Toni Strubell i Trueta

novembre 30
What bee has got under Catalonia’s bonnet? “Why in heaven’s name should the Catalans be considering separation from Spain at this stage in history?” This is a comment I overheard at Girona airport last week. As a Catalan MP, I’m aware that people around the world might well be asking that same question in view of recent news from Catalonia. Just why are an increasing number of quite moderate Catalans actually seeking independence from Spain right now (according to recent opinion polls: 57% for, 21% against), with figures that would give more than 70% of support in an eventual referendum? Last 11th September, the biggest demonstration in living memory flooded the streets of Barcelona. One and a half million marchers left no doubts as to their concern with their concerted call for independence from Spain. The world press seemed to be largely taken by suprise. And yet the writing had been on the wall for years. As I tried to portray in my book “What Catalans Want” (Amazon, 2010), many Catalans feel humiliated by the treatment they have been getting at the hands of Madrid. Fiscal spoliation –a staggering 8•5% creamed off Catalan GDP yearly- is the main cause of anger followed closely by the fact that Madrid has for years done its utmost to conceal it. The fact is that the traditionally powerful Catalan economy in now in a worse State than that of many Spanish regions which Catalonia has been fostering. This is especially contradictory because today the country has almost 700.000 unemployed and one quarter of its population near the threshold of poverty. Parallel to this over 10.000 Catalan families were evicted from their homes in the first semester of 2012, more than in any other Spanish community. In addition, Catalonia, with 18% of Spain’s population, has in recent years received a pitiful 12% of State investment in infraestructures, a factor crippling key needs such as the vital railway junctions for Barcelona and Tarragona ports. Without this step, the possibility of converting them into key shipping hubs to bring Asian goods into Europe is challenged by the Marseilles bid. Parallel to this, the Catalan Government, affected by poor financiation, suffers severe underfunding with the result that paying civil servants’ salaries has become its monthly nightmare. The Catalan Government’s only answer has come in the form of severe budget cut-backs in salaries and sensistive areas such as Welfare, Health and Education. While the EU has poured €80M in subsidies into Spain in the last few years –funds largely squandered on absurd passenger-less airports and High Speed Trains- Catalonia has chipped in with almost three times more (€220M) in the same period. Which small territory in Europe, however industrialised, could put up with such financial haemorage as that? Rich Baveria, in contrast, pays about five times less (in absolute terms) to the German Federal treasury. Yet the paradox, as pointed out by Kenneth Rogoff –ex Head Economist of the International Monetary Fund– is that “Catalonia, if independent, could be one of the richest countries in Europe”. If shackled to Spain, however, few experts give its economy any chances of mid-tem recovery. Which country can encourage industrial growth with a VAT at over 20% as applied by Mr. Rajoy? It is not surprising that many Catalans share Adam Price’s view regarding the wisdom of small-State economies as a recipe against the inflexibility, inefficiency and corruption associated with larger states. What so many Catalans are asking today is: why is so much more being spent on citizens elsewhere when overt poverty is spreading at a faster rate in Catalonia than anywhere in Spain? The huge psychological backdrop to the issue is the fact that over €16,000M are creamed away yearly from the Catalan taxpayer without any form of return. If but half of that figure were retained, experts reckon that much could be done to ensure the upkeep of welfare and the economy. But let’s not limit the reasons for Catalan exasperation to money. There’s much more to it than that. There is a large dosis of political deception and cultural downstaging involved in fueling disaffection with Spain. When Franco died (1975), many Catalans had unselfishly decided to prioritize the need to ensure democracy in dictatorship-prone Spain. This meant momentarily overlooking sore thumbs such as newly instated King Juan Carlos’s clear involvement with despotic Francoism. Amonst other sacrifices, they placed on standby their urge to exercise their right to self-determination. At first, Constitutional Spain seemed to respect the country’s age-old language and make allowances for some degree of regional self-government. But in 2010, Supreme and Constitutional Court sentences shot all that down in flames as part of an on-going strategy to recentralise Spain. Madrid government policies are now imposed in almost all fields. Not surprisingly, the degradation of Catalan home-rule has made most Catalans perceive Spain as more of a threat than a solution. Legislation annulling 30 years of Pax Hispania has now been introduced enabling Spanish parents to “free” their children from schooling in Catalan if they so wish. The Spanish education Minister, Sr. Wert, recently spoke of the need to “españolizar” (make Spanish) all Catalan school children. Likewise, it has recently been decreed that no Catalan sports team could represent the country in any sport Spain had a team in, a step aimed at dismantling any real International presence of Catalan sport. To further aggravate things, the Spanish mass media tend to display great hostility to things Catalan, causing the will for divorce to multiply. In the face of Spanish opposition to the consolidation of Catalan home rule, who can be surprised that the elections called by President Mas on 25th November should be seen by many, including Mr. Mas, as a plebiscite in favour of Catalan sovereignty? Indeed, Europe may soon be witnessing the birth of a new state in Europe, the State of Catalonia. When this occurs, I feel sure no well-meaning democrat nor European Union politician can possibly oppose on-going Catalan membership of the European Union and the Euro. It would be quite unfair to expell one of Europe’s most enthusiastic pro-EU members, all the more so if intended to content a country with the unflaying democratic deficit sported by Mr. Rajoy’s Spain.


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