Sunny Spain has put many of its European partners in the shade. The Spanish economy has recovered strongly from a deep recession and is now the fastest growing in the Eurozone.
But there’s one significant cloud on the Spanish horizon. An election this weekend in the country’s most prosperous region, Catalonia, in the north-eastern corner of the country, could conceivably lead to the region separating from the rest of Spain and, at the very least, could trigger a big political crisis.
The election should, on the face of it, be an ordinary, low-key affair since voters will be choosing lawmakers for the regional Catalan parliament.
But this poll won’t be ordinary or low key.
The regional president has declared that if the two main pro-independence parties win an overall majority, he will regard that as a mandate for secession and will launch an 18-month transition to create the institutions necessary for an independent state.
The central government in Madrid has condemned the plan as illegal and has vowed to block any moves towards separation.
Many business people in Catalonia are nervous.
“This is just what we don’t need,” said Matteo Buzzi, who runs a printing company on the outskirts of the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona. “Now we’re starting to grow. Spain is growing. And the last thing we want is more uncertainty.”
Carlos Rivadulla, a Catalan lawyer and businessman, also resents the campaign for independence and believes that most of the region’s business people feel the same.
“Fifty percent of the exports of Catalonia go to the rest of Spain. That’s a market of 40 million people with the same currency, the same laws and regulations, and the same financial system” he said. “I don’t think any reasonable businessman wants to break up an internal market that gives us so much.”
But supporters of independence feel the price of belonging to that single market is too high.
“We pay a lot more taxes than the government spends here,” said Daniel Guillemon, a teacher. “If we kept the money ourselves, we would be able to do many more things, especially in education and health.”
Marta Weisz, another teacher, says language and identity are also fueling the demand for Catalonian independence.
“We’re Catalan. We’re not Spanish,” she said. “We speak Catalan, we live in Catalonia. I can’t think about Spain. I only think about Catalonia.”
Those sentiments are widely denounced as selfish and unreasonable in Madrid.
“The Spanish people won’t allow independence for Catalans” protested Johnathan Harrosch, an artist who sells his paintings in Madrid’s Retiro Park. “And they want it for free! If they want to take Catalonia, they have to buy it. It belongs to the Spanish government. They have to pay for it. Each meter, let’s say 50,000 euros for each meter. Then we can talk about it,” he said.
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