Independence vs Freedom – Catalonia’s Risky Referendum

The term “independence” and the term “freedom” are often used synonymously. As teenagers, we often seek independence to feel a sense of freedom, and seek freedom to feel a sense of independence. It is human nature to believe that the cutting of ties offers liberation in thought, action and identity — liberation that cannot be achieved when bound to someone or something else. But while independence and freedom may sound similar, they are not the same. Sometimes, however, we do not realize the difference until it is too late.

Just two weeks after Scotland failed to vote for separation from the United Kingdom, another region is looking to cut its ties to a European country. This time the region is Catalonia. Ever since Barcelona fell to Spanish and French forces in the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia has lived under the rule of Madrid. Catalans often complain that their voices are suppressed by the Spanish government. On November 9th, however, they will have a chance to speak. The majority of Catalans believe that a “yes” vote to independence means a “yes” vote to freedom. But that may not be the case. In fact, evidence suggests that Catalans would actually lose more freedoms than they hope to gain.

Catalonia, statistically speaking, has higher levels of education, occupation, industrial development, and general public services than the majority of Spain’s autonomous communities, with a GDP per capita 18 percent higher than that of Spain itself. Paradoxical to their long-standing fight for independence, Catalan participation in Spain is well above the country average; the region accounts for 40 percent of the Spanish representatives in the EU. They also enjoy a plethora of individual rights and liberties, almost all of which would be relinquished in the process of separation.

One of the primary examples of the freedoms that Catalonia would lose by becoming independent is their ability to partake in the European Union (EU). If the Catalans vote “yes” in the potential referendum and the Spanish government adheres to their wishes, their newly sovereign status would automatically disqualify them from the European partnership. This surrenders more privileges than meets the eye. The European Union increases the economic and political cooperation between 28 European countries – which results in benefits for all 28 of them. Should they be disqualified, Catalonia would lose the benefits of trade throughout the continent of Europe, as well as the convenience of the internal market – which ensures the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. The internal market has increased competition, quantity of jobs, and generally boosted the economy – privileges which Catalonia would be barred from enjoying should they make the decision to separate.

And the economic issues don’t end there. After the Catalans fell out with Spanish leadership two years ago, a request was rejected to reduce Catalan contribution to a Spanish taxation system, which, much to the dismay of Catalonia, redistributes revenue from rich to poor regions. But in spite of being at odd ends with Spain’s method of redistribution, Catalans could find themselves at the receiving end of a much greater
economic crisis should they separate. With talks of independence intensifying every day, hundreds of businesses are relocating to Madrid, threatening Catalonia’s economy at a crucial moment.
Another issue that arises from Catalan separation involves currency. If Catalonia separates, they will likely be forced to exit the Eurozone – which would ban them from use of the euro. The new country would be forced to issue its own currency, which would almost certainly be weaker. With their ties to Spain severed, Catalonia would have a much less meaningful status on the world stage.

Finally, one more privilege that the region would lose by gaining independence takes less of an economic perspective. Catalonia would sever more than just its ties to Spain, the EU and Eurozone by voting for separation – it would disconnect itself from one of its primary sources of entertainment: soccer. The political unrest between Catalonia and the central government in Spain mimics that of two of the most talked-about teams in world soccer: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two teams meet twice a year in a world-renowned event known as “El Clasico,” – where tensions run every bit as high as they do in Spanish politics. Should Catalonia choose to separate from Spain, FC Barcelona would be forcibly excluded from the Spanish League. Since there are not enough Catalonia-based teams to create a league in Catalonia, FC Barcelona would likely relocate to play among their counterparts in France. Although they would still be able to support their team, Catalans would lose a major part of their identity and pride as a nation – not to mention the enjoyment of El Clasico.

Though Catalans have the right to challenge Spanish constitution and continue on the lengthy trek towards independence, separation in reality provides no cultural, economic or social benefits to Catalonia or to Spain. Secessions themselves are almost unheard of in democracies, for they alter the lives of minorities completely. Catalonia must take a step back before making their decision – and realize that independence and freedom are two very different things.

-Jena & Sarah W.

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