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Dimarts  02.07.2013  20:00

Autor/s: Josep Casulleras Nualart

Allen Buchanan: 'Catalonia should ask the UN to mediate if Spain shows disdain for the referendum'

VilaWeb interviewed the Duke University professor. He believes Spain's extreme inflexibility would justify the unilateral secession of Catalonia


“The strongest argument that would justify the right to the unilateral secession of Catalonia would be Spain’s consistent refusal to concede adequate autonomy,” said Allen Buchanan, Duke University Law Professor, one of the most well-known theorists on secession in the world. He considered the limits of the right to secession in his landmark book, 'Secession' (1991). Following the recent publication of the book in Spanish, Buchanan has begun to speak about the process of Catalan self-determination. In this interview he talks about the arguments that justify the secession of Catalonia, how Spain might react, and what kind of international mediation there might be.

—What are the principal arguments that would justify Catalonia's right to secession?
—There are a number of arguments in favor of Catalan secession. One must distinguish, however, between arguments in favor of secession and arguments that establish a unilateral right to secede. Arguments of the first sort are simply considerations that show that secession would be a good thing for Catalonia, but may not suffice to establish the stronger conclusion that Catalonia has a unilateral right to secede. In the former group of arguments, there are arguments based on cultural and linguistic differences and on the hypothesis that democracy and welfare state functions would work better at the regional (i.e., Catalonia) level.

—And thus, what are the arguments that would justify unilateral secession?
—In my opinion, the only arguments capable of establishing a unilateral right to secede in the Catalan case are (1) an argument that shows that Catalonia is subject to on-going and serious discriminatory redistribution and (2) an argument that shows that Spain has persistently refused to grant Catalonia suitable autonomy within the Spanish state. Arguments about discriminatory redistribution are tricky, because in the end they require a defensible account of what fair or just redistribution within the state consists of and there is much disagreement and uncertainty about this. I think the strongest argument for a unilateral right to secede in the case of Catalonia is (2).  This is not to discount the cultural and linguistic considerations; it is only to say that I think it is implausible that they are adequate for establishing a unilateral right to secede in this case.

—The Catalan Government wants Spain to accept a referendum. Do you think Spain will finally accept it?
—I do not know how Spain will react to a referendum on secession in Catalonia. Spain might (a) try to prevent its occurrence, (b) allow it to occur but ignore it, (c) allow it to occur and if the result is pro-secession, then treat it as valid and start the process of secession, or (d) allow it and if it is pro-secession, publicly commit to negotiations concerning possible secession, without committing to Catalan secession.  The Canadian Supreme Court, in a reference ruling on possible secession by Quebec, said that the Canadian government has an obligation to negotiate in good faith on possible secession if there were a clear majority in favor of secession in a referendum in Quebec. My guess--and it is only a guess--is that Spain will not take the Canadian path (d).  I think it would be best if it did take the Canada path or, in response to a pro-secession referendum, offered Catalonia substantial autonomy, with some sort of credible guarantee that the autonomy agreement would not be dismantled (e.g., by the Constitutional Court).

—What do you think Spain will do in the end? Do you think that it will make an attractive offer to Catalonia, along federal lines?
—I am not an expert on the Spanish Constitution, but one could argue that it is sufficiently vague on issues of autonomy that there would be no constitutional obstacle to Spain offering Catalonia substantial autonomy (as it has with the Basques). It is unclear to me whether Catalans would find this satisfactory--especially if there were no iron-clad guarantees that Spain will not later weaken Catalonia's autonomy.

—If it's impossible to get to an agreed-upon solution, what can the Catalan Government do in order to accomplish the mandate that citizens gave in the last election?
—If Spain ignores a strong mandate for secession in a well-conducted referendum and at the same time does not make a credible offer of greater autonomy, then I think the Catalan government should seek regional (EU) or international (UN) support to pressure Spain to cooperate.

—When and how should the international community intervene in the Catalan process? When should the mediation take place?
—Although I have said that there is a case for regional or international mediation of a secession dispute in the case of Catalonia, I would like to emphasize that the EU may, quite understandably, be reluctant to play the role of mediator. For one thing, it would fear that it would set a precedent--that it would be called on to mediate other self-determination conflicts. Perhaps a more realistic solution would be to have mediation by a "blue-ribbon" ad hoc group of respected statesmen and jurists.

—Why do you think that Spain is not treating the Catalan case in the same way that Canada did with Québec or the United Kingdom is doing with Scotland?
— I do not know why Spain has not taken the path of Canada or of the UK (which has said that if there is a pro-secession referendum in Scotland in 2014, it will cooperate in the secession process).  I hope that pressure can be brought to bear on Spain to do so.

—Some parts of the Spanish Army have expressed uneasiness about the Catalan process, and there have even been some threats. Do you think Spain will use the military threat?
—I do not know whether Spain would use force to block Catalan secession. I doubt that it would do so in any direct way. However, there is always the risk that violence might occur spontaneously or as a result of some sort of misunderstanding.

—Do you think a Catalan state would be viable?
—I think that an independent Catalonia would be viable--unless the "divorce" process with Spain turned out to  be destructive, with damage to the Catalan economy.