Spain and Catalonia’s independence standoff


Ayushi Balan, Staff Writer

The Catalan Parliament approved an independence referendum that went ahead on Oct. 1, despite the Spanish Constitutional Court’s orders, which suspended the referendum at the appeal of the Spanish Government.

Catalonia is an autonomous region in northeast Spain that has its own distinct language, history, culture, and flag. Catalonia has also survived Francisco Franco’s brutal attempts to repress the Catalan language decades after the Spanish Civil War. The majority of Catalonian people fear that their language and culture is not sufficiently respected by the Spanish Central Government. Now, Catalonia is taxed at around 17 billion euros every year, which makes Catalonia the highest taxed region in all of Spain.

Spanish teacher Lisette Parreño believes that the Catalans should have the right to protest their high taxes.

“Now, Catalonia has the highest taxes of all of the regions of Spain, no matter if you’re rich or poor, which is unfair,” Parreño said. “One of my friends was telling me that even though they are the highest taxed region, that money is never invested in Catalonia, it’s given to other regions, and so they don’t get back as much. I’ve been to Catalonia, and I’ve noticed that they have the dirtiest roads, etc. It needed more infrastructure.”

Conversely, the Spanish Central Government sees Catalonia as an important economic region, since it accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economic output and holds many natural resources.

Junior Trent Mueller believes that though Catalonia has a reason to protest and demand independence, Catalonia leaving Spain would incapacitate Spain’s economy.

“Both Spain and Catalonia have legitimate claims to the region and unfortunately, as is often true in such affairs, there is no right answer,” Mueller said. “Catalonia is unique enough from the rest of Spain that in most situations it wouldn’t be a question, but if they did leave it would absolutely cripple the Spanish economy.”

Moreover, Catalonia is 42 billion euros in debt from European Union (EU) structural funds, and if Catalonia became an independent country, they would have to be forced to apply to the EU’s bail-out mechanism, which would increase the costs of the armed forces and diplomatic services.

Just under 90 percent of the voters backed independence according to the Catalan authorities. However, the independence referendum turnout was only 43 percent of Catalonia’s total population. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy cited this statistic and argued that more than 50 percent of Catalonia’s population doesn’t care enough about Catalonia’s independence to even vote. He has also accused the Catalonian Parliament as those who have “taken self-government outside the law and the constitution.”

On the other hand, the Catalonian Parliament blamed the Spanish National Police. Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Government of Catalonia, stated that a low voter turnout had occurred because people were afraid of the Spanish National Police’s attempts to bar polling stations. As voters clashed with the police, chaos erupted, with the police using rubber bullets and batons. 38 civilians and 11 police officers were injured.

Nine days after the referendum on Oct. 10, Catalan leaders declared Catalonia an independent republic, and then immediately suspended its implementation. Puigdemont claimed that Catalonia had done so in order to promote discussion with the Spanish government.

Freshman Palak Khera comments on how she would like the topic of Catalonia’s substantial debt to be discussed between the Catalonian and Spanish governments.

“I think that Catalonia should be an independent nation,” Khera said. “But, since Catalonia owes money to Spain, I think Spain and Catalonia can make an agreement to decrease the amount of debt they owe.”

Despite Catalonia’s efforts to promote discussion, last Saturday during an emergency cabinet meeting, the Spanish Government announced that they are triggering Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows the Spanish central government to impose direct rule on any of the country’s autonomous regions during a crisis. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stopped short of completely dissolving Catalonia’s Parliament, but is putting forward plans to remove Carles Puigdemont from his position and hold re-elections. These measures must now be approved by the Senate in the next few days to go into implementation.

If Spain follows through with their implementation of Article 155, it is unclear if they will be able to suppress the Catalan’s desire for independence and if the issue will be resolved with minimal violence.