While European Institutions have decided to remain silent on the independence bids, their possible outcome and the EU membership issue, think tanks in Brussels have taken the lead in discussing the independence movements and their implications for the EU, thus taking up the taboo subject of independence referenda to be held in Scotland on 18 September and scheduled for 9 November in Catalonia.
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On 3 September the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom held an event on the Scottish and Catalan independence referenda. Offering an insight in the current debate taking place in Scotland, Bryan McGregor, Co-Founder of Academics for Yes and Head of the College of Physical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, presented the reasons for Scottish citizens to choose independence. Dismissing arguments against independence, Bryan McGregor stressed that Scotland would be neither too small, nor too poor to be a viable independent state. On the contrary, in his view, to fully develop its potential and improve its livelihood, Scotland would be better off outside the Union. The current democratic deficit, oil mismanagement and the fundamentally different political landscape in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, are just a few arguments in favour of independence he cited. Gerard Padró i Miquel, Co-Founder of the Wilson Initiative and Professor of Economics at LSE, illustrated how Catalan independentism grew over the past seven years. While in 2006 only 15% of the Catalan population preferred independence, this proportion had increased to 47% by 2013, despite the fact that the population self-identifying as exclusively Catalan increased only by 8% in the same period, to reach 25%. In his view, two factors are key to explain this evolution: unequal fiscal treatment on the one hand and lack of linguistic and cultural respect of Catalonia by the central government. However, Luis Garicano, Professor of Economics and Strategy at LSE, warned both Catalans and Scots against the transition costs and uncertainties of betting on an independent state. Though he strongly criticises the political and economic institutions of Spain, in his opinion independence is not the solution. Instead, he advocates for a thorough reform of the political institutions, electoral law and the economy and for an adequate recognition of Catalan and Basque fiscal, political and cultural claims. With regard to the current position of the central government, Luis Garicano remarked that “the Partido Popular is the biggest enemy of Spanish unity!”. Responding to the question of uncertainty about future independent states, both Scottish and Catalan independentists had to admit that there is no certainty about the quality of political and economic institutions of an independent Scotland and Catalonia. “But at least there is the chance to try and set up better institutions and increase democratic legitimacy”, retorted Gerard Padró i Miquel. Aside from the pros and cons of independence, the debate also focused on the consequences of potentially new states wanting to remain in the EU. Many legal experts in European Law have contested former Commission President Barroso’s comment that it would be “very difficult, if not impossible” to remain in the EU, stating that both international as well as European Law provide grounds on which remaining in the EU would be possible. “While there is not precedent of a new territory within the EU becoming an independent state, the treaties offer sufficient basis on which to allow Scotland to remain in the EU” explained Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Professor of European and Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. In her view, it would be an aberration that the people of Scotland currently holding EU citizenship would be negated their rights as EU citizens after a Yes vote. As the case of German reunification has shown, sufficient political will would allow finding a pragmatic and flexible solution for an independent Scotland and Catalonia to be members of the EU. Indeed, this debate could change Europe more than leaders and decision-makers in the EU realize. Julie Cantalou For further information we recommend the following presentations and articles from our speakers: – Bryan Mc Gregor’s Scotland’s case for independence 31 August 2014 – Sionaidh Douglas-Scott “How Easily Could an Independent Scotland Join the EU?” – Gerard Padró i Miquel’s article in Spanish, English and Catalan on Wilson Initative – Luis Garicano “Un pacto frente a lo desconocido” and “La Monarquía no es el problema”