Spain vs. Catalonia: an issue that is far from over

Identity versus economic disaster


(Flickr Creative Commons: Andriy Tkachenko)

By Morgan Reppert, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

It’s an episode we’ve all watched on repeat: A group of established citizens fighting to be recognized as an autonomous territory, attempting to gain both political and economic freedom from a federal government refusing to release its grasp. And in this rerun, Spain is not enabling the secession of Catalonia whatsoever.

On March 25, Catalonia’s former leader, Carles Puigdemont, was arrested in Germany on a weekend trip as he was seeking refuge in Belgium—Puigdemont fled Spain following his failed attempt to conduct a referendum on independence for Catalonia, after it was put on suspension by Spain’s constitutional court. The referendum resulted in a heavy-handed riot police presence in Madrid in an attempt to shut down the vote at all costs necessary. But before demoting the Spanish government as a tyrannical body that is relentless in releasing its control of Catalonia, there are a few decisive factors to consider.

Catalonia was granted a degree of autonomy in 1977 for the second time following the downfall of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. But given that their degree of autonomy was deemed insufficient, the citizens of Catalonia continued to call for complete independence steadily until July 2010.  At that point, the Constitutional Court in Madrid overruled part of the 2006 autonomy statute, stating that there is no legal basis for recognizing Catalonia as a nation within Spain.

The hearts and minds of the Catalans remain hopeful even after Pudigdemont’s arrest. Although European states have the full right to give the Catalan secessionists no support, they simply cannot ignore the stark differences between Catalonia and Spain. First off, 73.2 percent of Catalonians speak Catalan. Throughout Catalonia, the street signs are written in Catalan and Catalonia flags decorate Barcelona, the capital. Even in schools, the language of instruction is Catalan—not Spanish.

The issue at hand is even more magnified given the condition of Spain’s economy in contrast to the economy of Catalonia, which is the industrial heartland of the country. Catalans only account for 16 percent of the Spanish population but make a substantial contribution to the overall Spanish economy, making 223.6 billion Euros ($275.32 billion United States dollars) a year according to the regional government.

At the same time, if Catalonia was to succeed in gaining complete economic independence, they would face sizable damage to their economy, as about 35.5 percent of Catalan exports go to Spanish markets that cater to both household and industrial consumers. Catalonia would also have to bear the financial burden of creating new governmental structures such as central banks, foreign embassies and much more.

Ensuing the failed referendum, then Minister of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness of Spain Luis de Guindos claimed that, if Catalonia was to secede, they should anticipate an economic decrease of 25 to 30 percent. Aside from the shrinkage of their economy, it’s important to consider the new tariffs they will face, the costs of establishing a new currency and even the financial ramifications they will incur from leaving the European Union.

Yet, Catalonia’s economic reality post-split is not consistently spoken about in their campaign for independence. In addition to potential boycotts, the state of Catalonia and Spain post-separation would result in both states facing significant hardship resulting in a loss of jobs, investments and commercial operations. Regardless, the fate of both nations would ultimately boil down to hypothetical compromises on debt and the EU that are made in post-separation negotiations.

Ultimately though, Catalan nationals will face any confrontation and pay any sum for independence, regardless of their economic losses. If Catalonia was to successfully split from Spain, there will be great unrest and unrecoverable financial losses. However, the economic arguments will not be the ones that prevail in the continuous debate over Catalonia’s independence. It will be the one that cannot be compromised: identity.

Editor’s Note: The colors of the FC Barcelona football team are not from the Catalan flag. The Collegian regrets the error.

Morgan Reppert is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]