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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Immigration enforcement officers lead a Romanian national who has been arrested on immigration offences from a house in Southall in London  

Don’t blame migrants – the West helped to create their plight

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage  

A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next

Simon Usborne
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?