Catalonia is insisting on independence while Spain has imposed direct rule on the region. It is located North-East of Spain. Well, many are watching from the gallery to know who wins the battle. But you may just be hearing about Catalonia only since the recent struggle for independence began or you may have known Catalonia because of Barcelona football club. This is an opportunity to understand more about the region, why they want to break away, and why Spain does not want to let that happen? What will Catalonia’s independence cost Spain? Read this piece to get quick insight about Catalonia.
Catalonia was an independent region of the Iberian Peninsula modern day Spain and Portugal – with its own language, laws and customs. In 1150, the marriage of Petronilia, Queen of Aragon and Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona formed a dynasty leaving their son to inherit all territories concerning the region of Aragon and Catalonia. This lasted until the reign of King Philip V. The War of the Spanish Succession ended with the defeat of Valencia in 1707, of Catalonia in 1714, and finally with the last of the islands in 1715 – resulting in the birth of modern-day Spain.
Subsequent kings tried to impose the Spanish language and laws on the region, but they abandoned their attempts in 1931 and restored the Generalitat (the national Catalan government).
General Francisco Franco, however, set out to destroy Catalan separatism and with his victory at the Battle of Ebro in 1938 he took control of the region, killing 3,500 people and forcing many more into exile. The region was granted a degree of autonomy once more in 1977, when democracy returned to the country.
Calls for complete independence grew steadily until July 2010, when the Constitutional Court in Madrid overruled part of the 2006 autonomy statute, stating that there is no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a nation within Spain.
The economic crisis in Spain has only served to magnify calls for Catalonia independence, as the wealthy Barcelona region is seen as propping up the poorer rest of Spain.
The region’s politics
The conservative Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, is only the fifth-largest party in Catalonia, and is strongly opposed to any moves for independence for the region.
The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, is backed by a coalition of Catalan nationalist forces from the conservative CDC and the leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) parties, which, together with the radical Left-wing CUP party, command a majority in the region’s parliament.
In September 2017, this majority approved the holding of a binding referendum on independence for Catalonia, but Spain’s constitutional court suspended the process.
The Catalan authorities went through with the vote, leading to violence inside and around polling stations as Spanish security forces seized ballot boxes and attempted to close down the vote. They said that 2.26 million votes had been counted, with 90 per cent in favour of independence.
Mr Puigdemont says the result is a mandate for a unilateral declaration of independence, although he says he would prefer to negotiate the terms of secession from Spain with the government in Madrid.
How does their economy affect the issue?
The Catalan region has long been the industrial heartland of Spain – first for its maritime power and trade in goods such as textiles, but recently for finance, services and hi-tech companies.
It is one of the wealthiest regions of Spain – it accounts for 19 per cent of Spain’s GDP, equal with the Madrid region. Madrid, however, has a higher per capita GDP, as do the Basque Country and Navarre regions.
Secession would therefore cost Spain almost 20 per cent of its economic output, and trigger a row about how Catalonia would return 52.5 billion euros of debt it owes to the country’s central administration.
It would have a gross domestic product of $314 billion (£195bn), according to calculations by the OECD, which would make it the 34th largest economy in the world. That would make it bigger than Portugal or Hong Kong.
Its GDP per capita would be $35,000, which would make it wealthier than South Korea, Israel or Italy.
And Catalonia’s contribution to the Spanish economy is twice that of Scotland’s to the UK.
Food and football
It’s not just in politics, economics and language that Catalans see themselves as different.
They are deeply proud of their food and their chefs, such as Ferran Adriá, from El Bulli, and Jordi Cruz, who won his first Michelin star at the age of 25 – the youngest Spaniard to ever do so. El Celler de Can Roca was named the world’s best restaurant for 2013, and is third this year.
And the footballing rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid is the stuff of legend – with “El Clásico”, played biannually between the two teams, a huge event for both cities.
Since La Liga was formed in 1928, seven Catalan clubs have played in the Primera Division. These include FC Barcelona who have never been relegated and RCD Espanyol who have only missed out on four seasons in the top division. CE Sabadell FC played for 14 seasons in the Primera Division.