Catalonia′s quest for greater autonomy | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 17.02.2012
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Europe

Catalonia's quest for greater autonomy

Scotland’s planned referendum on independence has inspired an upsurge of nationalist sentiment in the Spanish region of Catalonia. Spain's financial crisis is proving a potent engine for the Catalan demands.

Catalonia's national identity was repressed when Spain was a dictatorship. Soon after Spain's transition to democracy following Franco's death in 1975, powers were devolved to the nationalist government in Barcelona. But Spain's richest region was left was a sense of economic grievance - even today, Catalonia pays around 8 percent more of its GDP to Madrid in taxes than it gets back in public spending.

Now, Catalonia's best-known politician, Jordi Pujol, has his eye on Scotland, where Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party recently announced plans to hold a referendum on independence - probably including an option for greater devolved powers for the Scottish parliament.

"Westminster is the great church of democracy and if the majority of Scots, in a very democratic way, believe they can have a democracy - how can that not be a good thing?'' Pujol told DW.

The veteran independence campaigner was president of the Catalonia region for 23 years. Like in Scotland, he suspects that there would be more support for greater devolution than for full-blown independence.

"We probably do not have a majority in favour of independence - it's a strong minority but I'm sure we have a great majority for a new fiscal relationship between Spain and Catalonia"

Economic disparity

Catalonians say they pay much more in taxes than what they get back in public spending, and this is their most potent grievance. Indian-born economist Pankaj Ghemawat, one of Catalonia's many immigrants, points out that there are key differences between Scotland and Catalonia.

Barcelona

Catalonian politicians want more devolved power for Barcelona

"I do think that Catalonia pays more to the central government than it receives. One understands Catalonia's sense of grievance better than say the Scottish sense of grievance."

Ghemawat warns, however, that a greater move towards devolution could endanger Catalonia's important trade relations with the rest of Spain at a time of financial crisis.

"What you see is that Spain is by far Catalonia's largest trading partner. Even the province of Aragon itself is a larger trading partner than the whole of France," Ghemawat explained. "I think that the consequences of any kind of move that threatened to shrink trade with Spain could be devastating for the Catalan economy."

Cataloniaalso has a unique cultural identity, and its own, widely-spoken language. Catalan is the predominant language in public schools.

Scotlandmay have a date in the diary for its referendum on independence (Alex Salmond wants a vote to be held in fall 2014), but politicians in Catalonia argue that they have even more of a convincing case. The financial crisis in Spain means that the respective governments in Madrid and Barcelona will soon have to enter into some difficult discussions about their financial and political ties.

Author: Tom Burridge, Barcelona / ji
Editor: Gabriel Borrud

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