“I am part of Catalan culture, and it is very important to me.”
“We have a very open way of seeing the world. For many years the Catalan culture was undermined, I feel that if we do not fight for it, that will happen again, we will lose our way of seeing the world.”
The views of two young people who are members of a band rehearsing for a concert to promote independence for Catalonia.
It’s a theme that brought one and a half million people onto the streets of Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous Spanish region, during the Diada – the National Day of Catalonia – last September.
Initiatives are springing up everywhere in the separatist region. The village of Sant Pere de Torello, became famous by declaring itself an independent Catalan territory.
The pediment of the town hall has for a year and a half been flying the Catalan independence flag, but not the Spanish one.
“Currently, there are 180 town halls that have the flag of independence flying permanently from their balconies,” explained the mayor of the village, Jordi Fabrega Colome.
Separatists decry the state system of fiscal redistribution, including public spending in Catalonia, which is well below the taxes they pay.
“We live in a state of national emergency, with an unemployment rate of 22.5 percent of the population here. Catalonia pays 16 billion euros annually to the state, which does not amount to any form of services or investment in Catalonia. We have to have this showdown with the Spanish government,” added the mayor of the village.
Catalonia is among the richest regions in Spain, and it pays the equivalent of eight percent of GDP to the state.
It is also one of the most indebted. Failure to negotiate an agreement with the Spanish government to give Catalonia fiscal sovereignty, has led the president of the Regional Government, Artur Mas, to call for early elections and a referendum on independence.
That would require reform of the Spanish Constitution, which does not permit independence, and of course steps to obtain international recognition.
“If Catalonia gets independence, it will be a state outside the European Union, and will have to apply for entry into the EU. To gain admission, provided that no member state objects, will require a very long process,” points out Francesc de Carreras Serra, Professor of constitutional law at the Autonomous University of Catalonia. Economist Oriol Amat believes it is a theoretical question.
“I can’t imagine that the EU wants to keep out a state that brings money into the European Union and is very pro European Union and in which the EU has invested heavily in the past.”
It’s a question which not least concerns some Catalan businesses who fear the effect of a possible exit from the euro, and especially a deterioration in trade relations with Spain.
Some large companies have threatened to move their headquarters from Barcelona, if there was to be independence. None of those euronews contacted agreed to talk. Only one small publisher opened the door to us. Javier Baratech, general manager Rondas, said, “About 80 percent of the billing and the company’s sales are in the rest of Spain. We would at least in the short term lose all those customers, and that would very quickly force the business to close. Trading outside Spain, and the European Union, our products would be taxed. Moreover, our customers tell us that if Catalonia became independent, they would look for other suppliers, in their own country.”
One family business is not concerned about economic nationalism. The company is riding on the wave of independence. Its, “signature” product is the Catalan flag of independence.
“We have seen a fairly strong increase in sales. Every year, we produce large stocks, but this year was a record. There are people who were queuing outside the company to buy the independence flag,” Laura Fenoy the General Manager of Estampser told euronews.
Beyond niche markets, will the Catalan “label” be able to cope with the political uncertainties which generate the debate on independence?
Tourism, a pillar of the Catalan economy, fears neither boycott nor the loss of capital as Marian Muro i Ollé, Director General for tourism explained.
“For the first few months of the year, the figures are satisfactory, with an increase in tourists from abroad of 11.4 percent, and especially an increase in spending by visitors. Regarding foreign investment, the Directorate General of Tourism has several projects under way. None of the investors expressed concerns, or indicated that political issues could slow or paralyse these projects. Because you know, “business is business.”“
The attraction of Catalonia to foreign investors, should it become independent, raises several questions.
But speculation focuses primarily on the impact of a likely boycott by sections of the Spanish market which buys half of all the products which are sold outside the Catalonia region. Economist Oriol Amat said: “The question is whether this region of seven and a half million people can be viable. Among the 20 most competitive countries in the world there are 14 that are less than 7 million (people).”
If employers believe Catalonia needs to amend a tax system detrimental to the region’s competitiveness, opinions differ on the independence question, the likelihood and terms of which are still unclear.
Salvador Guillermo Vineta is the Chief Economist of Catalonia’s Federation of Employers.
“With or without independence we will continue to have problems of funding and the increased tax burden. It is that on which we will focus and that is where we want to see the politicians help our country out of the crisis,” he said.
It is a crisis that if Catalonia did go it alone would create a hangover admits Xavier Vendrell, a small producer of wine and cava – the Catalan champagne.
He will not suffer and believes the wine growing sector will avoid a boycott as the company sells its products in Catalonia and outside Spain. He is confident about the ability of Catalan to rebound, if the region gains independence, saying :
“At least if Catalonia is separated from Spain, it will be a challenge, if it goes well, we can go forward, and if there are problems and things go wrong, we can no longer say that it is Madrid’s fault, because we will have caused the problems. To get over the bad times I recommend a small glass of cava, that always works, it always helps to see life in a philosophical and joyful way and surely, we will get out of this problematic situation which we currently face. “
The ongoing wrangle between Madrid and Barcelona raises questions and debate beyond the borders of Spain.
To the backing of the crisis, the wind of separatism is blowing across Europe, from Catalonia to Scotland and through Belgium, questioning the future of European integration.
“From a European perspective, I think it would be harmful. Catalonia would be an example for other national minorities in other countries to imitate. And there would be a fragmentation in the European Union which is already fragmented,” concluded Professor de Carreras Serra.