Mixed Views from France on Catalan Referendum

Most of the French media call on Catalan and Spanish leaders to work out a compromise.

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, November 11, 2015
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, November 11, 2015 (Jean-Maël Cordier)

French coverage of the Catalan independence referendum has something of the left-right split we saw in Germany, but most of the media are united in calling on Catalan and Spanish leaders to meet each other in the middle.

Le Monde

Le Monde argues that Madrid should have heeded the wishes of the hundreds of thousands of Catalans who took to the streets year after year — “not to demand independence, but for the right to express themselves.”

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy could have learned something from his former British counterpart, David Cameron, who allowed the Scots to vote on independence and persuaded them to stay in the United Kingdom.

Rajoy should follow this example while convincing a majority of Catalans that their European future remains in Spain.

Libération

Libération has been mildly pro-Catalan in its reporting. Several stories in the last few days, like this one by François Musseau, have argued that Spanish police actions only embolden the separatists.

But the same newspaper also ran a critical op-ed by Maxime Fourest of Sciences Po Paris, who argues that Catalan nationalism, for all its cosmopolitan pretensions, isn’t free of racism, class contempt or cultural supremacy:

On the one hand, there are the “we”, a people who are hard-working, progressive, honest, republican and European. On the other hand, “they”, the backward Iberians, lazy and corrupt, attached to a monarchy tainted by scandal and perpetually lagging behind the rest of Europe.

Critical voices on the right

Center-right publications have been more critical.

Le Figaro has lambasted the way in which the Catalans rushed their independence law through parliament, called separatist leaders “extremists” and argued that Spain has been generous in the past.

The business daily Les Échos lists the risks of Catalan secession, including banks leaving the region, exports being taxed and a newly-independent government defaulting on its debts.

François Clemenceau writes in Le Journal du Dimanche that while a referendum would respect the Catalans’ right to self-determination, it could also open the floodgates to other separatist crises, for example in Corsica.

There is a way out of this puzzle. It is called decentralization. In Spain, much has been done since Franco, but perhaps not enough.

Time is running out

Sarah Halifa-Legrand warns in L’Obs magazine that the longer the crisis drags on, the more difficult it will be to find a solution that keeps Catalonia in Spain. Young people are more separatist than their elders.

Too many Catalans support self-determination for this movement to disappear overnight.

Copycats in Occitania

The weekly Le Point reports that Catalonia’s independence bid from Spain has inspired copycats in Northern Catalonia, a region of France.

It wouldn’t be fair to compare the movements, though. Whereas in Barcelona, ​”​even the commercial bourgeoisie, traditionally centrist and Catholic,” has joined the separatist cause, the Occitan protesters are more militant and opportunistic:

Separatists, autonomists, départementalistes and regionalists — one can find everything in the new “Catalan” gallery!