Catalan citizenship: the pending debate

Ricard Zapata
3 min

The issue of the condition of citizenship with regard to the referendum and an independent Catalonia is receiving far less attention than other matters such as foreign relations and the social and economic perspectives. However, the whole democratic and nationalist argument used by the President and his cabinet, as well as the pro-independence opposition, is based on this undetermined category. Therefore, resolving the matter might help to clear a great deal of personal uncertainties that foster rumours and could prompt some to vote NO. For instance, what would be the situation of Spaniards whose children were born in Catalonia? Would they be treated like newly-arrived immigrants? Would they be regarded differently, in terms of social and political rights? Other questions need to be addressed, as well: how will we regard individuals who were born in Catalonia but now live abroad? Will they get to vote by post? As we near November 9, this uncertainty is becoming a worry.

There are two possible ways for us to go about it. A "rupturist" way, whereby we would set our own criteria to determine who is a Catalan national, and a "legalist" way, which would default to the criteria used in Spain. If we choose the path of rupture, we already have a definition of residential citizenship in the National Immigration Agreement: it is granted when a person has lived in Catalonia uninterruptedly for a minimum of five years. If we choose the legal system presently in place, we will use the criteria set in Spain's laws. In both cases, the issue of who gets to vote is important in terms of the democratic legitimacy of the process. I believe that the issue of who has the right to vote in the referendum and who gets to be a Catalan national in the new state are two different matters.

Indeed, the plan laid out by the CATN (1) is divided into three stages: the referendum (still within Spain's legality), a constituent period and the start of a new state. If we wish for the process to be legitimate, as far as Spain is concerned, then "pragmatism" would advise us to follow the legalist way in stage one. This would mean that those who aren't Catalan now would remain excluded. There is no doubt that this way would make things more difficult for those who don't even regard the referendum as being legitimate. This "legalist pragmatism" would prevent them from not recognising the result on grounds of who was entitled to vote. Once this first stage is over and, assuming a Yes victory, we would start a period when the new Catalan institutions would be able to adopt the new democratically accepted rupturist way and define who is a member of the new Catalan political community. This is a substantial matter. Initially, we'd have to follow an inclusive or exclusive logic with two dimensions of diversity: internal immigrants (who are Spanish today) and external immigrants (from Europe and elsewhere). At this point, I would propose a model of multiple citizenships, which would provide a pragmatic answer to the existing variety of cases: a) dual citizenship for any Spaniards who request it and reside in Catalonia during the process, both for those born in Spain as well as for their Catalonia-born children, if they want it; all children born in Catalonia after the process would be Catalan; b) to grant Catalan citizenship to immigrants depending on how long they've been living in the country (five years, plus proof of having a settled home in Catalonia would suffice); c) to start a fast-track process of granting citizenship to those living outside Catalonia (in Spain or elsewhere), on request, provided they can prove that they were born in Catalonia or one of their parents was (up to three generations).

My pragmatic proposal is for Catalan citizenship to be post-national. In other words, separate from any notion of Catalan nationality and respectful of the nationalities of those who live in Catalonia. This stems from article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality". Catalan citizenship would be granted by residence and birth. There is no doubt that this proposal would set us aside from the state nationalisms of the 19th century, especially Spain's. It would be a democratically flexible citizenship, more in tune with the historic time that Catalonia might bring about.

This is a substantial debate, when we are only six months away from the referendum of November 9. At the moment there are doubts in Catalonia's society about who will get to vote and what will happen to those who are now Spanish nationals and would become immigrants in the event of a Yes-Yes win. If those doubts persist and snowball, they can affect the process greatly. Now it is imperative to have a public political debate based on common sense! This should certainly be the first great agreement in the national transition process.


(1) CATN stands for Consell Assessor per a la Transició Nacional (Advisory Committee for the National Transition); it consists of a small group of experts appointed by the President who advise the Catalan government on the independence process.