Europe increasingly sees Spain as authoritarian in wake of Catalan independence bid

Most Europeans believe the Spanish government has been to harsh on the Catalan independence movement

Europeans increasingly see Spain as an authoritarian country. That is the conclusion that stems from a poll carried out by Spanish think-tank Real Instituto Elcano, which shows that most European citizens believe that Spain has been too authoritarian with Catalonia, following the push for independence. The Belgians (56 per cent), the Germans (54 per cent), the British (53 per cent) and the Italians (50 per cent) are the nationalities which show the strongest disapproval, while the Portuguese, the French and the Polish sympathise with the Spanish authorities the most, even though 40 per cent of them do not approve. In a similar vein, 63 per cent of Germans, 59 per cent of Belgians and 55 per cent of Italians feel that the Spanish government hasn’t shown enough willingness dialogue with Catalonia’s pro-independence parties, with only France and Portugal scoring below the 50 per cent mark. Only 21 per cent of French respondents and 20 per cent of Italians condone Madrid’s heavy-handed approach.

On the impact of a hypothetical Catalan independence in Europe, those who believe this would be negative for Europe as a whole are only a clear majority (52 per cent) in Portugal. In other countries respondents are evenly split between those who believe it would be counterproductive and those who think it would have no clear effect. Only a minority believe that it would have a positive effect of some sort. In Russia up to 25 per cent of the people believe an independent Catalonia would be good for Europe (the highest percentage), whereas the Portuguese (7 per cent) and the French (9 per cent) are the most skeptical. Respondents are more split on the hypothetical benefits for Catalans, with large variations between different countries. Only a majority of Britons (52 per cent) believe that Catalans would be better off with independence, the one question which clearly shows the general public’s lack of familiarity with the situation.

Nevertheless, there is a great awareness of Catalonia’s pro-independence movement, as over 80 per cent of respondents in all countries have heard about it. Only the UK and Holland have a lower score (77 per cent), but it is still a very high percentage. The highest figure is Portugal’s (95 per cent), followed by Italy (90 per cent), with Belgium and Germany following at 83 per cent. Besides being well-known, Catalonia’s separatist movement is regarded as a problem by all countries and most of them perceive it as a serious problem, particularly in the two nations where people are the most sympathetic to Madrid’s position: Portugal and Poland. A majority of respondents in Italy, Holland, the UK and Sweden believe this is not a very serious issue.

Most Europeans would not endorse the independence of a region, with the Portuguese, the Italians, the Polish and the Germans showing the strongest disapproval. In Belgium, Walloons have a more negative attitude than the Flemish, where only 40 per cent would oppose it (60 per cent in Wallonia). On the political future of Catalonia in ten years’ time, most Europeans are certain that Catalonia will remain a part of Spain and nearly two thirds of respondents (63 per cent) believe things will stay as they are. This view is even more widespread among the Portuguese, the Italians, the British and the Polish. Even most people in Flanders adhere to it.