The emergence of new states as a chance for sustainability politics. The Catalan independence movement

Essay, 2016
9 Pages, Grade: 1,3



While the emergence of new states often is met with some amount of scepticism, especially by neighbouring states already in existence - be it for fear of armed conflicts, regional instability or surging nationalisms or simply out of complacency, a „let‘s just leave it as it is“- mentality - there is no denying that a new state can offer many possibilities for sustainable development. Especially if the process leading to the formation of the new state fullfills certain predicaments such as the political activation of a large part of the population, a high level of education, a general interest in sustainability issues, an involvement not only of political but also of civil society movements in its creation, the political will of those in charge of the process to achieve ambitous sustainability goals and the political „guts“ to start again more or less from scratch.

The hope for a new, more modern, more sustainable, more participatory model of politics plays a strong part not only in the Catalan pro-independence movement, which I shall lay focus on in this essay, but also in Scotland, where the leader of the Scottish green party, Patrick Harvie, stated that the Greens’ pro-independence stance comes from a need for “dramatic change in our politics, our economy and our society”. He says: “For me, it’s got nothing to do with flags, or 300 years of history; it’s about the future. And I think that the best way, not only of changing Scotland, but actually challenging the nature of UK politics and the way that it works at present, throughout these islands, is Scottish independence. It doesn’t give a guarantee of a utopian future, but it offers up possibilities that are closed to us at the moment.”1

The emergence of new democracies is not uncommon and well documented in theories on democratization. Normally, democratization theories deal with the emergence of new democratic structures out of non-democratic structures. In the case of Catalonia, however, we deal with the emergence of a new democratic state out of another democratic state whose politics are regarded as falty and unfit for fullfilment of the needs of its citizens. Interestingly, the mechanisms of these two scenarios of democratization can justly be compared. I will demonstrate in this essay that the mechanisms deemed necessary for successful consolidation of democracy are pretty much the same as those needed for successful consolidation of a sustainable model of politics. This implies that we could use the mechanisms developed for the „ranking“ of democratic structures or the likelihood of success of these structures in ranking the likelihood of success of sustainability politics conducted within a democratic framework of participation and empowerment.

The emergence of Catalonia - a democratic, empowering process

In the september 27th 2015 local elections, a pro-independence majority won over the Catalan Parliament and on November 9th the parliament voted the resolution of the beginning of the political process leading to the independence of Catalonia.

Two of the nine articles of this resolucion explicitily mention the participatory nature of the process: Article 3 anounces the beginning of a participatory, open, integrational and active civil process in order to prepare the basis of the future Catalan constitution.

Article 7 obliges the Parliament to structure the disconnecting process from Spain in a democratic way which allows for the „empowerment of citizens on all levels“ and which is based on open, active and integrational participation.2

The political process that brought the country this far had been an example of an open, democratic, peacefull, citizen-based process which put special emphasis on consensusbased participation of a broad public, intending to activate as many relevant actors (i.e. the population of Catalonia) as possible through a variety of methods. All in all, a lot of effort has gone into developing „bridging“ networks, recognised by researchers as particularly desirable in the consolidation of democracy.3

This fact already constitutes the first important rung which future sustainability politics can climb on - an activated population familiar with participatory methods of different kinds and with the possitive experience that their efforts in participating actually amounted to something. In other words, a people used to empowerment. Positive effects will certainly be evident concerning the institutional responsiveness, the quality of political participation, and mobilization capacity.4

The new chairman of parliament is Carmen Forcadell, the leader of the civil movement ANC. The election of a non-politician as chairman of parliament shows the will of the pro- independence coalition to break with old political power structures. This is substantial because of the deeply rooted corruption in Spanish politics, where nearly all parties have been skidding from one scandal to the next, while the courts seem unable or unwilling to really put their foot down.

On Dec 9 2015, Forcadell declared that more than 36 organisations - political, civil and social - signed the „Pacte Social“ against corruption. She went on to say that „together we have to fight this pest which threatens the pilars of democracy.“

Typically, this impulse is not only being supported by civil and social entities but also by political parties (Not by all of them, obviously. For example, the PP (Partido Popular), currently in power in Spain but marginalized in Catalonia, refused to sign). The pro- independence coalition is a mixture of political and non-political actors. This ensures a strong civic component and bond to grassroots movements as well as guaranteeing political stability because there are still enough „professionals“ present who know how to run things.

In order to achieve consolidation between these groups, everyone involved in the process has to show the ability and the wilingness to communicate with all actors. This will most certainly involve a process of Social Learning5 which in turn will result in a political and societal climate in which participatory politics can thrive.

On the whole, the situation seems promising for substantial changes in politics towards more transparency and participation, which in turn should result in successful sustainability politics.

The role of Social Capital and Civil Society on the road to establishing a democratic state and refurbishing sustainability politics

Civil Society (with Edwards et al. (2001) I refer to social activism conducted by voluntary groups and associations) and Social Capital (which I understand as a product of civil activism, i.e. norms and networks which can be used for further collective benefit6 ) play an important part in establishing a stable democratic state. High levels of social capital and a lively civil society are often considered prerequisites of democratic consolidation.

Catalonia‘s transition from autonomia to independent state hast been a fairly gradual, negotiated process and the popular movements supporting this process have strenghthened gradually. After roughly five years of the process, Catalonia now possesses a widely activated population, actively involved in the rebuilding of society in many ways. The ongoing crisis of spanish and therefore also catalan economy has enhanced this effect, as has the ubiquitary problem of political corruption.

The popular network set up over the last years by civil organisations like the ANC7 or Súmate8 aid the dissemination of information and make political cooperation possible. These networks create a two-way flow of information: Not only do they break down political concerns and informations to the people, they also serve as a megaphone for transfering peoples concerns to the political level. The perhaps most impressive example of this function was the so-called „ Gigaenquesta “ which intended to get a feedback from every household in the country on what kind of country they wanted to live in.9 The enquirery consisted of six questions, most of them related to social issues: While the economic crisis of course provoces a strong focus on social issues, ecological sustainability is also one of the areas of focus. At the Via Lliure 2015, a big pro-independence rally with about two million participants, one part bore the lema „ via lliure cap a la sostenibilitat “.

Since sustainability politics in modern democracies often rely heavily on participation and in any case depend on functioning participation and legitimacy for successful implementation, in this field the importance of civil society and social capital cannot be stressed enough.

It is very interesting, that you can basically equal modern participatory sustainability politics with sucessfully emerging democracies when it comes to determining the societal basis for successful consolidation.

Robert Dahl (1971) lists 5 criteria of the democratic process:

- effective participation
- voting equality
- enlightened understanding
- control of the agenda
- inclusion

These could also be criteria of the preliminaries for successful sustainability politics based on participatory processes: Without effective participation and voting equality of all actors involved, the level of legitimacy will be low and sustainability goals unlikely to be reached. In order for the people involved to make the right decisions a societal basis of enlightened understanding of sustainability issues is needed. For hightened legitimacy and true empowerment control of the agenda and inclusion are indispensable.

Wenzel (2013) explores the question, whether environmentalism10 is more prevalent in societies with strong emancipative values. He argues that „something in the human empowerment process makes societies take action for better environmental quality. Most likely this „something“ is emancipative values.“11 He makes the point that the impact of emancipative values lies in the political mobilization of environmental concerns, which leads us straight to sustainability politics. In his research, he finds evidence that people‘s formal education, their environmental concern, and their preference for emancipative values show possitive effects on environmental activism, with emancipative values showing the strongest effect.12 He concludes:

„These findings underscore the mobilizing and activating impulse of emancipative values, underlining their relevance as a social capital-building civic force - with one additional qualification: it is a green force.“13

So looking at an emerging state at this very moment in history where sustainability is high up on the political agenda is especially interesting because one can assess the intertwinings of the development of participatory democratic structures and the ensuing possibilities for consolidated successful sustainability politics.

The status of sustainability politics in Catalonia

The current Catalan government has repeatedly acertained its devotion to sustainability. During the COP21 in Paris, the catalan president Artur Mas has intervened and in his speech said that: „Not only do we hope and demand an inclusive treaty for all countries, we also urge to create the necessary mechanisms so that we all may contribute in facing this common challenge.“ He went on to say that „the fight against climate change presents us with the oportunity to realise and correct the errors commited and to take further steps down the road to a low-carbon-economy.“14

In 2015, Catalonia developed the „Agenda Catalana“ leading up to the COP21, which has been praised for its exemplarity. In this agenda, the regional government has proposed concrete measurements to locally combat climate change and hast also fostered open social debate around this question.

The president also spoke in favour of renewables, a topic of recurring conflict with the Spanish central government: The most recent SolarPowerEurope survey classifies Spain as a country which plays in the anti-solar-league and even intents to negatively influence the EU.


1 yes. 10.12.2015.

2 10.12.2015

3 c.f. Letki (2009)

4 c.f. Clairbourn and Martin (2007)

5 c.f. Webler et al. (1995)

6 c.f. Letki (2009)

7 Assemblea Nacional Catalana, a civic organisation formed in 2011. It defines itself as „a popular movement, unitarian, plural, and democratic, which has the objective to obtain Catalonian independence by means of constituating a democratic and social constitutional state. In January 2015 it counted over 80.000 members.

8 A network of „new-Catalans“ of spanish origin, mostly spanish-speaking, who support catalan independence without renouncing their Spanish roots. Formed in 2013.

9 Interestingly, the Spanish central government afterwards fined the two civil organisations which conducted the survey 440.000 EUR. Allegedly because the survey violated Data Protection Laws.

10 Some authors use the terms environmental politics and sustainability politics almost synonymously. While this does not seem quite correct to me, as in my opinion sustainability also includes social aspects, I believe that Wenzel‘s reflections can be justly applied to sustainabilty politics, especially as these by their nature always include environmental aspects.

11 c.f. Wenzel (2013) pg. 379.

12 c.f. Wenzel (2013) pg. 387.

13 Wenzel (2013) pg. 391.

14 implementem-canvi-climatic-clara-evidencia-compromis-accio-transparencia.html. 9.12.2015

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The emergence of new states as a chance for sustainability politics. The Catalan independence movement
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
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sustainability, new states, catalonia, environmental politics, generalitat de catalunya, catalunya, Katalonien, Nachhaltigkeit, Unabhängigkeit, independence
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M.A. Nicholas Gudrich (Author), 2016, The emergence of new states as a chance for sustainability politics. The Catalan independence movement, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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