The often controversial limits to foreign action by sub-national bodies

That was the focus of an event held today by DIPLOCAT and the Institute for Self-Government Studies (IEA)

Today (Friday), DIPLOCAT and the IEA, in collaboration with the Government of Catalonia's Ministry for Foreign Action and the European Union, held a seminar on Present and Future Prospects for Foreign Action by Sub-National Bodies. The seminar took place at the Palau de Pedralbes in Barcelona and was attended by the Catalan Minister for Foreign Action and the European Union, Meritxell Serret i Aleu, who welcomed participants to the event. Also present were the Secretary-General of DIPLOCAT, Laura Foraster i Lloret, and the Director of the IEA, Joan Ridao Martín.

Complete video (in original version):

The first speaker was Laura Foraster, who highlighted the fact that for some years now foreign action has no longer been exclusive to states, and that there is an increasing number of actors who play a key role. For his part, Joan Ridao spoke about the legal repercussions of this development, and noted that foreign action by sub-national bodies has often given rise to tensions in the area of international law.

Minister Meritxell Serret emphasised Catalonia's international outlook and the Government's desire to exercise its competencies in this area in full. Nor does it renounce the possibility of extending said competencies, in view of the fact that the Government's ultimate aim remains the creation of a Catalan Republic. "Despite the legal rulings, reality keeps moving forward", she said, before going on to explain that her Ministry continues to forge bilateral relationships, engage in international cooperation and contribute to multilateral organisations.

The first round-table discussion then took place, focusing on the implications of the National Foreign Action and Service Act (LASEE) for Spain's Autonomous Communities (ACs). Those taking part included Joan David Janer Torrens, Professor of International Public Law at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), and Esther Zapater Duque, Professor of International Public Law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). The discussion was moderated by Mireia Grau Creus, the Head of Research at the IEA.

Joan David Janer Torrens discussed which competencies are effectively exclusive to the Spanish state according to the Constitutional Court (e.g. the signing of international treaties, the right to engage in diplomacy, the generation of obligations and responsibilities at the international level), and which actions are devolved to the ACs. He concluded that both the LASEE and the legislation on treaties represent a step forward for foreign action on the part of the ACs, as they establish a framework for action regardless of whether such action is provided for in the respective Statutes. However, he also noted that the Spanish state's desire to coordinate and centralise could have a negative impact in this respect.

In her talk, Esther Zapater made specific reference to state interference, giving the example of the sentence handed down by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2016 against certain articles of the Catalan Foreign Action Act. She characterised the sentence as frequently "ambiguous and confusing". Zapater went on to criticise this "climate of contentiousness with regard to competencies", which often affects areas that should be outside the realm of public diplomacy or paradiplomacy, and added that she often feels as though a "policy of preventive challenges" is being applied. She then explained the need for a clear distinction between mechanisms of coordination and those that are used purely for control.

The second round-table discussion examined different models of foreign action within the context of Europe and the Spanish state. The discussion was moderated by Gerard Vives Fernández, Director-General for the Representation of the Government of Catalonia Abroad and in the European Union (part of the Ministry for Foreign Action and the European Union). The speakers included Conchi Quintana, Director of Foreign Action (Government of the Basque Country), who talked about the Basque model and the importance of the diaspora in its foreign policy; Antoni Vicens, Director-General for Foreign Relations (Government of the Balearic Islands), who explained how the Islands are restructuring their European policy to make it more effective and pragmatic; and Lukas Van Damme, Head of the Bilateral Cooperation Team (Government of Flanders), who spoke about how the various Flemish delegations around the world form part of the Belgian embassies.

The subjects discussed during this second round-table session included organisation and logistics, how foreign delegations work, relations with Brussels and the EU, multilateral issues, collaboration with other sub-national bodies, and training programmes for those who work in the head office and for those who work in different locations around the world.

Jointly organized with: