As it is usually the case in many sovereignty conflicts, the federalist perspective emerges as a reference point for solutions based on dialogue, negotiation and respect for the rule of law and democracy. This is not surprising, as most people who live in democracy in the world do so in federations, and some of the richest and most stable societies are federal in nature. In the case of Catalonia and Spain, it has been not only local scholars or politicians who have suggested this way forward, but also prestigious journalists or writers in the international media such as Roger Cohen in the New York Times or Will Hutton in The Guardian. In a recent debate in the European Parliament, the current leader of the European liberals, Guy Verhofstat, made a passionate defense of the federal principles as a guide to leave behind the current conflict in Catalonia.
In the local political arena, the federalist positions are defended by a number of organized groups, among which the association Federalistes d'Esquerres based in Barcelona is the strongest one, although there are also federalist groups of the civil society in Andalusia, Aragon, Cantabria and Madrid. The Spanish Socialist Party, encouraged by its Catalan branch, is officially in favor of a federalist solution, and several representatives of other parties, including Ciudadanos, Podemos and the Popular Party have spoken in favor of federalist reforms. The current leaders of the Basque Nationalist Party have also spoken of a pluri-national Spain in a federal Europe. A documentary is currently being produced by award-winning film director Albert Solé that collects many of these voices.
Spain is already a very decentralized country, but some federalist reforms would make it closer to more stable and consolidated federations. These reforms would include:
-The full support of the Spanish Constitution to the European Project of integration and transfer of sovereignty in a number of areas to the European Union and the Eurozone.
-A reform of the Senate, so that the current autonomous communities (federal units in a future federal state) can participate in solutions to common problems. This reformed institution could then decide on the allocation of funds for large infrastructures or similar common problems.
-A clarification of the responsabilities and financing mechanisms of the different government levels. This is now scarcely transparent. A good suggestion is to clarify in a self-contained list the responsibilities of the Spanish federal level and leave all the others (by default) that do not belong to the European level, to the federal units and municipalities.
-Accept the multi-lingual nature of the Spanish society and adopt a language regime similar to that of Canada, Switzerland or Belgium, instead of the current one where languages other than Spanish-Castillian are relegated to the autonomous regions.
-Locate some services and headquarters now based in only one capital, Madrid, in several other cities, as it is done for example in Germany and other federal countries. The Senate itself, for example, could be in Barcelona or in another big city.
Both Spain and the European Union should converge to a flexible multi-level federal democracy. Spain should evolve in this direction from its origins in a centralized unitary country. And Europe should evolve in this direction from its origins in a set of powerful sovereign nation-states. The nation-state is an obsolete institution, and our increasingly global problems (climate change, inequalities, migrations) require new institutions adapted to the new realities.
Those above are some concrete proposals, but in the case of Spain they could be adapted to the results of a necessary dialogue and negotiation among different political parties and governments. The federalist positions have a wide support. For example in a recent GESOP poll, 46.1% of Catalans defended that the outcome of the current secessionist conflict should be an agreement with Spain to increase self-government, whereas only 36% defended a secessionist outcome. When asked about this option, it is usually the most preferred by Spaniards and Catalans, above secession, status-quo or re-centralization. But it would also be the most natural outcome of a negotiation if all parties (including Spanish and Catalan nationalists) were somehow forced to reach an agreement instead of incentivized to cultivate conflict as they are now. The federalists are often characterized as "unionists" by separatists, but this is a word that is absent from Catalan political traditions, and it is used to try to associate those opposing independence to radicals such as the late Rev. Paisley in Northern Ireland. In fact, what we should learn from Northern Ireland is not the style of this leader, but their method to reach a very broad agreement in the context of the European Union that was finally voted in a referendum to facilitate peace and stability now for twenty years. Since the XIXth century there have been very strong federalist movements in Catalonia and Spain, and their voice is more and more heard today as citizens try to find light at the end of the tunnel in which the conflict is dangerously paralized at the moment.