Catalonia Votes for Independence from Spain

A majority of Catalans is expected to back parties that want to break away from Spain.

Catalan president Artur Mas i Gavarró embraces parliamentarian Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida in Barcelona, Spain after their party has won a regional election, November 26, 2010
Catalan president Artur Mas i Gavarró embraces parliamentarian Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida in Barcelona, Spain after their party has won a regional election, November 26, 2010 (Josep Tomàs)

Catalonia on Sunday reelected regional president Artur Mas who has promised to call a referendum on self-determination for the northeastern Spanish region in his second term.

While the secessionist Convergència i Unió coalition which Mas leads did not secure an outright majority in the regional parliament, it may call a referendum with the support of left-wing independence parties.

Preelection polls predicted that two-thirds of the votes would go to parties that support independence. The central government in Madrid has vowed to block such an effort.

Many Catalans, who are among the richest people in Spain, believe that they are bearing the brunt of the country’s financial crisis. The region accounts for 16 percent of Spain’s population but more than a fifth of its gross domestic product. An estimated $21 billion in taxes paid in Catalonia, equivalent to 8 percent of its economic output, is invested in other regions.

Mas’ administration has enacted budget cuts to balance spending but the region’s finances are in dire straits. Its bonds have been downgraded to junk status. Thus barred from borrowing independently, the regional government in Barcelona has requested billions in rescue funds from the central government which is itself fighting to stave off a debt crisis.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservatives are set to be the second biggest party in the new parliament with polls forecasting that they will win seventeen out of 135 seats. Its leaders have warned that secession would leave the region economically crippled.

The obstacles to Catalan independence are formidable. As Pierre Briançon points out at Reuters, “Catalonia would have to devise a new currency” if it left Spain and therefore the eurozone, one “that no one would trust while its current debt was still denominated in euros.” As a breakaway region, Catalonia would have to reapply for European Union membership which could take years and prompt businesses to relocate in the meantime. “Altogether the region’s GDP could decline by up to 20 percent, aligning it with the rest of Spain, according to some estimates.”

This article also appeared at Sharnoff’s Global Views, November 26, 2012.