Multi-level Nationalism? The Catalan question and its lessons for Belgium and for Europe

Re-Bel e-book 20, published in June 2018, 67 pages

Coordinated by Bruno De Wever, Isabelle Ferreras, Philippe Van Parijs
Contributions by Louis Vos, Eric Storm, Clara Ponsati, Vincent Scheltiens Ortigosa, Bart Maddens, Paul De Grauwe, Sophie Heine
Appendix Bart De Wever, Justine Lacroix and Paul Magnette


On the 14th of December 2017, the Re-Bel initiative invited the participants in its 15th public event to reflect on the following questions: “Are nationalism and/or patriotism tolerable? Are they legitimate? Might they even be indispensable to the smooth functioning of a democratic polity? If so, at what level(s) and under what conditions? And what follows as regards the drawing of borders and the allocation of sovereignty?”
We were then in the immediate aftermath of the Catalan independence referendum, and half of the event focused on the clash between Catalan nationalism and Spanish nationalism, with the active participation of one member of the Catalan government in exile, Professor Clara Ponsati. But the purview of the event was broader. The questions listed above are no less present in the Brexit process and throughout the debate on European integration. And they are of course at the core of many discussions about the future of Belgium.

The present e-book collects a written version, sometimes significantly expanded, of most of the presentations at the public event. Louis Vos offers an historical introduction to the concepts of nation and nationalism. The contributions by Eric STORM (University of Leiden) and Clara PONSATI (University of St Andrews, formerly education minister in the Catalan govenment) highlight a number of features of the historical background of today’s Catalan situation that help understand the sharp differences between the respective narratives of Catalan and Spanish nationalists. Vincent SCHELTIENS (University of Antwerp) and Bart MADDENS (University of Leuven) each present their own analysis of the Catalan conflict and spell out what they see as the main similarities and differences with the Belgian situation. In a (particularly popular) piece previously published on his blog, Paul DE GRAUWE (London School of Economics) draws a parallel between the motivation and consequences of Catalan independence and Brexit. Finally, Sophie HEINE (University of Oxford) argues for a sovereign European Union that does not rely on nationalism on any level.

Within the framework of our public event, we had hoped to host a conversation between Bart DE WEVER and Paul MAGNETTE about the role they each assign to patriotism/nationalism, from the level of the cities of which they are mayors — as it happens, the largest cities in Flanders and Wallonia, respectively — to that of the European Union — to which both profess critical support. Paul Magnette could accept our invitation, but Bart De Wever, in the end, could not. At about the same time, however, they had an interesting public exchange, in connection with the refugee crisis, about the role to be given to nation states and their borders. Though not directly related to the secession issue raised by the Catalan crisis, this exchange is centrally concerned with the question of what it means to be a (rich) nation and what follows from it, in particular as regards the undeniable tension between maximal solidarity among a nations’s insiders and maximal hospitality to outsiders keen to move in. We therefore decided to include an English version of this exchange as an appendix to this e-book.