Catalonia's call for independence exacerbates pressure on Spain
The Catalonian Parliament has voted to hold an independence referendum although it would be non-binding.
This non-binding move has irked the Spanish central government that is trying to impose fiscal discipline on its semi-autonomous regions. Catalonia is the richest region in Spain accounting for 20% of Spanish GDP but is heavily indebted and had recently requested bailout from Madrid.
However, the regional government and pro-independence supporters point out that Catalonia pays more into the national treasury than it gets back in return. As Spanish economic woes continue and high unemployment persists, increasingly Catalonians are beginning to believe that they would be better off as an independent country.
The regional government led by the Conservative Artur Mas had asked Madrid for more autonomy which the Rajoy government in Madrid had rejected. Since then the calls for independence has grown stronger and it has regional government backing.
"An economist just this morning told me that he saw Catalonia as being to Spain what Germany is to Europe," said Joan Vidal, chief of staff for Mas said. “That shows that we have our own image, while Brand Spain is really suffering.”
He pointed out that if Catalonia had the policy tools in its own control it “could get out of the crisis” it find itself in.
Mr. Mas has called for a snap regional election which he expects to win especially now with a commitment to hold a referendum on independence.
"The time has come to exercise the right to self-determination," Mas said. "The parliament that emerges (from November's election) will have a historic responsibility."
A slim majority (51%) wants independence, recent polls show and over a million people marched on National Day this September in favour of independence from Spain.
But the central government has already made it clear that it would not allow any referendum. The Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, told reporters at a news conference that there are “legal and judicial” means to stop the referendum.
Even King Juan Carlos who usually stays out of politics decided to intervene with a statement. "The worst thing we could do is to divide our strengths, foment dissent, chase chimeras and deepen our wounds," the King said.