Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You won't be drowned in the Barcelona harbour

Tony Barber from the Financial Times fears that he will be drowned in the Barcelona harbour, or be thrown off the Edimburgh castle, for arguing that separatism is an exaggerated threat to Europe.
He doesn't really have to worry, at least about Barcelona. Many Catalans agree that separatism is not the best way forward, and propose a federal Spain in a federal Europe as a much more realistic and practical way of solving our problems. A number of Catalan intellectuals and professionals have argued just that in a recent manifesto. The main advantage of federalism is that it is scalable, it can be replicated in different countries (each with its tailored formula) and between countries. Separatism is obviously not scalable, you can't keep separating bits of countries, creating new borders, and at the same time pretending to be creating a united Europe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A call for federalism

Here's another manifesto I have not only signed, but helped to write and promote:

The results of the upcoming snap Catalan election which will take place on November 25 will be decisive for the future of the citizens of Catalonia. Since the CiU coalition, led by Artur Mas, started to govern in Catalonia two years ago, we have been witnessing a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, Artur Mas’ government has taken the lead in implementing a fiscal model, and drastic social cuts in education and health care, which are a far cry from the social model of more advanced countries in Europe. At the same time, CiU has supported, time and time again, in the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, the most backward labor policies in the history of Spanish democracy. The alliance between CiU and the Popular Party (the PP, the conservative ruling party in Spain) in the Spanish and Catalan Parliaments has allowed for public media to drastically lose the freedom of expression that it had gained with previous progressive Spanish and Catalan governments. In parallel, CiU has taken, in a short period of time, a strategic opportunistic turn, placing itself in the forefront of an independence movement which wants to initiate a secession process.
The Catalan society is suffering a very deep economic crisis which has also become a social and political crisis, resulting in an increase in poverty and inequality and an erosion of the equal opportunities principle. Many are suffering and are seeing their life projects truncated.
This situation demands from everyone an exercise in political and ethical responsibility, especially in times of such a serious loss of credibility by political parties and institutions. We think that secession from Spain is not the only way forward and that in the present context it jeopardizes social cohesion. From an economic, social or cultural point of view, it is not the way to improve the living conditions of Catalans.
Right now many propose independence as a “magic” road that would lead us out of the difficulties we are living with, leaving behind the dead weight that, they say, Spain represents. It is a discourse in which half truths and various exaggerations are mixed together. This is especially true relative to the fiscal relations between Catalonia and the central administration: such is the confusion that it is common to hear such populist and aggressive statements as: “Spain robs us”. At the same time, some pro-independence sectors have managed to spread the idea that if Catalonia separates (which will mean breaking up the Spanish State), it will be a politically friendly process with no excessive economic costs, with no social disruption, a win-win situation. Those supporting independence believe that globalization can only have positive consequences for Catalonia and so they have unashamedly taken on the neoliberal economic model. They try to convince us that for the Catalan society, having its own state will be “good business”. The emphasis being put on the economic advantages of independence, which do not stand up to a rigorous analysis, is no more than a careful strategy to obfuscate an unequivocal social reality which goes back many generations: the fact that most of the citizens of Catalonia share Catalan and Spanish identities in various degrees.

The full text can be read here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A post-national Europe?

I have signed the manifesto of the Spinelli group for a united Europe. I am absolutely in favour of a federal, integrated, more democratic European Union. I think that nationalism stands in the way of this objective, and that achieving it is more necessary than ever to collectively solve our social and economic problems. There are no national solutions to most of todays' problems: climate change, global poverty, financial instability... However, manifestos only allow for the decision to sign them or not, but blogs make it possible to qualify the decision. And my qualification in this case has two parts:
-In an ideal world, a Europe devoid of nationalism would be great, but I think that plans for a future Europe should be more realistic about the nature of humans in society. Nationalism is an evolved feature of human societies, one that appeared in hunter-gatherer societies to jointly fight enemies external to the group and that will not disappear just because Daniel Cohn-Bendit and his friends wish so. It would be better to think of a future united Europe that provides a framework to deal with the many problems of societies with conflicting, diverse and overlapping national identities.
-I think some of the people who have signed the manifesto are at the same time promoting initiatives in their own countries that undermine the objectives of the Spinelli group. To be honest, for example, I wonder how the Catalan nationalist conservative MEP Mr. Ramon Tremosa can at the same time be signing in favour of removing the frontiers inside Europe, and actively promoting the independence of Catalonia, thus pushing for a more fragmented Europe, with more frontiers rather than less. I would have prefered to sign a manifesto where the promoters are more careful about the bed-fellows they attract.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Catalonia in “Newsnight Scotland:” room for improvement

Yesterday BBC’s “Newsnight Scotland” presented a report on the rise of the movement for Catalan independence that was an improvement upon the previous report by Newsnight (the UK one) on the same issue, which was one-sided and simplistic, far below the standards of the programme and the BBC in general. For those who are unfamiliar with the BBC and Newsnight, this is a BBC2 daily programme that in the first half hour presents some reports of interest to the whole UK viewers and in the next 15 minutes presents something specific of England, Scotland or I guess other bits of the UK. I can watch with my decoder in Barcelona the Scottish version.  Instead of presenting the view of only one politician (and a very mediocre one, Mr. Oriol Pujol), as the UK version did some days ago, the Scottish version presented the old Jordi Pujol, former president of Catalonia (whose English is better than his son’s, without deserving a Proficiency), and also politicians and social leaders for and against independence. At the end there was a debate among two unknown (to me) “experts,” a member of the Scottish National Party, and a Catalan young academic located in Scotland who was in favour of Catalan (and I can presume Scottish and perhaps anybody’s) independence. Ok, it was better this time. But there is room for improvement. These are my suggestions for next time:

-Ask the Pujol  family about corruption (as Jeremy Paxman or any other serious BBC presenter would do with any politicians tainted by clear suspicions of wrong-doing). The son is being investigated for his involvement in corruption in the vehicle inspection industry and the father saw two of his former finance ministers go to prison. The party that he founded is under investigation by a judge for illegal financing using as a platform the Music Palace (“Palau de la Música”), a cultural infrastructure lavishly subsidized by the public sector. The party of the Pujols  started to clearly support independence just last summer when the corruption accusations were reaching a maximum.
-Ask the Pujol family and the other leaders of his party why just before stating their support for independence and calling a snap election to benefit from the populist independentist wave, they changed the legislation on the governance of public TV and radio, and overturned the legislation put forward by the previous progressive Catalan government, which for the first time created a truly pluralist and publicly spirited TV and radio along the lines of the BBC.
-Make sure you get your numbers right on demonstrators. It is impossible that there were 1.5 million people in the September 11th demonstration in Barcelona. According to two newspapers with different views on the issue of independence, La Vanguardia and El Pais, if you multiply square meters by persons per square meters, it is impossible that the number of demonstrators goes beyond 600.000 persons. Experts in counting demonstrators who did the numbers put the actual number below 500.000. Still, there were a lot of people, but it is difficult to argue that they were completely representative of a plural society of 7.5 million people. The BBC should not just take any number given by the organizers of demonstrations.
-Were the two last persons participating in a debate qualified experts? Wouldn’t it have been better to invite some qualified, well known, recognized, objective experts for such an emotionally charged issue? There are scholars who have very good research on comparative nationalism and the determinants of secessionism, such as Branko Milanovic or Will Kymlicka, who can shed real light on the comparison of Scotland and Catalonia, and between these and other realities. Local nationalists tend to feel very unique, but the fact is that there are identity and sovereignty problems all over the world.
-Present a deeper view of Catalan history, how despite Catalan culture and language being discriminated for much of modern history, there are many links between Catalans and the rest of Spain, with many, perhaps most Catalans having relatives in other parts of Spain and speaking Spanish as their first language (true, some Spanish speaking Catalans also support independence, but hardly a majority). There is a strong Federalist tradition in Catalonia, a plural society inside a plural Spain that might better  find solution to its identity and institutional problems in a united, federal Europe.
-The presenter of Newsnight Scotland asked a very good question to the Catalan young academic about what she thought about the fact that the Catalans had voted just a bit more than 30 years ago vastly in favour of the Spanish Constitution. Other possible questions next time may include: can independence or self-determination be generalized to other relatively (in their countries) rich regions in Europe? Wouldn’t it be egoist as pointed out by Der Spiegel? Isn’t it a contradiction to want federalism for Europe and not for Spain? Does this debate now help solve the economic crisis, in Catalonia, Spain or Europe?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Master in Applied Research in Economics and Business

Today we had the inaugural event of the new Master in Applied Research in Economics and Business at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. This is a new Master of research of one year, fully taught in English, which results from the merger and evolution of two pre-existing masters: the one on applied economics, and one on business economics. The event has included two invited lectures, by Andrés Rius from Universidad de la República in Uruguay, and Paul Brewer from University of Queensland in Australia. Although they were a priori uncoordinated (one talking about institutions and investment, the other about globalization and poverty), surprisingly they have coincided in sending a warning to future graduates: be critical and skeptical of the work by other researchers. I hope their simple but persuasive words will be useful for our students. The latter include more than twenty persons from four continents, which we hope we can give a good learning opportunity.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

BBC's Newsnight, wrong on Catalonia

Yesterday Newsnight offered a 10 minutes report by Paul Mason on the increasing demands for independence in Catalonia. Unfortunately, the report was one-sided and did not reflect the usual standards of the programme. I doubt that if Jeremy Paxman had been doing a similar report about a part of Great Britain, he would have been so one-sided. The only interviewed politician was Oriol Pujol, secretary general of the ruling party Convergence and Union. Newsnight failed to note that Mr. Pujol is himself under investigation for corruption allegations (as other members of his party), and it failed to interview any other representative of a political party or coalition. It would have been easy to find one who spoke better in English than Mr. Pujol, the son of a former Catalan president who has seen how two of his regional Finance Ministers spent time in prison for corruption allegations. Catalonia is a plural and complex society, where more than half of the population speak Spanish as first language and have links with the rest of Spain. Many Catalans do not favour independence but federalism, and that was never mentioned in the report.