UCL European Institute


Revisiting Sovereignty in Europe? The Catalan Crisis in Context

A conference on 17 April 2018.

The ongoing crisis in Catalonia is the product of a very particular legal, political and indeed party-political context. The latest vote on independence called by Catalan authorities on 1 October 2017 - declared illegal by Spain's constitutional court and leading both to a unilateral declaration of independence and a subsequent suspension of regional autonomy - has brought it to international attention. Yet the complex nature of the case, which is crucial to any discussion of its political future and to understanding the lessons it offers to similar causes in Europe, is often downplayed.


This conference paid due attention to Catalonia, while simultaneously drawing out the repercussions it has for Europe at large. Beyond its particularity, the crisis raises thorny questions about how regional autonomy can be accommodated within multilevel states, and thus about the very principles of sovereignty and nationhood. It also challenged received opinion when it comes to negotiating constitutional reform; the role of courts and parliaments in political disputes; legitimacy and accountability in decentralised representative democracies; and, indeed, referendums as a vehicle for political decision-making. Last but not least, such a contextual perspective allowed us to discuss the implications such disputes have for the European Union itself - after all, a multi-level governance mechanism par excellence.

The conference brought together lawyers, political scientists and economists to discuss different interpretations of the causes and consequences of the Catalan crisis; place it in comparative perspective to independence initiatives in other EU member states; and consider the impact of these for the EU and its institutions.


11:00-12:30 Causes and consequences of the Catalan crisis
Javier Garcia Olivia - Senior Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Manchester
Josep Capdeferro - Professor and Historian of Law, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona
Sandra León - Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of York
Chair: Uta Staiger - Executive Director, UCL European Institute

13:30-15:00 The European context: Perspectives from other countries
Robert Hazell - Professor of Government and the Constitution, UCL Constitution Unit
Sylvia Brunet - Associate Professor of Law, Université de Rouen
Mathias El Berhoumi - Professor of Constitutional Law and Theory of Law, Université Saint-Louis, Belgium
Chair: Claire Colomb - Reader in Planning and Urban Sociology, The Bartlett

15:30-17:00 Repercussions for a European Union in crisis
Andrew Scott - Professor of European Union Studies, University of Edinburgh
Iñigo Bullain - Professor of Constitutional Law, University of the Basque Country
Montserrat Guibernau - Forum on Geopolitics, University of Cambridge