Catalonia: A Vie for Sovereignty?

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the Author.

An ISBerne student editorial by Finn de Thomas Wagner

Artur Mas, President of the Spanish region of Catalonia, announced elections in his region on November 25th so that the Catalan people can confirm their trust in him and his policies. However there is much more behind this election, as Catalonia is a region in Spain that has been looking to become an independent state for quite some time now.

On September 11th, the national day of Catalonia, around 2 million out of a possible 7 million people living in Catalonia went to the streets in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, waving the “estelada” flag, which symbolizes an independent Catalonia. Protesters also waved banners saying things like “Catalonia, the next state in Europe” or simply “Independence”. Clearly, the spirit of independence is still ripe within this region.

But why do a large part of Catalans want sovereignty from the rest of Spain? The debate over independence between Spain’s capital, Madrid, and Catalonia have been around for centuries, but they flare up during times of economic and political hardship. Right now, as Spain is going through severe economic hardship, the debate has been revitalized due to the Catalan people not being happy with the way in which their taxes are used. Catalonia represents a substantial amount of the Spanish economy, around 20%. This means that around 20% of all Spanish taxes are collected in Catalonia, but not all of them stay in Catalonia. A large part of them go to poorer regions of Spain, and this is the main issue in the eyes of the Catalans, as they want all of their taxes to stay in Catalonia and be used for their own good, since, in the end, they are the ones that have worked for them. It is generally perceived by many that Catalonia has to lift up the rest of Spain, which the Catalans feel is unfair. Today, Catalonia only gets back around 19% to 21% of the tax revenue that they pay to the central government in Madrid; the rest is redistributed to poorer regions.

Up until September 11th, Mas was trying to negotiate a new fiscal plan for Catalonia with the Spanish government in Madrid, albeit unsuccessfully. Xavier Sala-i-Martin, a Catalan economics professor at Columbia University was recently quoted about the situation in the global media, he said, “Up until September 11 his strategy was to go to Madrid and ask for a better financial deal or ‘fiscal pact’ as he called it. I guess that the massive demonstrations convinced him that his people no longer want a better financial deal from Spain. They want independence. And he joined the bandwagon… Mas doesn’t lead. He follows.”

Together with these troubles come other problems that Spain is facing because of the current economic and financial crisis. The most important of these issues is lingering unemployment, which is up from 8.6% in 2008 to 16.3% today, although high, it is still lower than the national average of 25.1%.

Analysts from Deutsche Bank claim that the political and problems between Catalonia and Madrid could be a catalyst to Spain officially asking to be bailed out by the European Union.

For now, we must wait for the elections on November 25th in which it is expected that Mas’ party will obtain an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament. When Mas wins, it is likely that popular consultation is done in Catalonia in which the people will be asked if they want sovereignty from Spain. However this popular consultation would unconstitutional as it has not been and will not be approved by the central government in Madrid, therefore the central government under command of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy can prevent the popular consultation with any means, including force.

School Disclaimer: ISBerne is a non-political and non-denominational institution and because of its international nature does not take an active stance on any political or religious issue.  This is in alignment with our status as an IB World School.  Further, ISBerne is affiliated with a variety of diplomatic missions in Berne, and as such it would be highly inappropriate for the school to express political or religious opinions. Staff and students are expected to support the school in this matter although they are allowed to express opinions and to excercise their individual freedom of speech. No political or religious activity, such as pamphleteering or canvassing support for external organizations, is allowed in school.