Spaniards Belittle Catalan Separatism

Catalans celebrate their National Day in Barcelona, Spain, September 13, 2012
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. Read more “Spaniards Belittle Catalan Separatism”

Inconclusive Election Leaves Catalonia’s Future in Doubt

Artur Mas
Catalan regional president Artur Mas visits Girona, January 13 (Ariet/Carles Palacio)

Catalan separatists claimed a mandate to start breaking away from Spain after they won a majority of the seats in the regional parliament on Sunday. But without a majority of the votes, they will likely be challenged by opposition parties in Catalonia and the central government in Madrid.

Regional president Artur Mas, whose separatist Together for Yes alliance was projected to win 62 out of 135 seats in the legislature, promised supporters in Barcelona he would press ahead with a plan to declare independence from Spain in eighteen months. He vowed that the effort would be carried out “with a sense of integration inside Catalonia and a sense of harmony with regard to Spain and Europe.”

But Spain’s central government has ruled out independence, saying the country’s laws do not allow for any region to break away. The European Commission has also called into doubt the separatists’ claim that Catalonia would remain part of the European Union after seceding. Read more “Inconclusive Election Leaves Catalonia’s Future in Doubt”

Catalan Separatists Claim Mandate to Break Away from Spain

Catalan regional president Artur Mas speaks at a rally of pro-independence parties in Castelldefels, September 3
Catalan regional president Artur Mas speaks at a rally of pro-independence parties in Castelldefels, September 3 (CDC)

Spain, Turkey Give Minorities No Alternative to Secession

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy welcomes Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Madrid, November 27, 2012
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy welcomes Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Madrid, November 27, 2012 (La Moncloa)

As Catalans vote this weekend in an election that their leaders will consider a de facto referendum on secession from Spain, the government in Madrid seems dumbfounded. It simply maintains that Catalonia has no constitutional right to break away — as if the separatists care about the laws of a country they don’t want to be part of anymore.

Their inability to empathize with Catalonia’s desire for independence is not unique.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is similarly stunned by what it sees as a sudden surge in Kurdish nationalism. In elections this summer, a pro-Kurdish party for the first time cleared the 10 percent election threshold to win seats in parliament. Erdoğan’s ruling Islamists quickly called another election to try and reverse this outcome.

The Turkish government simultaneously launched an anti-terror campaign in response to an ill-timed resumption of violence by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a far-left Kurdish militant group.

Erdoğan’s attempt to paint all Kurdish nationalists as terrorists isn’t working, however. If anything, he may end up radicalizing the entire movement.

Just as Madrid’s refusal to grant Catalonia more autonomy has given nationalists there little choice but to seek all-out independence, Turkey’s attempts to shut the Kurds out of the political process and suppress their culture and identity are giving the country’s largest minority little alternative to armed struggle and separatism. At least as long as Erdoğan stays in power, that seems to be the only way they can preserve their heritage.

What the Turkish leader should have done, argues Soner Cagaptay, an expert in Turkish politics, in Foreign Affairs magazine, is give in to some of the autonomy movement’s demands.

Çağaptay points out that Turkey’s Kurds aren’t as ethnically homogenous nor as geographically concentrated as is commonly assumed. Half have migrated out of their homeland in Turkey’s southeast. One in six Kurds is married to a Turk.

Accordingly, addressing Kurdish demands in Turkey means granting comprehensive cultural rights to all of the country’s citizens, Kurd or not, irrespective of location. Reforms would include access to education and public services not only in Kurdish but in other minority languages as well.

Çağaptay suggests that Turkey can learn from Spain and decentralize. Madrid gave the Basques local political power which pulled the carpet out from under the violent wing of their independence movement. Most Spanish Basques — who have more autonomy than the Catalans — are now content to remain part of the Spain.

Çağaptay is pessimistic, though, that the “Ottoman-nostaligic” Erdoğan will realize as much. It’s not just that he worries about losing Turkish nationalist votes to the far right; he simply fails to grasp what it is that the Kurds want.

Similarly, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy just doesn’t seem to get why the Catalans are so upset.

He has ridiculed their attempts to hold an independence referendum and criticized the regional government of Artur Mas for supposedly mismanaging the region’s economy (Spain’s richest).

But Catalans don’t back Mas because they think he has governed well — at least not in the first place. Many support him because he currently represents Catalonia’s best hope of gaining independence.

Like Turkey’s Kurds, the Catalans are not a wholly separate nation. They have their own language but also speak Spanish. In fact, more Catalans claim Spanish as their first language than Catalan. Through the centuries, Catalans have moved to other parts of Spain and people from other regions of Spain have settled in Catalonia. Author Antonio Muñoz Molina has argued in the Financial Times that very few things in Catalonia would be as they are were it not for their connection with the rest of Spain. “No influence has ever gone in only one direction,” he wrote; “nothing has ever been clear-cut.”

As recently as 2010, only one in five Catalans supported independence. When Spain’s Constitutional Court threw out most of the region’s autonomy statute that year, sentiment began to shift. The same court later blocked an independence referendum and the central government has tried to frustrate and water down Catalan autonomy at every turn. Now almost half of Catalans see no alternative to going it alone.

If a majority of Catalans votes for separatist parties on Sunday, blame Madrid’s intransigence. If the Kurdish struggle in Turkey turns more violent, it would be at least partially Erdoğan’s fault. Time is running out to preserve the unity of Spain and Turkey. Leaders in both states should be willing to share power — or they could lose what they are fighting for.

Banks Caution Catalonia Against Independence

Barcelona Spain
View of the Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2014 (Pixabay/Elena Repina)

Spanish banks have warned Catalans in recent days not to vote for independence in regional elections on Sunday.

The governor of the country’s central bank argued that an independent Catalonia would be “automatically be excluded from the eurozone because this would also imply an exit from the European Union.”

He added that Catalan banks would no longer be able to access European Central Bank financing if the region breaks away from Spain.

Spain’s banking association voiced similar concerns earlier this month. Two of the country’s largest banks, Caixabank and Banco Sabadell, are headquartered in Catalonia. Read more “Banks Caution Catalonia Against Independence”

Catalonia’s Separatist Parties See Support Rise

Catalan regional president Artur Mas visits Girona, January 13
Catalan regional president Artur Mas visits Girona, January 13 (Ariet/Carles Palacio)

Parties advocating Catalan secession from Spain would get a narrow majority in regional elections later this month, polls show.

Three different surveys published since the beginning of September have given the Together for Yes alliance and the radical Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) enough seats to declare independence.

The most recent poll from GESOP has the parties at 67 to 69 seats when 68 are needed for a majority. Sigma-2 gives them seventy to 74 seats and GAPS projects as many as eighty.

A fourth poll has the Together for Yes parties winning just sixty seats but it puts CUP at thirteen — which would be a ten-seat increase for the radical fringe party.

Polls conducted in July and August had shown the separatists falling short of a majority.

When regional president Artur Mas called the election in January, he said he would interpret a victory for the separatist parties as a mandate to draft a new constitution and build up state institutions, effectively turning the vote into a referendum on independence.

The central government rejects this interpretation and insists September’s elections can serve only to install a new assembly.

In July, Mas’ liberal Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya formed an electoral alliance with the left-wing Esquerra Republicana in a bid to rally support for secession.

The pact came at the expense of right-wing unity. The conservative Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC), which had jointly contested every regional election since 1978 with Mas’ party, pulled out of the coalition.

UDC is now polling around 3 percent support which could leave it with no seats at all.

The local affiliates of Spain’s ruling People’s Party and the opposition Socialists are both projected to lose seats in the Catalan parliament as well.

Anti-independence sentiment is instead coalescing around a far-left alliance led by Podemos and the liberal Ciudadanos. Both parties are also vying for gains in Spain’s general elections later this year.

Although officials surveys show that less than a third of voters is satisfied with the current arrangement — under which Catalonia, as an autonomous community in Spain, has control over civil administration, consumer protection, family and housing policy, language, transportation and tourism — support for independence has seldom topped 50 percent.

But that is still far higher than it used to be. As recently as 2010, just one in five Catalans said they favored breaking away from Spain. Most favored the status quo or becoming a federal entity instead.

The turning point came when Spain’s Constitutional Court threw out most of the region’s autonomy statute that year. It also said the definition of Catalonia as a “nation” had no legal standing.

In demonstrations two years later, more than a million Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona to march for independence — the largest demonstration the city had seen in decades. Separatist parties won a majority in snap elections that year. In November, 80 percent voted for statehood in what was dubbed a “citizens’ consultation” after the Constitutional Court had struck down a planned referendum. But less than half of eligible voters took part.

Independence would involve many risks.

Although some economists say Catalonia could get a higher credit rating on its own, the region is also one of Spain’s most heavily-indebted. Given than a split is unlikely to be cordial, an independent Catalonia would struggle to service its debt, at least in the short term.

Now one of most prosperous parts of Spain, with an economy the size of Denmark’s, two of Catalonia’s largest industries — trade and tourism — could suffer as well. It would have to reapply for European Union membership but could be barred from rejoining by a vindictive Spain and other member states, like Britain, that worry about encouraging separatist movements of their own. Losing the euro currency and visa-free travel would be a blow to an independent Catalonia’s economic prospects.

Support for Catalan Separatists Falls Ahead of Decisive Election

Artur Mas
Catalan regional president Artur Mas visits Girona, January 13 (Ariet/Carles Palacio)

Catalan parties seeking independence from Spain are struggling to retain their majority in the regional legislature, polls show, while centrist and far-left parties are rising.

The Together for Yes alliance led by regional president Artur Mas’ liberal Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya and Oriol Junqueras’ left-wing Esquerra Republicana will likely get a plurality of the votes in September’s election. But only one poll this month showed the separatists winning the 68 seats needed for a majority.

Mas and the Republican Left have promised to draft a new constitution and build up state institutions if they win the election, effectively turning it into a referendum on independence from Spain.

The pro-independence alliance with the left has split Mas’ coalition with the conservative Unió Democràtica de Catalunya. The two right-wing parties had jointly contested every regional election since democracy was restored in Spain in 1978.

Also on the right, the local affiliate of Spain’s ruling People’s Party is expected to win up to ten seats, down from nineteen. The Socialists, who are the second largest party nationally, could win around fifteen, down from twenty. Both oppose Catalan independence. Mariano Rajoy, the People’s Party leader and prime minister, has vowed “never” to negotiate the unity of Spain.

But the anti-independence vote seems to be coalescing around two local parties. Read more “Support for Catalan Separatists Falls Ahead of Decisive Election”

Catalan Parties Unveil Road Map for Independence

Artur Mas Oriol Junqueras
Catalan party leaders Artur Mas and Oriol Junqueras shake hands after signing a governing agreement in Barcelona, December 19, 2012 (CDC/Rubén Moreno)

The two largest parties in Spain’s Catalonia unveiled a road map for independence on Monday that would see the region secede no later than March 2017 if they win local elections due later this year.

The agreement was signed between regional president Artur Mas’ liberal Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya and the left-wing Esquerra Republicana. Mas’ conservative coalition partner, the smaller Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, did not join the accord, suggesting a possible split in the right-wing nationalist camp.

The plan would effectively turn the September election into a referendum on Catalan independence. If the two parties win a majority, they promise to draft a new constitution that voters would need to approve the following year. The regional legislature could then declare independence unilaterally. Read more “Catalan Parties Unveil Road Map for Independence”

Independent Catalonia Would Get Higher Credit Rating

View of the Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2014
View of the Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2014 (Pixabay/Elena Repina)

Catalonia would recover its investment-grade credit rating if it seceded from Spain, a study released earlier this week showed.

The region, Spain’s richest, would merit an A+ rating — on par with countries such as Israel and South Korea — according to a Col·legi d’Economistes de Catalunya study by economists Joan Elias Boada and Joan Maria Mateu. That is seven steps up from its current rating.

“The credit rating of an independent Catalonia, consolidated as a new European state and a member of the European Union, would be logically even better,” the two wrote.

Moody’s downgraded Catalonia and four other Spanish regions late last year, citing “limited cash reserves” and imminent debt redemptions. Fitch, another rating agency, kept its assessment unchanged in January, pointing to uncertainty about the region’s future status.

Catalonia is due to call regional elections in September. The two biggest parties have said they will interpret the election result as a proxy vote for independence. Regional president Artur Mas, who leads the ruling Convergence and Union alliance, has said that Catalonia would be able to start building up “state-like structures” immediately after the election and plan to secede a year and a half later.

In November, more than 80 percent of Catalans voted for statehood in what was dubbed a “citizens’ consultation” after Spain’s highest court had struck down a planned referendum as unconstitutional. Roughly half of the region’s 5.4 million eligible voters took part.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed “never” to negotiate the unity of Spain. His intransigence has contributed to Catalonia’s rising separatist sentiment. However, recent surveys show a slim majority would still vote against independence. Support for secession is up from 13 percent in 2005.

Elias Boada’s and Mateu’s study could help convince Catalans they are better off on their own.

Catalonia is wealthier than the rest of Spain and a net contributor to the country’s public finances. It has 16 percent of the Spanish population but produces more than a fifth of national economic output, giving it an economy the size of Denmark’s.

The regional government claims between €11 and €15 billion in taxes raised in Catalonia is invested in other regions.

While it is not unusual for richer parts of any country to subsidize its poorer areas, Catalans complain they do so at their own expense. Other parts of Spain end up with more money to spend on public services than they do. Fortune reports, “The redistribution of tax money in Spain doesn’t merely bridge the wealth gap between regions; it reorders the divide.”

The business magazines cites Guillem López Casasnovas, a professor of economics at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, saying “there has been elevated solidarity.” Regions that collect 120 percent of average tax revenue per capita end up with 90 percent of average government resources per capita, he says, while others go from 70 to 110 percent.

According to a recent study co-authored by López, in 2012 Catalonia collected 118.6 percent of the national average of taxes per capita, putting it in third out of fifteen regions. But after redistribution, its resources fell to 99.5 percent, putting it in eleventh place.

Even more galling is that the autonomous Basque Country and Navarre have special deals that let them keep almost all of their tax revenue instead of forwarding it to the central government. According to López, that leaves them with 40 to 60 percent more in resources per capita.

Catalonia’s autonomy was actually watered down in 2010 as the result of a Constitutional Court decision. Painfully, the court said the definition of Catalonia as a “nation” had no legal standing.

Catalonia to Call Election as Proxy for Independence

Catalan regional president Artur Mas visits Girona, January 13
Catalan regional president Artur Mas visits Girona, January 13 (Ariet/Carles Palacio)

Spain’s Catalonia will hold elections for its regional parliament on September 27, its president, Artur Mas, announced on Wednesday. The main parties want to use the vote as a proxy for a referendum on independence opposed by Spain’s central government in Madrid.

The Catalan election would take place just two months before a general election. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has vowed “never” to negotiate the unity of Spain, will be fighting off a challenge from far leftists who are ahead of his ruling People’s Party in the polls.

Mas’ right-wing Convergence and Union alliance is expected to win the election in Catalonia, followed by the Republican Left.

Mas had tried to persuade the Republicans to come up with a single electoral list but the leftists declined. “It would be a betrayal of our supporters if we leave the banner of social justice and the fight against corruption in the hands of those who want independence,” party leader Oriol Junqueras said last month.

Junqueras also said he was in favor of continuing his coalition with Mas, however.

“We will run with different lists but with a common national road map,” the regional president said on Wednesday.

If the two parties win a majority between them, they promise to interpret the outcome as a de facto vote for independence. Mas has said that the Catalan government would be able to immediately start building up “state-like structures” and prepare to secede within a year and a half after the vote.

In November, more than 80 percent of Catalans voted for statehood in what was dubbed a “citizens’ consultation” after Spain’s highest court had struck down a planned referendum as unconstitutional. Roughly half of the region’s 5.4 million eligible voters participated.

The central government’s refusal to negotiate increased autonomy for what is Spain’s richest region has fed separatist sentiment. A poll lost month found only a slim majority would vote to stay part of Spain but support for independence is up from 13 percent in 2005.

Catalonia is richer than the rest of Spain and a net contributor to the country’s public finances. It has 16 percent of the Spanish population but produces more than a fifth of national economic output, giving it an economy the size of Denmark’s. An estimated $21 billion in Catalan taxes, equivalent to 8 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, is invested in other regions.