Spanish Cabinet

YMGE 2018

Letter from the Director

Dear delegates,

Welcome to Yale Model Government Europe! My name is Michael, and I am incredibly excited to head the Spanish Cabinet for this year’s YMGE. I have no doubt that all your preparation, research, and in-conference discussions will prove rewarding and insightful. This topic guide serves as a springboard for your preparation, and I encourage you to seek out further resources and information, particularly on issues you find relevant to our Cabinet or to your own academic, intellectual, and personal interests.

To tell you a bit about myself, I am a junior at Yale double majoring in Global Affairs and Ethics, Politics, & Economics (EP&E), and I am also a Human Rights Scholar at the Yale Law School. Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, I have primarily studied comparative political economy, democratic development, and anti-corruption initiatives, particularly in Central and Latin America. But, my interests extend from Sub-Saharan African literature to Netflix sitcoms and podcasts.

On campus, I serve as Secretary-General of Yale Model United Nations (YMUN), having previously worked as Secretary of the Yale International Relations Association (YIRA), Director-General of Operations for the Security Council Simulation at Yale (SCSY), Under-Secretary-General of Delegations for Yale Model United Nations China (YMUNC), and Director of the Organization of American States committee for Yale Model United Nations Taiwan (YMUNT). Similarly, I teach international relations to high school students in New Haven, edit for the Yale Review of International Studies (YRIS), and direct outreach for the Yale Globalist Magazine. When not entrenched in current events and global issues, I eat dinners with the Brazil Club, manage a coffee shop, and catch up on the Great British Bake Off.

As your Director, I would be happy to assist you in your research and answer any questions you might have; these can be about the committee, college, or corgis – in short, anything. Please do not hesitate to reach me at michael.borger@yale.edu, and I’ll be sure to respond as quickly as I can.

Best of luck,

Michael Borger media and the formation of legal systems.

Cabinet History

The Spanish Cabinet is called the Consejo de Ministros de España, or the Spanish Council of Ministers. As a political body formed and regulated by the Spanish Constitution, the Council  comprises all the ministers found within the Spanish government alongside the Prime Minister of Spain and the Deputy Prime Minister of Spain; technically, the Prime Minister’s title is President of the Government of Spain, or Presidente del Gobierno de España, while the Deputy Prime Minister’s title is Vice President of the Government of Spain, or Vicepresidente del Gobierno de España. There could be several Deputy Prime Ministers, according to the Constitution.

The rest of the Council is formed by other ministers charged with matters of domestic and foreign policy. There are 17 ministries that have acting members on the Council. These are the Ministers of: Foreign Affairs, the European Union, and Cooperation; Justice; Defense; the Treasury; the Interior; Public Works; Education and Vocational Training; Labour, Migrations, and Social Security; Industry, Trade, and Tourism; Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food; Territorial Policy and Public Function; Ecological Transition; Culture and Sport; Economy and Enterprise; Health, Consumption, and Social Welfare; and Science, Innovation, and Universities. Clearly, there are many distinct ministries that cover a host of economic, political, and social dimensions of policy-making.

Together, these Ministers work to routinely determine the country’s priorities. They initiate key national action plans, approve bills, and work actively with the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. The Council may also pass decrees and dictate norms within set limits and according to the urgency of the steps that must be taken. The Council ensures that international treaties Spain ratified are followed, that bilateral and multilateral agreements are executed, and that other supranational and regional arrangements with the European Union are respected.

Even with these incredible powers, the Council of Ministers does have restrictions on its jurisdiction. Chiefly, Article 108 of the Spanish Constitution holds that the Council must respond to the Congress of Deputies regarding its public policy decisions and can be questioned by the Senate if needed.

In a typical week, they convene on Fridays at the Palace of Moncloa, or the Palacio de la Moncloa, which is the official workplace of the Spanish Prime Minister. These meetings are chaired by the Prime Minister, albeit the Deputy Prime Minister may assume the responsibilities when the Prime Minister is absent. Additionally, the King of Spain may oversee the cabinet when requested by the Prime Minister and the meeting serves a consultative and informative purpose.

Map of Spain with Catalonia shaded in red

Map of Spain with Catalonia shaded in red

Topic History & Background

The question of Catalan independence dates back hundreds of years, with exact dates hotly contested by scholars and politicians alike. However, a good starting point would be the marriage of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille in 1469, which many historians consider the birth of a unified Spain. At the time, the Spanish territories were divided, each with its own set of political and economic institutions, including laws, customs, and cultures. However, with the marriage, the Iberian peninsula, sans Portugal, was brought together under a united banner of Spanish rule.

This reunification was not without its fair share of pushback. Much of the resistance came from the Principality of Catalonia, which wanted greater autonomy in making decisions over laws and tariffs in the territory. The centralization of power in the hands of the monarchs proved too powerful, however, and a steady stream of defeats crushed these aspirations. The Catalan government, subjected to the will of the Spanish kings, would not remain voiceless for long, with revolts breaking out as pressures for autonomy on the Spanish kingdom increased and tensions in the Principality rose.

Namely, the Reapers’ War, broke out in 1640, lasting nearly two decades until the revolts were quashed by Spanish forces in 1659 and the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed in November that year to mark the end of the war between Spain and France; France had been supporting the Principality of Catalonia’s uprising against Spain as a move to curb the Spanish crown’s influence over the region. In the process, though, some Catalan rights were recognized by the Spanish monarchy as a form of reconciliation.

Nearly half a century later, the War of the Spanish Succession led to a conflict between two monarchical houses, the bourbons and the Habsburgs, with reverberations felt around the continent. When the Habsburgs reclaimed the Spanish crown,King Philip V ordered decrees that limited Catalan autonomy as punishment for what he considered betrayal during the War. Consequently, Catalan rights were once against limited, and Catalonia was further incorporated into the Spanish monarchy.

Throughout the nineteenth century, following the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, Catalonia proceeded to industrialize, with urban centers growing into what became important economic hubs of the country. With the introduction of factories sprawled across Barcelona and other Catalan urban areas, relations began to strain between the Spanish government and members of Catalan society who felt unrecognized for their labor and efforts in improving the country’s economy. At the same time, a revolutionary current began to pervade Catalonia, due in part to a cultural renaissance and, later, the fall of the First Spanish Republic in 1874. The restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in 1874 only led to a surge in Catalan nationalism.

In the early twentieth century, a few Catalan provinces had moments of brief autonomy, which were largely symbolic as Spain continued to depend economically on the success of its Catalan workers. The Second Republic, which lasted less than a decade in the 1930s, gave the Catalans a moment of autonomy. But, soon, the worst was to come with the Spanish Civil War breaking out in 1936 and the beginnings of the Franco regime in 1939.

For nearly four decades, Francisco Franco, an ultraconservative dictator, ruled over Spain with an iron fist. His policies on culture, politics, and public activities engendered resentment across the country, with public activities and demonstrations severely restricted. Any notion of Catalan nationalism or autonomous governance fell by the wayside, as Franco forces controlled the territory through repression and violence.

Franco abolished Catalan government institutions, banned displays of nationalism, and exiled any Catalan leaders who emerged to question his authority. There were moments of leniency, however, in which certain religious and folkloric celebrations were permitted, as was the spread of Catalan media such as newspapers and journals. Catalonia, which had been the heart of Spain’s economy, was especially hurt by the Franco regime’s protectionist policies and the embargoes placed against the dictatorship. When the economy finally opened up again, Catalonia quickly boomed.

With Franco’s death in 1975, the democratic transition began in Spain. The adoption of a democratic Spanish Constitution in 1978 signaled the restoration of not only country unity, but also the political and cultural autonomy that Catalonia yearned for. Ever since, Catalonia has grown economically, developed more advanced democratic institutions through parliamentary elections, and fostered political participation through referendums, a multiparty system, and waves of protests across the country.

Protesters take to the streets for Catalan Independence

Protesters take to the streets for Catalan Independence

Current Situation

Catalan Independence Movement

Although the first pro-independence political party in Catalonia was founded nearly a century ago in 1922, the independence movement truly blossomed when Spain began to restore its democracy after Franco’s death. With the right to autonomy recognized, Catalan self-determination became a central tenet of political discourse in the territory. Political and legal battles ensued across Catalan courts and parliamentary sessions, manifesting themselves through popular referendums, legislative amendments, and protests.

Notably, an August 2006 reform to the Catalan autonomy statutes went into effect, empowering the regional government with greater financial and political autonomy. It also recognized Catalonia with the word “nation,” a symbolic victory for those who felt that Catalonia merited its own separate identity from Spain.

This jubilance did not last long, as four years later, the Spanish Constitutional Court, located in the country’s capital of Madrid, struck down sections of the 2006 autonomy statute. The judgment, issued on June 18, 2010, ruled fourteen articles unconstitutional and asserted that 27 others were to be interpreted on narrow grounds. Amongst other items, the ruling decided that, the legal basis for recognizing Catalonia as a distinct nation within Spain was virtually non-existent and ensured that Castilian (Spanish) would remain the language of the land rather than Catalan. This decision not only angered many in Catalonia who felt their rights had been violated and their autonomy trampled on, but also invigorated an unprecedented independence movement that would steamroll Spanish politics.

During and immediately following the court cases, protests broke out across the country, with symbolic referendums being held in municipalities throughout Catalonia. The first was held in Arenys de Munt in September 2009. With 40 percent turnout of eligible voters, over 95 percent of voters chose independence. Over the next two years, more than 500 towns participated in referendums, with a significant majority voting for secession. This was the start of what many cited one of the most successful bottom-up approaches to political mobilization, as support grew on almost every rung of the institutional ladder in Catalonia.

In September 2012, Catalan protesters took to the streets in the middle of Barcelona to voice their concerns against the Spanish government and demand independence for what they considered a separate nation. The aim for protesters was the establishment of a free and sovereign Catalonia, with the slogan “Catalonia, new state in Europe” touted on signs and banners throughout the marches. More than 500,000 participants attended the protests, with estimates from the Catalan government reaching the millions. A year later, to mark the anniversary of the protests, 1.6 million demonstrators came together to form a human chain they called the Catalan Way, starting at the French border and extending all the way to the regional border with Valencia.

Turning Points Through Referendums

In late 2012, Catalan leaders came together to begin drafting new legislation for the territory, including the Declaration of Sovereignty and of the Right to Decide of the Catalan People. This document was adopted by parliament in its first session in January 2013, proclaiming the right for the Catalan people to decide democratically the nature of their country’s sovereignty and bounds. In March 2014, after the Spanish government preferred the declaration to the Spanish Constitutional Court, the declaration of sovereignty was ruled unconstitutional. However, the Spanish Constitutional Court left open a critical window for the independence movement, suggesting that the Catalan people did, in fact, have a right to decide.

This led to the Catalan self-determination referendum in November 2014 that was known as the Citizen Participation Process on the Political Future of Catalonia. Held on November 9, 2014, the Sunday referendum drew millions of voters to the polls for a non-binding referendum vote. Electoral turnout according to estimates ranged in percent from the mid-30s to the low-40s. The referendum had two questions: “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and “Do you want this State to be independent?”

From these percentages, over 80 percent voted in favor of both statehood and self-determination. 10 percent voted for statehood but not independence. Less than five percent voted against both options. The vision for an independent Catalonia was becoming increasingly clearer, though many were concerned that the poor turnout for the referendum signaled a fractured and disenchanted population. For many Catalan citizens who did not support the territory’s independence, voting in the referendum would mean giving legitimacy to the Catalan government’s plans, and as a result, they abstained in mass.

Internal party conflict led to the emergence of new leaders in the independence movement as well as galvanized spirits and slogans. On November 9, 2015, the Catalan parliament passed a resolution that declared the start of the independence response, to which the Spanish PRime Minister responded that he would use all the “judicial and political” power in his constitutional and legal arsenal to “defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people and of the general interest of Spain.” In defiance, the new President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, took his oath of office in January 2016 and refused to pledge loyalty to the king and the Spanish Constitution. This was the first time a Catalan president disobeyed the convention.

Puigdemont did not stop there. Instead, he told parliament in September 2016 that a binding referendum, as opposed to the 2014 non-binding iteration, would be held a year later, regardless of the Spanish government’s disapproval. In June 2017, he added that the October 1 referendum would feature a simple question that deceptively adds democratic clarification to its 2014 counterpart: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent in the form of republic?” Not only would Catalonia become independent, in his mind, but it would also become a republic.

Shortly before the vote, the Catalan Parliament approved a law that would create an independent republic in the event that a majority voted in favor of the referendum. It should be noted that the Catalan parliament decided to omit a threshold for voter turnout, suggesting that members of Parliament feared too few people would participate in the referendum to grant it the democratic legitimacy it would need in the eyes of many observers.  Opposition parties protested the bill, calling it a violation of rights and a clear rejection of democratic principles. A day after the law was approved, the Catalan parliament passed another that would establish the legal frameworks necessary for drafting and adopting a new constitution. That day, the Spanish Constitutional Court also suspended the September 6 law regarding Catalan independence, saying that it violated the Spanish Constitution.

The Spanish government was well-prepared to try to stop the referendum from taking place. It t seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened those at polling stations, shut down websites, and even demanded that private companies such as Google not show the locations of polling stations on maps. Yet, because the Catalan independence movement persisted, the referendum still happened on October 1, despite the suspension by the Constitutional Court and the Spanish forces. Nearly 90 percent of voters supported independence, according to Catalan officials, but the turnout was in the low 40s and several electoral irregularities were reported. It did not help that the elections were being run, monitored, and carried out by officials the Spanish government already distrusted.

The law for independence was declared void on October 17 and illegal because of the Catalan Statutes of Autonomy, which required at least a two-thirds majority in the Catalan parliament to alter the status of Catalonia as an autonomous region. Shortly after, on October 27, the Catalan Parliament approved a resolution that would declare its independence from Spain through a secret ballot. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of independence, with 70 members of parliament in favor and 10 opposed, although several members refused to vote because they were unaware of the secret measure or considered it illegitimate. The vote, however, triggered Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which led to the Catalan government being dismissed. The central government in Madrid took charge of the situation, imposing direct rule over Catalonia and negating the movement’s attempts at independence.

On December 21, 2017, under supervision of the Spanish government, elections were contested. Somewhat unsurprisingly, three pro-independence parties gained control of the Catalan parliament, albeit the majority they held was significantly reduced. The parties that were pro-autonomy, but against independence, received more votes than anticipated, although the numbers still felt short of those received by pro-independence politicians. The gains in traction for those that supported ties to Madrid indicated that the question of independence was not quite settled like many in Catalonia had hoped.

The Spanish Economy

Fundamentally, the economic well-being of Spain is tethered to the economic performance of Catalonia. In 2016, for instance, Catalonia alone produced over 200 billion Euros in output for the country, which is roughly equal to the entire gross domestic products of Finland and Portugal, respectively.

Moreover, the economic output of Catalonia accounts for nearly twenty percent of the entire Spanish gross domestic product, which is slightly above the contributions of Madrid. However, economic outputs in other parts of Spain, such as Andalucia and Valencia, trailed that of Catalonia.

As mentioned prior, Catalonia underwent a series of intense industrialization measures to improve the area’s economic performance during the past few centuries. These policies led to surges in urbanization, a higher incidence of factories, and subsequently, more employment for locals. The economic growth in Catalonia attracted foreign investors, boosted Catalonia’s presence in transactions with other parts of Europe, and gave rise to what some consider a nationalist sentiment in relation to economic autonomy. In the eyes of some Catalan citizens, their community was more than simply autonomous: It was exceptional.

Yet, with the Eurozone crisis that has plagued many countries in Europe, the Catalan economy has suffered with higher unemployment rates. However, the recovery in Catalonia has been much faster than in other parts of Spain, spurring a feeling in many living in Catalonia that they were paying for the mistakes of others. The taxes they would pay and the economic success of their community would be channeled into services and provisions for those living elsewhere, all while Catalonia would suffer the effects of the recession and unemployment encountered across the country.

This has led to some believing that it would be more economically auspicious for Catalonia to be its own independent state. However, skeptics say that the economic costs the Catalan government would incur in setting up all the services the Spanish government provides would far surpass the expected benefits. In either case, the economic troubles Spain has been facing loom in the minds of those living in Catalonia. Fundamentally, the economic well-being of Spain is tethered to the economic performance of Catalonia. In 2016, for instance, Catalonia alone produced over 200 billion Euros in output for the country, which is roughly equal to the entire gross domestic products of Finland and Portugal, respectively.

Moreover, the economic output of Catalonia accounts for nearly twenty percent of the entire Spanish gross domestic product, which is slightly above the contributions of Madrid. However, economic outputs in other parts of Spain, such as Andalucia and Valencia, trailed that of Catalonia.

As mentioned prior, Catalonia underwent a series of intense industrialization measures to improve the area’s economic performance during the past few centuries. These policies led to surges in urbanization, a higher incidence of factories, and subsequently, more employment for locals. The economic growth in Catalonia attracted foreign investors, boosted Catalonia’s presence in transactions with other parts of Europe, and gave rise to what some consider a nationalist sentiment in relation to economic autonomy. In the eyes of some Catalan citizens, their community was more than simply autonomous: It was exceptional.

Yet, with the Eurozone crisis that has plagued many countries in Europe, the Catalan economy has suffered with higher unemployment rates. However, the recovery in Catalonia has been much faster than in other parts of Spain, spurring a feeling in many living in Catalonia that they were paying for the mistakes of others. The taxes they would pay and the economic success of their community would be channeled into services and provisions for those living elsewhere, all while Catalonia would suffer the effects of the recession and unemployment encountered across the country.

This has led to some believing that it would be more economically auspicious for Catalonia to be its own independent state. However, skeptics say that the economic costs the Catalan government would incur in setting up all the services the Spanish government provides would far surpass the expected benefits. In either case, the economic troubles Spain has been facing loom in the minds of those living in Catalonia.

Questions to Consider

Should Catalonia be a part of Spain? If so, what degree of autonomy should the Catalan government be given, and what restrictions should be placed on it?

What relationship should the Spanish government maintain with the Catalan government, if any?

To what extent do popular referendums play into decisions regarding whether or not to recognize Catalan secession?

Should referendums such as the 2014 non-binding referendum be considered legitimate reflections of national agreement, or did only those who wanted independence truly turn out and vote in the election? Why might those who wish to stay in Spain not vote in the referendum? Should economic performance be considered a factor in secession, and if so, in which ways? Will Catalonia be better off economically if it declared its independence? How can the Spanish government prove otherwise?

Suggestions for Further Research

To comprehend the politics of independence:

Rachel Donadio, the Atlantic: Catalans Can’t Agree on What Independence Means

Jon Lee Anderson, the New Yorker: Catalonia Declares Independence, and Spain Moves to Stop It

Masha Gessen, the New Yorker: Barcelona’s Experiment in Radical Democracy

Raphael Minder, the New York Times: Crisis in Catalonia

To understand the issue of Catalonia more broadly:  

Lisa Abend, the Atlantic: The Myths that fuel the Catalan Crisis

Harriet Alexander and James Badcock, the Telegraph: Why Does Catalonia Want Independence From Spain?

Pablo Beramendi and Zachary Laub, the Council on Foreign Relations: Can Catalonia Split With Spain?

To study the economic questions at play:

Steven Johnson, the Atlantic: When Rich Places Want to Secede

Giovanni Legorano and Marina Force, the Wall Street Journal: Middle-Class Catalans Drive Push for Independence