Catalan Independence: Can cash-strapped Spain afford the most-treasured jewel in its crown?

Catalans pay more tax than anywhere else in Spain. As the eurozone crisis deepens, the independence movement is gaining strength. Will this put-upon region break away?

Share

The tide is turning, Catalan filmmaker Josep Citutat tells me. "Something is changing so fast. A lot of people around me, family and friends, who weren't independent – now they are." Record numbers marching on the streets outside his flat in Barcelona confirm his judgment.

Around 1.5 million people were thought to have filled the streets of the Catalan capital last earlier this month. Independentistes poured in from around the region, creating a sea of yellow and red up and down the famous boulevards.

The strength of the protest was no surprise given the dire economic condition in the debt-addled region of a country suffering the worst of the eurozone crisis. As Europe has seen before, economic suffering is feeding nationalist sentiment.

History aside, a portion of this growing antagonism has its origins in the imbalance between what Catalans contribute to central government in Madrid and what they get back in return. The idea that they are supporting the rest of Spain, which is close to collapse, breeds resentment and mirrors similar reactions in northern Europe over the eurozone crisis in general.

In the UK, UKIP is now a force to be reckoned with, giving leader Nigel Farage a sturdier platform than ever from which to question the country’s relationship with the EU. Like the parties of Geert Wilders in Holland and Marine Le Pen in France, UKIP has exploited an economic crisis that threatens to undo 60 years of international cooperation.

Laid bare, Catalonia accounts for approximately 20 per cent of Spain’s economic output, but holds 15 per cent of the population. Economists estimate that Catalonia pays €12bn more in taxes per year to Madrid than it gets back to spend. Many Catalans put this estimation as high as €16bn.

Catalans also pay more than anywhere else in Spain, on average, for property conveyances, health care, vehicle registration, highway tolls and income tax (which rests at 49 per cent in the highest bracket).

Just last month the region asked Madrid for a €5bn bailout, despite cutting faster and deeper than many of the other 17 autonomous regions.

And all this amid Catalonia’s own crisis. Just last month the region asked Madrid for a €5bn bailout, despite cutting faster and deeper than many of the other 17 autonomous regions. The anger caused by the cuts makes Catalans feel they are subsidising Spain more than ever - galvanising the independence movement further.

This imbalance is one of the many things which has led to record numbers joining a call for independence. Nonetheless, Spanish president Mariano Rajoy dismissed the march as an unnecessary distraction in a time of hardship.

Rajoy should perhaps take heed more than ever. The prospect of Catalan independence should bring him out in a cold sweat. To lose such a massive chunk of the economy and still be left with the worst performing regions in the South would spell tragedy.

It could also set a dangerous precedent elsewhere in Europe where austerity at home coupled with contributions to bailouts and stability funds abroad are sources of rising nationalism too.

With its own unity, and that of Europe in mind, Madrid needs to readdress its relationship with the most treasured jewel in its once glorious crown. There needs to be sensible compromise with the Catalans, or Spain faces the reality of a disastrous split which is certain to draw the attention of an already precariously united Europe.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Easter message

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit