US president Donald Trump has another chance to help Catalonia achieve its independence: by recognizing the Catalan Republic and signing a commercial treaty with the new country, on the condition that the new Catalan Government confirms the independence declaration made on 27th October.
This is the proposal which Edward Lynch, professor of international politics at Hollins University and a former advisor to Ronald Reagan, published on Saturday in The Hill, a leading digital newspaper focused on Washington politics, which takes an independent line with a tendency to favour the Democrats.
The idea does not have so much to do with Catalonia as with punishing Spain (and warning other European Union states) for having voted in the UN against Trump's controversial plan to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As well as Spain, 127 other countries - of a total of 193 UN member states - were against it. The problem for the Trump administration, which Lynch proposes to help solve, is that while poor countries can be punished by reducing or suppressing direct US aid, a different approach is required to convince countries not dependent on US assistance - like the members of the EU - to toe the American line.
Warning to the EU
Despite a few minor errors, Lynch shows a generally good understanding of the independence process. He argues that a gesture as "dramatic" as recognition of the Catalan Republic would signal to "wealthy nations that the United States is capable and willing to find all sorts of ways to make life difficult for supposed allies that abandon America on issues important to U.S. national security”.
In second place, he adds, very assertively, that “offering help to Catalonia now would announce to the world that the Trump administration does not regard Europe as the exclusive property of the European Union, and has no intention of deferring to the leadership in Brussels when it comes to trade relations”.
In addition, the United States would show "that it has a high regard for the will of the people, expressed through free elections”. Lynch says that taking this stand “is an implicit but serious threat to the European Union, which was shaken by Brexit and is fearful of similar appeals to popular sentiment”.
Advice to Puigdemont
Lynch's article also includes advice for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. The author warns that international and US attention is beginning to be deviated towards other crises in other places and “the new Catalan parliamentary majority may hesitate to confirm the October independence declaration”.
However, Puigdemont would "surely gain the attention and favour of the Trump administration by announcing that an independent Catalonia would follow the lead of the United States" by locating its Israeli embassy in Jerusalem.
Lynch is, however, playing a long game. He notes the strong resistance of the Spanish state to Catalan independence and also proposes “a less risky option” for the US, which would be “offering to arbitrate a settlement between Catalonia and Madrid”.
The political scientist claims that “America’s experience with federalism makes this country an appropriate intermediary in a dispute over devolution of power” such as the Catalonia-Spain issue. For Lynch, such a strong move by the Trump government could mean that “Rajoy would find it almost impossible to continue his hardline stance”.
The new sheriff
Lynch also recalls the warning given by US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley: “There's a new sheriff in town” - that the US is a force to be respected. “Taking bold and imaginative action in Catalonia would make that lesson impossible to ignore”, he says.
This is not the first time that Edward Lynch has suggested that the independence of Catalonia offers the United States a good opportunity for international leadership. He developed similar ideas in another column a week after the not terribly successful encounter between Mariano Rajoy and Donald Trump in the White House last September.
The Hill is one of five publications specializing in Washington DC politics. The print edition has a circulation of about 20,000 copies a week while the website received 28 million unique visitors in October 2017, according to the auditor ComScore.