Degree in Political Science and Sociology from Universidad Complutense de Madrid, having specialized in Constitutional Law and Political Science in CEPC, being Professor in Universitat de Barcelona (UB) since 2007 and Head of Studies of Political Science in UB since 2010, Dr. Josep Maria Reniu has joined the Catalan National Transition Committee (Consell Assessor de Transició Nacional, CATN in Catalan), the advisory council to the Catalan Government that organizes the Catalan institutional process towards a consultation about Catalonia’s independence.
From Finestra d’Oportunitat we wanted to let everybody know what this Committee does and, being Dr. Reniu a Constitutional Law expert, we wanted to introduce his approachings about today’s Catalan situation.
What is the Catalan National Transition Committee, the CATN?
The Catalan National Transition Committee or CATN is an advisory council or board created by the Catalan Government, the Generalitat. It’s one of the issues accorded in the legislative agreement of external endorsement between Catalonia’s main political parties, Convergència I Unió (CiU, the coalition Convergence and Union, centre-right party) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Catalonian Republican Left, unitary centre-left party), which defense Catalonia’s future as an independent country within the European Union. The CATN is thus a State Structure, it’s a council where many points of view are considered to identify and define which the most relevant and necessary issues are as to guarantee our national transition towards an independent Catalonia.
Who picked the CATN members up? Who decided you would be part of it?
I guess CATN members were agreed between CiU and ERC but I don’t have any empirical verification. I was formally proposed to join the CATN by the Catalan Minister of Presidency, Mr. Francesc Homs, the main political responsible of the Catalan National Transition Committee, together with the Catalan Government’s Vicepresidency, which is also the Administration Office. These two departments take charge and organize directly the logistical management of the Catalan National Transition Committee. Therefore, I was called by Minister Homs, having he previously waited for the agreement between the two main Catalan political parties. The Catalan National Transition Committee has the commitment of preparing the legal frames the Catalan Government will use for the organization of the referendum likely to be held next year ; we already wrote a report and are preparing another one. You may find it in the Internet, being translated in Spanish and English.
Which is your favorite legal frame from the first CATN report?
I have the wishful thinking, not an assuredness, of Catalonia being capable of holding a referendum in the Scottish fashion. I’d like the Spanish Government in Madrid to be politically smart and accept the Catalan people will through a simple referendum. We stated in the report previously noticed in this interview that the referendum’s question should be as simple as it could be, something like Has Catalonia to become a new independent state within the European Union? Yes or No? Using this simple method the process would come to a peaceful end. What I’d really like is the Spanish Government to authorize a referendum using some current legal tools, such as a Catalan law being issued by the Catalan Parliament (the 4/2010 disposition) or a devolution such as the one Westminster did to Scotland to permit the Scot legislative chamber to organize a referendum that will be held in September next year (2014). Sadly, and looking at the current political dynamics of the main Spanish polities, I do fear the scenario we’ll have is a kind-of-tolerance towards the future Catalan Consultation Law, being these consultation not as compulsory as a referendum would be. This law hasn’t been issued yet by the Catalan Parliament, and I do think the Spanish Government would try to stop this Catalan law using Spain’s Constitutional Court. Therefore, I foresee a scenario where, and I insist this is not my personal option, the Catalan Government would have to hold special elections, posing a plebiscitary character in them: either an independent Catalonia or a Spanish region. Thinking of this likely scenario, we would see another problem: what attitude the Spanish unitary parties would have, what attitude would Ciutadans (Citizens’ Party, a Catalonia-based Spanish unitary party) and Partido Popular (Popular Party, a strong Madrid-based party with franchises all over Spain, in Catalonia as well, with a hard right political wing, today governing the whole of Spain) defense? I wouldn’t be academically wild to expect any sort of boycott by these political parties if plebiscitary elections are to be held, but this refuse would be a great error for their expectations.
Taking this last option of the plebiscitary election as a real probability, and finally holding it, where would the Catalan process towards independence go to?
The Catalan Parliament must ensure a democratic mandate –a clear, firm, reliable popular expression of the independence issue of the Catalan people. If we can have this expression through a clear, simple, dichotomic referendum or consultation, the better. If the negative answer, the No, wins, we would accept it and perhaps wait three hundred years again. But if the positive answer, the Yes, wins, and if this Yes is as clear as the popular expression previously underlined in the whole Catalan territory, being this Yes much more supported than the anti-independence answer (the No), with a global participation higher than 70% –a participation percentage we could see in the last Catalan legislative election–, we would have a democratic mandate that would allow us to start to build and organize the structures the new independent Catalan state would have. Catalonia’s government and parliament would have to negotiate the secession terms. We have to stop thinking that after a referendum won by the pro-independence movement we would be free or independent from Spain straightaway. We won’t. After the referendum or consultation we will still be a Spanish region, but the Catalan government will have a democratic mandate, which is the more important political tool a country, a community, a nation may have. We have to seek this democratic mandate, through a referendum or plebiscitary elections in Catalonia.
I should explain the new political problems the Catalan politics would face in case of holding plebiscitary elections. Let’s imagine we can’t hold the referendum we wish and the Catalan government feels the compulsory necessity of organizing plebiscitary elections, and these don’t face any boycott-fashion issue: every one of the Catalan parties introduce themselves and their programs. If the parliamentary majority is not that clear, if there is not enough legitimacy, the Catalan parliament would have a problem if it wants to declare independence unilaterally. Now let’s imagine the legitimacy introduces 110 representatives (members of parliament), an arbitrary number which shows a strong pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament and represents an even stronger majority in popular votes –this scenario would be a second best, a good scenario that would allow the chamber to issue a Unilaterally Declared Independence. But if we imagine the opposite, where boycotts or any sorts of refusal are used by any relevant political actor, we would face a paralysis scenario where the independence declaration couldn’t be stated. In synthesis, and as I said previously, my first option is a referendum. Let’s count how many we pro-independence supporters are. Let the silent majorities express their feelings. If the Catalan independence is refused, we are as democratic as to accept this answer, even if we had lost a historical opportunity.
What have the Catalan political parties answered to the ideas being underlined in the first CATN’s report? Have they not listened to them, as happened with the Electoral Law they say they support but don’t actually issue, or you think they will harken?
The Catalan National Transition Committee members don’t have to be concerned of the parties’ answers to our reports. The CATN is an advisory council of the Catalan government, we deliver our reports to the president of the Generalitat and his Cabinet. We know this report has been echoed by the Catalan media, has been translated to Spanish and president Mr. Artur Mas has delivered it to Mr. Mariano Rajoy, president of the Spanish Government. We know this report has been translated to English and French and is being translated to German. Let me be sincere, I haven’t heard the parties’ reactions to our report, because either they do not even read it –and I can tell this for their statements– or we aren’t up into having a political feedback. It’s simple: the Catalan National Transition Committee members try to simply cover its obligations, being underlined in its creation decree by the Catalan president and his Cabinet.
And how do you feel the citizen answer has been? What do you think of the Catalan pro-independence popular movement?
The Catalan citizenship has showed itself very fond of this report. As you might see in the Internet’s social networks or simply walking around any Catalan town, the people’s reaction has been impressive. I haven’t ever met strangers who do approve your work and stop you only to tell you so and invite you to go on. This reaction is worth it. The Catalan pro-independence popular movement need not to be defensed anymore: you have to only pay attention at the last Catalan National Day (the Diada, celebrated every September 11th since 1714, when Catalonia lost its freedoms and constitutions after the Spanish Succession War), when millions of Catalans handheld themselves in a human chain that unified Catalonia from north to south; there were people who went from their very town to a faraway place just to cooperate in this peaceful demonstration, covering 413 km, without any tangible profit, only a symbolic feeling of taking part of a once-in-a-time act. The Via Catalana (Catalan Way, the human chain) was a lesson: ours is a society that mobilizes politically when they want to change things, and they do so in a non-profit, festive, peaceful and committed fashion. There were some places in Catalonia, when the Catalan Way was being demonstrated, where the 413 km had more people than they needed, but the brotherhood sense was stronger and everybody could join. I believe this can let us see how powerful this society can be.
We have lately heard of the possibility of Catalonia being expelled from the European Union if it becomes an independent country. Do you think Catalonia could have a future out of the EU if it becomes an independent nation?
I think Catalonia wouldn’t be out of the EU because Catalonia is Europe, we are Europe. It’s true we can open a debate with no end about legal issues, about European Treaties. There are two possibilities; one is EU’s internal extension –being this issue a problem to be solved between Catalonia and Spain–. We could argue about economic issues such as the Spanish public debt, which could be shared by an independent Catalonia, or we could argue about Catalonia’s part as an European economic contributor, being Catalonia a prosperous European nation within the EU. The other possibility is the part the historical European nation states would take, arguing that Catalonia should exit the EU and wait for its moment to enter again. If this was the scenario, I think it would be like a fast pass, Catalonia could have a ticket that would allow her to enter EU faster than other state candidates because of its previous EU member tradition.
If Catalonia would hypothetically stay out of the EU, it couldn’t stay out of the European economic area, where there are not unanimity rules or norms. Europe is economically interested in Catalonia being a member of its economic area, and we would see a Norway-sort scenario. I think the ones who should be concerned of a non-European Catalonia are the agricultural businesses of the southern regions of Spain, which use the Mediterranean coasts –and Catalonia is a very Mediterranean region of Europe– as a way to sell their products all over Europe. It’s not fair to use fear as an argument, to show a cataclysm scenario if Catalonia becomes independent. The EU, with the Catalan and Scottish issues, has a challenge to face and resolve, and this challenge may be easier to face, because of its different character, than the ones Europe faces in the Eastern European nations, which have to ensure their democratic institutions in the EU fashion.
Which would the first international recognitions be for Catalonia once it becomes an independent state?
I don’t know, it’s actually a situation still too far from today’s reality. It is true, though, that demonstrations such as the Catalan Way have helped to gain some sort of international support or acknowledgement, above all in the communication field. There has been a good internationalization of the whole process, we could make a peaceful, civic, festive token with the Catalan Way and that is well perceived abroad. And I’m not just talking about the state elites of foreign countries, the citizenship of those countries also receive news about the will of Catalan people to become independent. We could have seen how international media such as the Financial Times, The Washington Post or Al Jazeera or even a Japanese broadcast have treated this issue, and that means something: the Catalan issue hasn’t appeared as a negative matter, but as a positive dynamic, as a peaceful national claim. Therefore I believe a little but very important stage has been gained, won. And yet there is still much time as to consider how this process will endure. But there’s a relevant key: if this process is done well and ends up with a democratic mandate, many states will feel difficult not to recognize a new Catalan state, because they would contradict the democratic principles of the European institutions. Finally, I do believe that we first need a democratic mandate as to be ready for a further international recognition; a democratic mandate will be the best introductory card for the international community.
We reached the end of the interview, but first, what do you think of a possible third way, a confederal way, posed by one of the parties of the Coalition CiU? Do you see a confederal way in the whole independence process?
No. Confederal arguments posed by Unió (Catalan Democratic Union, the U of CiU, a minor democratic Christian and Catalan nationalist party) are reactive, they have never been positive or proactive arguments. They try to take profit of some shadowy areas of our society and a part of the political class, and so try to create a false alternative and dilute the main debate: has Catalonia to be independent? I think a third way, either being posed by Unió as a confederal matter or posed as a federalist manner by the Catalan socialists (a franchise of the main Spanish centre-left party, PSOE) are answers to a reality that runs away from them, a reality that has crashed them and it’s not credible anymore. A key issue in the whole process, and in the political aspect, is the capability of making credible any alternative or proposition. I think federalism in Spain is not credible anymore: it’s not late, it’s just not credible. And actual confederations, such as the Helvetic Confederation, are sui generis confederations, are actually federations, and there’s a difference between those two political terms. In the Spanish case, this is not reliable because a confederate or federate organization of Spain would have to assume and respect some commitments (such as the constitutional recognition of the Catalan nation within the Spanish unitary state). And Spanish recognitions are hard to see, they are not committed since 1980, when Catalan institutions were reinstated. And in 2006 the very same individual who is now Spain’s prime minister, Mr. Mariano Rajoy, and his party went across Spain seeking for signatures against the reform of the Catalan Statute, which was being delivered then by the Catalan Parliament after being voted by the Catalan people. The third ways are not sincerely viable in Spain because of their lack of credibility, and this is a shame because they would enrich the whole debate, but they are reactive propositions that look forward to stopping the process by cracking its walls, because they know this movement has already overcome political elites and parties and any further Catalonia’s encasement within Spain. I see this in a simple manner: we have to decide either the Spain of the XIX century or the Catalonia of the XXI century, and there’s not any turnover. The ones who believe, like me, that a XXI century’s Catalonia is the best option are waiting for any other proposition, even if they are senseless. We are not in an auction, we are not trying to see who deliberates the best bet: any bet has to be viable and reliable –and third way positions are not.