One of the most widely repeated myths in the debate about Catalan independence is that ‘Catalonia already enjoys more devolved powers than almost any other region in the world’. We’re frequently told that US states, German landers and other autonomous regions have nowhere near the autonomous powers that Catalonia enjoys. This is less accurate than it immediately seems.
While it’s true that Catalonia and the other autonomous communities in Spain have broad powers and areas of responsibility under the constitution and the statutes of autonomy, they really cannot be compared with, for example, German landers or American states. Vitally, Catalonia has strictly-limited powers over what taxes it collects and when it can levy new taxes. Most attempts to create new taxes have been challenged by the Spanish government, or have been subsequently ‘trumped’ by the government establishing an identical tax at state level, thus making the Catalan tax obsolete.
But it’s the Spanish government’s latest announcement threatening suspension of payments under the Autonomous Liquidity Fund (FLA) which really gives the lie to this claim. The fund itself was already problematic, because rather than helping Spain’s autonomous communities operate in financial markets, it establishes the Spanish state as the source of liquidity loans, which must be repaid with interest. The FLA system establishes almost total state control over autonomous finances and spending, even governing payment priorities, expenditure controls and the final decision over which bills are paid and when. If that sounds like ‘autonomy’ to you, we have a very different understanding of the word.
Now, the Spanish government is taking things a step further by forcing the Generalitat to provide detailed accounting on a weekly basis to ensure that ‘not 1€ is spent on an illegal referendum’. The Spanish government has clearly decided that to use the normal tactic of taking the Generalitat to court post factum in the event of any spending with which it disagrees, won’t work with a referendum that will likely lead to a unilateral declaration of independence. So the decision has been taken to directly intervene (even more than previously), and establish even stricter controls on Generalitat spending with the threat of suspending FLA payments. If that sounds like ‘autonomy’ to you, we have a very different understanding of the word.
It looks like the Spanish government feels that it has played its best hand with this move: not using force or even the courts to defeat the Catalan ‘challenge’, but something that hurts even more: cash. But once again, the bigger picture is being ignored. By removing even the pretence of fiscal autonomy from the Catalan government, the Spanish state is admitting that the whole thing is a façade whose supposed constitutional protections are meaningless in the face of a state hellbent on recentralization. Autonomy for Catalonia is not protected: it’s “by the grace of Madrid, and don’t you forget it”. To win the point, Spain has to lose the moral argument.
UPDATE: the elections will be held on November 25th.
The Catalan newspaper Ara is reporting that Artur Mas is about to call early elections, likely to occur on November 18 or 25 or December 2.
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy stated in parliament today that he doesn’t agree with the Catalan view that a new fiscal pact ought to be agreed. This was supposed to have been the subject of discussion in a meeting between Rajoy and Mas tomorrow morning in Madrid. It is believed that Mas could call the elections tomorrow, immediately after this meeting.
There is widespread expectation that these elections could take on the form of a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain. For this to happen, the governing CiU will have to form a national bloc with parties sympathetic to independence: ERC, ICV and SI. The Catalan federations of the two main Spanish parties, PP and PSOE will oppose independence, with support from Ciudadanos.
The groups in favour of independence appear to see that speed is of the essence now. They aim to benefit from the upswing in support for separatism seen at last week’s demonstration in Barcelona. They probably also fear the Spanish government invoking section 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows for central government to establish direct rule over autonomous communities seen to be in breach of the constitution.
Does this render independence any more likely? It’s hard to say. There can be no doubt that more people here are taking the question seriously. But CiU will have to negotiate a pact with leftwing ERC and ICV to have a chance of an absolute majority. But I get the feeling that there are plenty of Catalans who might balk at the last minute, either due to the uncertainty that independence might bring or because of their dislike for voting for any CiU-led coalition.
Because of the speed with which the independence movement has gathered pace and the possible sanctioning of Catalonia’s self-government by Madrid, these elections will likely prove to be the supreme test that separatism must pass if it is going to succeed.
What do you think will happen?
If not precisely inevitable, Catalan independence now seems much more likely than it did a couple of years back when I first framed my questions for supporters and opponents of Catalan separatism.
Many of those questions remain valid. But my main focus has shifted. This reduced list should read as a demand from those leading and supporting the independence movement that they for once and for all clarify various matters that I believe worry many people currently. Because if Catalonia really will be the ‘Next State in Europe’, these matters need to be clarified now, not later.
1 – What social model will an independent Catalonia have?
While the right are currently in power, and have governed for the majority of Catalonia’s post-Franco years, there is a significant section of Catalan society that supports parties of the left. We’re deeply unhappy about the cuts that Artur Mas has made to public health, education, social assistance and public sector pay during the financial crisis. Mas has blamed these cuts on Spain’s mishandling of the national economy. Very well: if that is true, he must now guarantee to restore, improve and protect public sending and investment in the event of independence.
2 – Will you now, and forever, forgo all claims on the territories in Spain and France sometimes referred to as the Catalan Countries?
I shouldn’t need to explain the importance of this question. The only chance of success as a state depends on France’s and Spain’s recognition. That won’t happen unless you formally reject territorial claims on Rosselló, Valencia, the Franja and the Balearics.
3 – What status for non-Spanish residents in Catalonia?
OK, this is a personal one, but it affects lots of people and many businesses. Will you now guarantee our status as permanent residents? What chances for citizenship will we have?