BARCELONA, Spain -- This historic region on
the Mediterranean -- a center of European industrial design and
tourism -- has special status as an autonomous district of Spain known
And as financial problems mount for Spain, many here want to get a whole lot more autonomous.
Spanish government on Thursday announced another round of austerity
measures aimed at building confidence that deficit reduction targets can
be met. With Spain entering its second recession in four years, some
Catalans say they are getting little for the river of tax revenue they
send to Madrid annually and are pushing for outright independence.
secession may sound like an unlikely event, Spain is taking it
seriously given the country's heavy reliance on this economic
"Financially speaking, Catalonia
is perfect for Spain," said Osvald Calzada, 32, a copywriter from
Lleida, in the western part of the region. "Catalonia is the cow they
constantly milk, only giving her enough grass to survive."
Juan Carlos has called for national unity as the governor of Catalonia
announced Tuesday that elections will be held in November, two years
ahead of schedule in what is widely seen as a referendum on the region's
The louder demands for
independence in Catalonia are the latest divisive consequence of the
European debt crisis, analysts say. As budget deficits grow, officials
have had to slash funds for education, health services and public sector
workers. More austerity measures were announced Thursday.
which encompasses four provinces, has not escaped the curtailment of
public services and jobs. But many here say it is unfair given that 7.5
million Catalans pay $15 billion to $20 billion more in taxes annually
than they get back from Madrid in social services or infrastructure.
its economic vitality, Catalonia is currently Spain's most indebted
region. Recently the government here asked Madrid for $6.2 billion in
financial assistance, but not in a loan. The government wanted the money
free and clear, saying it belongs to them and was wasted by the Spanish
Rebuffed by Madrid, Catalan
officials last week entered into negotiations with Madrid to push for
greater financial independence from Spain. The talks went nowhere.
is no other territory in the world suffering such fiscal plundering,"
said Marc Guerrero, professor of international finance at European
University in Barcelona. "If we could collect and keep all taxes, this
wouldn't have happened and the standard of living of Catalans would be
Anger was on display for all to
see on Sept. 11, Catalonia's National Day, when an estimated 1.5
million people filled the streets bearing signs that said, "Catalonia,
the next independent state in Europe," and "We want a divorce because we
are not happy in this marriage."
the Catalan national anthem and marched through the city in one of the
largest demonstrations in the history of Spain and aimed at Madrid. A
recent media poll showed that 51% of Catalans would vote in favor of
separating from Spain, the highest percentage ever marked on a survey.
say that the younger generation doesn't feel the ghost of Spain's
former military dictatorship of Francisco Franco â?? when any form of
separatism was persecuted â?? and have been taught in school about the
oppression suffered under the Spaniards for more than three centuries of
Catalonia's 1,000 years of existence.
An unemployment rate in the region of almost 22% is also fueling rhetoric from pro-independence parties.
its latest response to the debt crisis, Spain approved a budget
Thursday that froze public sector wages for the third year in a row, cut
government spending by 12% and imposed a new 20% tax on winnings from
lotteries above $3,230. Spain was also expected to raise the retirement
age from 65 to 67.
Spain, which has the
third-largest economy in the 17-member euro zone (the countries that use
the euro as currency), was requited to make such cutsto qualify for
financial assistance from other European nations.
have said that Spain needs at least $77 billion for its shaky banks to
be stabilized to make up for an estimated $383 billion in toxic loans
and capital flight. An audit of the banking system is taking place
Friday to determine the extent of the banking system's troubles.
On Thursday, Spanish region Castilla-La Mancha became the fifth region to ask Madrid for a bailout in the amount of $1 billion.
of Catalonia independence in this financial climate prompted Spain's
royal family to speak up, a rare move. The king, the head of state, has
diplomatic duties and traditionally stays out of politics.
these circumstances, the worst thing we can do is divide our forces,
encourage dissent, chase chimeras and deepen wounds," King Juan Carlos
The last time the king spoke publicly on
politics was in regard to a coup attempt in 1981, three years after
democracy had been re-established in the post-Franco period.
king knows there is much at stake: If Catalonia were to leave, Spain
would lose an economic engine that contributes 20% of its economy and
holds one of the most important commercial harbors in the Mediterranean.
Buesa, an economics professor at Madrid's Complutense University,
thinks both Catalonia and Spain would suffer with the split.
Catalonia with borders would bring its GDP down by 30%, Spaniards would
boycott Catalan products (like in 2006), and many companies would leave
the territory, possibly to settle in Spain," Buesa said.
doesn't need Spain," Guerrero said. "Last year we already exported more
to foreign countries than to Spain, and Catalonia alone exported 25% of
the total Spanish exports."
Union has already warned Catalans that if they leave Spain they will
have to seek readmission to the bloc, a process that, according to
Buesa, could take years with all EU members unanimously required to
approve the candidacy â?? including Spain.
has left the leader of Catalonia, Artur Mas, in a tricky position.
While seeing his region leave Spain is not his top choice, the Spanish
government is refusing to negotiate while pro-independence sentiment at
"With all its refusals, Spain is
showing us the way out the door," Calzada said. "It won't be easy, but I
am convinced that we will stay afloat, just like we always have."