On October 25th, this SciDF’s event tackled the topic all scientists in Catalonia had in mind.
How would an eventual independence of Catalonia affect scientific research? What would the pros and cons be? Is it possible to have a real, fruitful and fact-based debate on ‘what if independence’?
On Wednesday 25th October at 7 pm 110 people entered the Mau Mau bar to attend a highly anticipated debate. The speakers were on the platform with the moderator and the hosts, the camera was set, full house and other people at bar La Bota nearby watching the live streaming.
SciDF president Yoran Beldengrün and Clara Suñer expressed the association’s delight with the presence of journalists, experienced and young scientists, and government administration members. Speakers were Josep M. Vilalta, expert in university policies and R&D management, Pere Puigdomènech, research professor at CRAG-CSIC, Lluís Rovira, director of I-CERCA, and Enric Banda, senior advisor at Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC).
The first intervention was a 10-min video by Mike Galsworthy (UK), founder of Scientists for EU. Galsworthy highlighted the need for a ‘sensible’ debate, as the current situation looks ‘aggressive’ from outside, and the fact that there are no foreigners in science, as most scientific programs are international collaborations. He said that regardless of the present and future political context this needs to be preserved and presented the EU as a key element, a ‘safety net’. Galsworthy added that scientists should be in the political debate. All these ideas were supported by the speakers during the event.
The moderator, Sergio Villanueva, linked the video to the debate and spurred comments and discussion from the speakers including as main topics funding, structures, human resources and legislation.
The speakers agreed that the estimated fiscal deficit of Catalonia is 12-16 thousand million €. Banda said solidarity is good, but there has to be a limit. Rovira noted that with less than 2 % of the deficit the current Spanish investment in science in Catalonia would be covered and Catalonia could use taxes to cover for other missing funding too.
Rovira compared Spain with the Titanic: great potential and bad management. The speakers believed that both Spanish and Catalan administrations should learn from north-European administrations like Denmark. Vilalta and Puigdomènech described the Spanish administration as bureaucratic and archaic. They consider Catalan structures, research system and policies more efficient than the Spanish ones, with half the investment of Denmark but comparable results. Spain is one of the countries with lower investment in research, offering less research positions and with worse wages than before. Banda added that Catalonia has had ‘science-friendly’ governments but wondered if that would continue in the future.
The moderator asked about the chance of becoming an EU associated country if a Catalan Republic couldn’t be a member state. This didn’t seem impossible to speakers. Banda said that the main problem was the access to money. Rovira differed saying that attracting talent was the key, as talent gets money.
All speakers regarded the transition process to independence as a feared period of instability that should be as short as possible. However, it depends on negotiations and pacts, which doesn’t seem to promising right now. The words transition and instability were regularly repeated throughout the event. Banda stated that transition would be long because Catalonia would need to negotiate with Spain but also with the EU. On the other hand, he believed Catalonia would recover with time. Vilalta noted that instability is not caused by just one side. He reminded that Catalonia has offered talks many times and the answer ‘has been what has been’. He said that instability is the result of the conflict, including both sides.
Rovira and Banda expect Spain not to abandon BSC or the Alba synchrotron, which are collaborations between the Spanish and Catalan administrations. There are also the CSIC centres in Catalonia. Both sides have an interest in keeping good relationships and a pact would be needed regarding these elements. Banda noted the costly international fees for collaboration with Spain from outside the EU, though.
Rovira argued that Catalonia already has the state structures necessary to manage research with minor adjustments. Catalonia wouldn’t be worse than at the beginning of the ICREA program in 2001, according to him. Banda presented ICREA as just an aid that gives freedom of management to universities. Puigdomènech pointed out that the Spanish Treasury seized the bank assets of Catalan universities and research centres to prevent supports to the referendum of October 1st and at the time of the event —a month later— the control was still active hindering research management. The moderator added that LERU considers this measure and the use of article 155 obstructions to research.
When the audience were invited to participate, Mateo Valero, director of BSC, stated that ‘Spain doesn’t love science but Catalonia loves science’. However, he warned that independence would leave Catalonia poor, and only inside Spain would Catalonia stay scientifically prolific. Someone added that uncertainty should not be an excuse to stop the independence process and the outcome should be judged in the long term. An Italian member of the audience agreed that those born in Catalonia wouldn’t see economy alone as a limiting factor for the process, but wondered how that would sit with foreigners.
In the final thoughts, Rovira said that scientists should take a sabbatical to go into politics for science to be taken into account in political decisions. Banda complained that the Catalan government has done nothing for science this term and that both Spain and Catalonia are ‘deficient democracies’ that need the people to get involved. Vilalta believes that politicians mirror society and society needs to push to make universities, research and education a state priority. Rovira added that since the 80s the country has improved a lot in science, however transition wouldn’t be fast and the price might be high.
Òscar Aznar Alemany
Watch the full event here: