- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
In addition to Spain’s spiraling debt crisis, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faces a threat from within in the form of a renewed wave of Catalan nationalism. Thousands of nationalists rallied in Barcelona last week and more than half of the province’s residents now say they want a state. On Thursday, Rajoy failed to reach an agreement with Catalonian leader Artur Mas on controversial revenue-sharing reforms:
Catalonia’s leader, Artur Mas, accused Mr. Rajoy of losing a “historic opportunity” to safeguard the relationship between his region and the rest of Spain, after they could not reach agreement on a new tax revenue redistribution plan. Mr. Mas warned that Mr. Rajoy’s refusal to negotiate any tax changes was likely to increase resentment toward the Madrid government among Catalans, especially after hundreds of thousands of them gathered for a pro-independence rally in Barcelona on Sept. 11, the anniversary of a Catalan defeat at the hands of Spanish troops in 1714.
“The people and society of Catalonia are on the move, as we have seen on Sept. 11, and not willing to accept that our future will be gray when it could be more brilliant,” Mr. Mas said at a news conference here.
Reuters explains the dispute:
The central government collects most taxation payments then redistributes them to Spain’s 17 self-governing regions, which run their own schools and hospitals. Each year Catalans say they pay 16 billion euros more in taxes than the regional government spends.
On the other hand, Catalonia is also Spain’s most heavily indebeted region, accounting for "$54 billion of the $181 billion of debt owed by the 17 regional governments," according to the New York Times.
Mas’s party may call early elections before the end of this year, hoping to capitalize on the nationalist fervor. And while he has stopped short of calling for outright independence, he has come awfully close:
“Whatever path Catalonia follows, it needs to be European and about dialogue and doing things together, either within Spain or with Spain,” he said on Thursday.
As it happens, European Commission President Jose Barroso addressed the question of separatist movements in the EU context during a speech last week:
In his State of the Union speech in the European Parliament, Jose Barroso told MEPs that break-away countries would have to make new applications to join the EU. "A new state, if it wants to join the EU, has to apply to become a member of the EU, like any state," he said.
The remarks prompted government hearings in Edinburgh, where the Scottish government has consistently argued that its EU membership would not affected by independence from Great Britain. It’s also probably something for the protesters in the photo above to keep in mind.