Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish PM, and Artur Mas, Catalonia’s regional leader, met in March for secret talks to discuss Catalonia’s financial and political situation. Reports suggest that Mr Rajoy offered to consider a financial deal that would increase the deficit target in the region, as long as Catalonia gave up the idea of holding a referendum.
After the meeting, however, the Catalan government spokesman, Francesc Homs, declared that Catalonia would not exchange the referendum for any financial agreement.
The Spanish government says that holding a referendum in Catalonia would not be legal, since the Spanish Constitution forbids it. However, in Catalonia, it is seen as the Catalan people’s right to express their will. For some, the referendum goes beyond the democratic limit, while others believe it is the very essence of democracy.
Separatists still remember how Catalonia lost many of the rights and freedoms as a semi-autonomous region. During the early 18th century, Philip V abolished the Catalan language, its currency and its institutions. Over time, however, Catalonia managed to restore its roots to the point where today they have speak their own language and practice their own traditions.
After Franco’s dictatorship, many separatist movements emerged, such as the “Plataforma Pro Seleccions Esportives Catalanes”, which questions the legality of the national team, or the slogan “Catalonia is not Spain”, which is seen during many FC Barcelona’s football matches.
There has been a latent desire of independence that is finally emerging, and support for independence is growing. One of the latest actions in favour of the Independence of Catalonia was a massive demonstration in Barcelona last September, during Catalonia’s National Day, when nearly 1.5m people called for Catalonia to become a new state in Europe.
Cutbacks are a decisive reason why separatism has grown. If there is not deficit flexibility, the Catalan government will have to cut back over €4 billion in the 2013 regional budget, nearly the same cutbacks sum of 2011 and 2012 together. Many Catalans are sick and tired of their region being fiscally plundered: Spain owes Catalonia more than €16 billion.
Independence was one of the driving forces behind the victory of Convergència i Unió (CiU), a nationalist political party, in last year’s Catalan elections. The party’s manifesto proposed a referendum concerning Catalonia’s future, something never before proposed by the party. Second place Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), a separatist party, which has partnered up with the government after having agreed to hold the referendum in 2014 at the latest and preferably.
In January, Catalan Parliament approved a Declaration of Sovereignty, to hold the referendum, with 85 votes for, 41 votes against and two abstentions. The State appealed the declaration to the Constitutional Court.
In March, the regional Parliament also passed a resolution presented by the Catalan Socialist Party, which was also presented at the Spanish Parliament and was refused by a wide margin, urging the Catalan government to enter into dialogue with the Spanish administration to hold a plebiscite on the Catalan people’s future.
Local governments have spoken out in favour of the Catalan independence. Some have approved acts of fiscal disobedience, and pay collected taxes to the Catalan administration, instead of the Spanish government. Similarly, all the consultations held around Catalonia between 2009 and 2011 were organised by the local governments, and some of them have also declared themselves as “Catalan free territories”, a symbolic gesture in support of the Independence of Catalonia.
A demonstration has been organized by the “Coordinadora de Plataformes per la Independència” for the 11th May in Barcelona, with the slogan “Independència Ara” (Independence Now). They will call for a referendum to be held this year, otherwise independence will be declared unilaterally next June.
Artur Mas’ CDC party has just started a tour through the region with the main aim of explaining its own concept of a separate state, after declaring, “Catalonia is no longer viable as an autonomous region.” The Spanish government’s response has been to remind them that Catalonia can only be financed through the Central Administration, while pointing at the Spanish Constitution, approved during the transition to democracy, in 1978.
The Spanish government, which originally refused to pass comment about the Catalan national will, now warns that the region would be “automatically excluded from the EU” if they seceded from Spain. In the meantime, Catalonia will continue to fight for independence, be it on the streets or at the polling stations.