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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Ed Miliband said the Tories are a danger to family finances  

Election 2015: Me, my 18-year-old son, and why I’m voting Labour

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before