After Spain nixes new fiscal deal, Catalonia considers independence push
Spain's prime minister refused to renegotiate a fiscal deal governing the Catalonian region's payments to Madrid, arguing that all regional governments will then follow suit.
(Page 2 of 2)
Long-contained frustration with the central government resurfaced with the economic crisis, though, and nationalism has rekindled among the population.Skip to next paragraph
Mas was emboldened after a pro-independence protest on Sept. 11 attracted hundreds of thousands of people to Barcelona, demanding “freedom.” The turnout was unexpected, even by the most optimistic.
The Catalonian leader seized on the momentum to declare the region’s intentions to move toward independence. “We have to ready ourselves. We have to convince them with arguments.” Mas cited three prerequisites for “victory”: “firm willingness,” “a sufficiently large majority,” and “the ability to resist.”
A disenfranchised history
Spain already has one of the world’s most decentralized national governments. Independence aspirations are centuries old and not limited to Catalonia. Big shares of voters in the Basque Country, and to a lesser extent Galicia, have consistently supported sovereignty as a long-term goal.
Once democracy was reestablished after a four-decade dictatorship that ended in 1976, the leaders of a broken Spain agreed to defer their ambitions and instead embarked in a long-term devolution process to increase regional self-rule.
Navarre and the Basque Country, for example, have historically controlled their fiscal affairs and only negotiate how much to compensate the central government for shared expenses – as Catalonia was pressing for.
The three regions already have their own independent police forces. And all the 17 regions and two city-states have their own parliament and executive, with varying degrees of control over health care and education.
The economic catalyst
Spain’s gross national product in 2012 and 2013 is expected to further contract, and unemployment, already the highest of any rich nation, is expected to top 25 percent and to become increasingly hard to reduce, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Europe is also pressuring Spain to request a bailout like Greece, Portugal, and Ireland already have, but the government is trying to avoid it as it would likely carry even more unpopular austerity on top of the draconian measures it has already passed, including tax hikes, public spending cuts, and economic reforms that have increased poverty and unemployment.
If the central government were to cede control of the tax revenue from Catalonia, it wouldn’t have the economic muscle to distribute spending in the poorer regions of Spain.
With regional elections in Catalonia and the Basque Country later this year, and polls consistently showing a victory in both regions by nationalistic parties, the political map could change, and it’s now up to Mr. Rajoy to decide how to face the unprecedented threat to Spain’s territorial integrity.
“I don’t know what the government would do if Catalonians declare a unilateral independence,” Dr. Campmany says. “The government has little power to enforce the Constitution, other than the Army. My impression is that this is the beginning of a very long process. Most Catalonians want independence, but it seems to me their leaders just want more concessions.”
But if Catalonia insists on independence, the consequences are uncertain. “It’s not that they are using the independence issue to secure a fiscal pact. It’s the other way around,” Dr. Ruiz says. “I don’t rule out a civil war, or a balkanization of Spain. In Spain, nobody wants to even consider this, but I think it’s tremendously concerning.”
Making a Difference