International professors taking part in a seminar on self-determination in Barcelona on Thursday rejected the Spanish government’s attitude towards Catalonia’s demand to decide its political future. Moreover, the academics claimed that self-determination is not only something to be granted to colonies, but is a right for any people who wishes to exercise it. The experts also predicted that international organizations are more likely to support the Catalan government’s plans to hold a vote on October, 1 than states.
Boston University professor Liah Greenfeld told ACN that the Spanish executive’s rejection of the demand in Catalonia has no “legal validity”, although she believes it is to be expected that Madrid should try to block any secession within its borders. “I don’t think that it has anything to do with the concept of self-determination, it is not up to the Spanish government to decide whether the people of Catalonia want to be on their own,” she added.
Greenfeld also rejected the argument claiming that the right to self-determination can only be exercised by colonies. According to the professor, the concept was introduced by US President Woodrow Wilson after the First World War “very specifically to refer to nations” that were part of empires. “They were not colonies,” she pointed out, adding, “they referred simply to the right of those peoples, such as in Hungary, Slovakia, etc., to secede, to become sovereign nations.”
“It is not up to the Spanish government to decide whether the people of Catalonia want to be on their own”
Liah Greenfeld · Professor at University of Boston
“The most likely chance to get a form of support will be in the forum of international organizations,” said professor Fassbender, who is also a legal adviser to the United Nations. “I assume that the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg, is so committed to the idea of democracy and human rights that there, in the assembly of the Council of Europe, you could find some support in favour of recognition of independence,” he added.
One of the main discussion points in Catalan politics when tackling the independence debate is whether Catalonia would stay in the European Union or be automatically expelled after secession. “My interpretation of the EU treaties is that for this specific case one also must have new rules basically allowing Catalonia to stay in the EU if it wishes so,” he said, after pointing out that the treaties say nothing about secessions within the Union.
Catalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raül Romeva, opened the seminar with a brief speech, in which he linked the right to self-determination to human rights and democratic principles. However, he said that voting in a referendum is not the only way to reach statehood and recalled the International Court of Justice sentence of 2010 on the independence declaration of the Kosovo Parliament in 2008. Romeva said that the judicial decision “considers that secessions are not by themselves against international law, even if they take place outside of the exercise of the right to self-determination.”