The Spanish government – and the European Union – should not be unduly dismayed by the fact that the election in Catalonia on Nov. 25 gave secessionists a majority in the region’s parliament. The two main parties that favour independence are intense rivals, one being conservative, the other left-wing; Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain has the power not to permit a referendum; and Catalonia stands in great need of financial assistance from the central government.
Moreover, an ostensibly independent Catalonia would have to make a whole new application to the EU for membership – a point that the people of Scotland, too, should bear in mind as they approach the referendum planned for the fall of 2014. The EU is after all an entity designed to integrate, not to divide; hence the capital “U” for “Union.”
Catalonia has the largest public debt of any region in Spain, at €42-billion. It has already been rescued by the central government to the tune of €5.37-billion. In 2014, another €13.6-billion is coming up for repayment or refinancing; Fitch Ratings predicts that Catalonia will look to Madrid for the portion that is due to Spanish banks – about a quarter of the balance due. It is true that the region is the richest part of Spain, and as a result it is the source of much of Spain’s tax revenue. Canadians are well-acquainted with such difficulties, which are susceptible to reasonable compromises. There is a legitimate case to be made for some fiscal adjustments – within the Spanish nation-state.
The prosperity of Catalonia has attracted many internal immigrants from the rest of Spain, especially from the southernmost region, Andalusia. These workers have done their fair share to give the region a very healthy per-capita GDP. Catalonian politicians, however, have shown themselves to be bad managers of that wealth. About three-quarters of the population of the region speak Catalan, but those with origins elsewhere in Spain did not choose to come to a different country.
Indeed, as a consequence of the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile in 1469, Catalonia has been an integral part of Spain for much longer than England and Scotland have been together – not to mention all three federal countries in North America. Spain may need some reform of the status of what it calls its “autonomous communities,” but Catalonian politicians should stop promoting independence.