We in the Col·lectiu Emma have previously voiced our concern over informations published in the Financial Times and elsewhere that we felt didn’t properly reflect the state of affairs in Spain, and more particularly in Catalonia. On this occasion, however, we would like to praise your Spanish correspondent for his more objective and thorough report of June 9 (Language policy: Linguistic diversity may be too much of a good thing). We especially welcome the appearance of new compelling voices from Catalonia countering the centralist notions that have tended to monopolize the floor so far. Still, being hard to please, there are some points that we’d like to raise.
In a general way, we don’t think that lumping together the cases of Catalonia and the Basque country, as it’s often done when dealing with the “national question” in Spain, helps to clarify the situation in either of those territories or indeed in the country as a whole. Culturally, economically and politically, those are two very different cases and about the only thing they have in common is that both regions are seen from Madrid as twin adversaries in the same battle for national unity.
On the economic front, the FT has joined the ranks of those who have been claiming for some time that the Spanish economic success of the last few years was more of a mirage than a miracle. In that regard, one aspect is hastily touched upon in the report that would deserve more attention. It is stated that the “richer regions complain about excessive subsidies for the poorer ones”. There are now enough data – many of them produced by the Spanish government itself – to prove that those are very justified complaints. In fact, together with large inflows of EU funds, interregional handouts have been a decisive factor in the “Spanish miracle”. It would be appropriate to publish the relevant figures, showing, among other things, that in no other European country have there been such massive transfers of funds from the more productive regions to the traditionally unproductive ones. One perverse effect of that centrally-driven redistribution exercise is that the productive regions find themselves chronically underfinanced and have ultimately seen their development crippled. The figures might also show what little good these transfers have done in terms of making “poor” regions more productive, as opposed to raising their living standards in exchange for nothing.
Also mentioned in the report is a new catchphrase that is finding favour in Madrid. “Market unity” is being broken, the argument goes, and a law is needed to regain central control over areas of the economy that are now supposedly endangered by a diversity of local rules. Much as we may regret the tendency to overregulate shown by many autonomous governments – a sin of which the present socialist-led coalition in Catalonia is by no means innocent – this sudden preoccupation with economic efficiency smacks of just another ploy to curb the regions’ powers. This would amount to rolling back one of the basic ideas behind the autonomic system, namely the recognition of the fact that in an economy like Spain’s one size rarely fits all. A good example of that can be found in the field of immigration, where it’s obvious that one simply can’t have a good law covering both Extremadura (with virtually no immigration) and Catalonia (with around 600,000 new foreign immigrants between 2003 and 2008). Given a common European legal framework on the matter – which ought to go without saying in what is meant to be a borderless continent – one could wonder in fact about the need for a national law. The same holds in the context of a single European market. If the real aim is the free flow of goods and capital, reinforcing national legislation only beats the purpose. Wouldn’t it be wiser simply to declare null and void any law – regional or national – impinging on European “market unity”?
Lastly, the article on language policy must be greeted as a great improvement over the way the issue of multilingualism in Spain is often treated in the international press. However, we don’t feel it’s accurate to state that education and the public service are “contentious areas” on that count. They may be thought to be so in Madrid, where certain newspapers are bent on fuelling the flames of a conflict that is simply non-existent, at least in Catalonia. To begin with, current language policies have the full support of, and are in fact implemented by, all major political parties – including to a large extent, and quite ironically, by the Catalan branch of the staunchly centralist Popular Party. There is also no resistance to those policies – quite the opposite, in fact – among the population, including citizens of immigrant origin. Proof of that are the negligible numbers taking part in the demonstrations against the use of Catalan language in schools that are periodically organized by one Madrid-based political party and heavily trumpeted in several newspapers there. The latest of these managed to gather all of 1,200 people in the streets of Mallorca, many of them especially flown in from the capital for the occasion. Other attempts in Barcelona and elsewhere have also failed miserably. As Mr. Castells points out in your article, bilingualism today is a fact of life for Catalan speakers only, and there’s still a long road to travel before it becomes the rule for everybody. Is it really unreasonable, for instance, to require that public servants – whether they are post-office clerks or doctors working in the Catalan health system – should be able to communicate in the language of the public that they are paid to serve? It is just cynical of Mr. Rajoy to claim that his party strives for bilingualism when the real purpose is perpetuating by law the right of Spanish speakers to remain monolingual in Catalonia, a privilege that took hold under Franco’s dictatorship and which successive democratic governments haven’t seen fit to overturn.
We would finally like to thank the FT for its effort in presenting a more complete and honest picture of the situation in Catalonia. Col·lectiu Emma stands ready to provide any additional information that you may deem relevant for future reports.