Samuel Marshall writes from Barcelona: Catalunya goes to the polls on Sunday in regional elections. However there is a much greater question for voters to ponder: should this province leave Spain and become independent? But Artur Mas, the President, avoids the word ‘independence’. He points out quite reasonably that no state is independent. All are dependent on Brussels. Mas’s party, Convergence and Union (CiU), needs to secure 68 seats to attain a majority in parliament. That would permit him to begin a campaign for a separate state.
In these hard times when Spain is facing a decline of its Gross National Product of perhaps 20 per cent, the regions which are net contributors to the national budget are thinking of ways of keeping their hard earned cash. Catalunya claims that it transferred over 16 billion euros more to Madrid than it received back in services and other payments in 2009. However Madrid and the Balearic islands contribute more. Will Mallorca begin to think of going it alone?
Spain is nearing the edge of a financial cliff so Barcelona has chosen the moment well. Madrid has never been weaker since the death of General Francisco Franco. When Mariano Rajoy complained to Brussels that separatist tendencies were making it more difficult to meet the demands of the Eurocrats he was told peremptorily: ‘Expect no help from us. Sort out your own problems yourself’.
Catalunya makes great play of the fact that its per capita GDP is almost the same as that of Germany. With a population of about 7.5 million it is on a par with Austria and Switzerland. Countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta all have smaller populations but are full members of the European Union. Catalunya has thriving high tech industries and is a popular tourist destination. Who has not heard of the Costa Brava? The province now exports more to the outside world than to Spain.
One is irresistibly reminded here of Scotland and Alex Salmond. The latter talks about the black gold – oil – in the North Sea bankrolling an independent land. Both are proud nations. Catalunya wants to enter international football tournaments on its own. After all, most of the present victorious Spanish team are from Barcelona. Now that would really put Catalunya on the map. Imagine a final against Spain. That would really be a grudge match.
The fly in the ointment is Brussels. The Eurocrats have told Barcelona that they will not recognise an independent Catalunya. They have not told Scotland that yet. The goal of Brussels is a United States of Europe. The last thing they want now is for states to start fragmenting. Barcelona would like to keep the euro and stay within the EU. And keep all their taxes for themselves.
The major problem facing Catalan industry is that those companies which have subsidiaries in other parts of Spain might be boycotted by Spanish consumers. Two can play at the same game. ‘So you want to leave us. OK do so and take your goods with you.’ Not surprisingly, industry is very nervous about talk of independence.
The harsh reality is that in hard times it is better to huddle together. You could starve to death on your own.