Drafting Independence: The Catalan Declaration of Sovereignty


The Catalan Declaration of Sovereignty and the Question of the Constituent Power of the People in Context

On January 23, 2013 the Catalan Parliament adopted the Declaration of Sovereignty and Right to Decide of the Catalan People. The Declaration proclaims ‘the people of Catalonia’ to be ‘a sovereign political and legal subject’ with a ‘right to decide … their collective political future’. The content of this decision is left underdetermined, but it’s obviously used as code for a putative right of the Catalan people to secede from Spain. Like many such documents, the Declaration constructs a familiar narrative of an enduring Catalan political autonomy, often oppressed by the wider Spanish state. In addition, it specifies a set of liberal-democratic principles—transparency, dialogue, social cohesion, Europeanism and participation, among others—that will serve to guide the decision-making process.

The Declaration also contributes to setting the stage for an unpredictable constitutional conflict: as Karlo Basta has recently argued, the political dynamic in Catalonia begins to appear similar to that of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. As in Spain today, the Yugoslav constitutional crisis was in part precipitated by attempts to recentralize the country in the context of a economic crisis, provoking richer parts of the country to seek further autonomy, and ultimately secession. In Spain today, as in Yugoslavia 20 years ago, the army is the constitutional guarantor of territorial integrity of the country. As in Yugoslavia, the reaction of the Spanish army to secessionist mobilization has been extremely hostile, threatening (and in Yugoslavia making good on that promise) to use force to prevent the unilateral secession of Catalonia.

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