Nov. 27, 2023

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD) had the privilege of welcoming the former Minister of Education in the Catalan government and a Member of the European Parliament Dr. Clara Ponsatí to the Princeton University campus on October 30, 2023.

The discussion started with a formal introduction by the Acting Director of the Institute, Professor Sophie Meunier, followed by a conversation between Dr. Ponsatí and Robert Garrett Professor of Politics and Public Affairs Professor Carles Boix. Dr. Ponsatí jokingly remarked that she is an "accidental politician" and shared how she first got involved with Catalan leadership in the summer of 2017.

Since then, she has been involved in the prolonged Catalan movement for independence. Dr. Ponsatí claimed that the 2017 Catalan self-determination referendum was only proclaimed in name and not in practice because, besides a referendum, Catalans needed committed, brave, and sovereign leadership. Such leadership was absent. In response, the Spanish government sentenced many of Dr. Ponsatí's colleagues to prison and immediately halted the referendum's effects despite the Catalan people's strong support.

Instead of facing the same fate as her colleagues in government, Dr. Ponsatí shared that she chose to flee to Brussels to avoid going to prison and anticipated a lengthy sentence if she were to remain in Spain. A Spanish judge later issued European arrest warrants for Ponsatí and other former Catalan ministers who had left Spain. Still in exile, Ponsatí later ran as a candidate in the elections to the European Parliament in May of 2019 and was subsequently elected.

When asked about the European Parliament's role in the Catalan cause, Dr. Ponsatí said that the Spanish government's systematic discrimination against Catalans is not something Brussels wants to recognize because this would be recognizing the calls for independence. The European political elite is not interested in the Catalan cause, and Spain remains a considerable Member State.

Toward the end of the event, LISD International Policy Associates and other guests could ask Dr. Ponsatí questions. The Associates and students asked questions ranging from the potential results of the upcoming 2024 European Parliament elections to how the Catalan education system has failed to contribute to the pro-independence movement.

Lastly, in a broader consideration of the Israel-Hamas War and the Russo-Ukrainian War, Dr. Ponsatí admitted that the question of Catalan independence ostensibly pales compared to what is happening in the Middle East. However, she argued that if the European Union cannot civilly and democratically resolve issues of self-determination that are not necessarily geopolitical hotspots, the EU is sending a message to the world that undermines the importance of democracy and self-determination movements.

"Dr. Ponsati offered an insightful commentary on the contemporary politics of European self-determination and the future of Catalonia's independence movement," said Uma Fox '26. "I was particularly struck by her discussion of the politics of referenda and the implications of the EU's extradition treaty for state dissidence."

"Being able to have conversations with renowned speakers from complex backgrounds is one of my favorite parts of LISD—and this was exactly the case with Clara Ponsati's talk on October 30. After all, it's not everyday that you get to meet scholars driven to exile because of their identity," shared Vicky Caballero Quinn, '26.

With contribution from IPA Hannah Jo ’26.