Spaniards Belittle Catalan Separatism

Even as one in two Catalans votes to break away, some Spaniards refuse to take them seriously.

Barcelona Spain demonstration
Catalans celebrate their National Day in Barcelona, Spain, September 13, 2012 (Fotomovimiento)

Before Catalans voted in regional elections on Sunday, the rest of Spain disputed they could serve as a de facto referendum on independence.

But as soon as the results were in and it turned out the separatists were short of a majority, Spanish commentators and politicians hailed the decisive “no” against secession.

They can’t have it both ways.

Not insignificant

Parties in favor of Catalan independence did win a majority of the seats in the regional legislature with nearly 48 percent support. Turnout was a record 77 percent. The defenders of Spanish unity would be ill-advised to dismiss those numbers are insignificant.

Yet they do.

Almost one in two Catalans are now prepared to break away from Spain. But rather than try to understand why, critics continue to belittle the separatist movement.

“Above the rest”

Ramón Pérez-Maura’s op-ed in Politico is representative of this attitude.

The ABC newspaper editor absurdly claims that the reason Catalans want to break away is that they are xenophobic toward other Spaniards.

“They have to be above the rest,” writes Pérez.


He misleadingly claims that Catalonia is already more autonomous than either Germany’s Bavaria or California in the United States. That is not only false; the comparison is fundamentally flawed.

Bavaria and California are federal states. Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain, like the Basque Country and Galicia, that must try to negotiate more powers from Madrid as opposed to giving powers to it.

There are differences between the Spanish regions. The Basques, for example, control their own energy policy. Catalonia’s is shared with the central government. The latter does have exclusive control over cultural policies, such as language promotion, which the Basque Country does not. But the Basques get to keep more of the revenue they raise than the Catalans.


Indeed, a major grievance of the independence movement is that more money is taken out of Catalonia every year than the central government puts back in. Estimates are in the range of $21 billion, or 8 percent of Catalonia’s economic output.

Opponents of independence can point out that in every country, richer regions subsidize the poorer. Bavaria does too. It accounts for half of all net transfers inside Germany.

But it doesn’t do so without complaint. In 2012, the state even went to Germany’s supreme court to demand a reduction.

That route isn’t available to Catalonia. Spain’s Constitutional Court threw out parts of its autonomy statute in 2010 and blocked an independence referendum last year.

Pérez mentions neither decision, but they are key to understanding why support for secession has gone up.

Separatism rising

In 2010, just one in five Catalans wanted to break away from Spain. Now, judging by Sunday’s election, nearly one in two does.

Spain’s failure to take Catalan demands for self-determination seriously is what is fueling the independence movement in the region.

Pérez’ attitude is emblematic of a country that ignores separatist sentiment in its richest province at its own peril. The longer Madrid brushes Catalan demands aside, the more Catalans may decide independence is the only way to guarantee their future as a nation.

One comment

  1. Clever analyse, you are pointing to the right issue in spanish unionism.

    In Spain is very common to think about an only Spanish nation consacred by the Constitution, for them nation and sovereignity are indivisible, beyond this statement further discussion is impossible.

    Greetings from the Basque Country

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