February 22, 2012
During a recent interview published in Le Monde, Artur Mas, the President of the Catalonian government in Barcelona, has revealed plans to conclude a new fiscal pact with the central government in Madrid. This is viewed in Barcelona as a means to diminish pressure to move forward on the province’s independence, an option shared by many Catalonians.
At present, according to Mr. Mas, the province overpays Madrid by some 17 billion euros every year. A new fiscal pact would enable the Catalonian government to hang on to around 10 billion of this amount and use it as a cushion against the harshness of the austerity measures forced upon Madrid by international lenders.
The interview provides a glimpse into the thinking of regional political leaders like Mr. Artur Mas or his Scottish counterpart, Mr. Alex Salmond. Both Catalonia and Scotland lost their independence at about the same time, at the beginning of the 18th century. Their drive for independence is only a few decades old and is being fuelled in part by the process of EU integration. In the vision of Artur Mas, for example, if more powers are devolved towards Brussels and the regions, national governments would become obsolete. If that happens, a more independent Catalonia could become more competitive internationally, something like a «Holland of the South».
The devolution of powers to organise a region’s economic, social and cultural affairs would leave Brussels to worry about the military, securitary and foreign affairs of the entire Union. National states, however, are still jealously keeping for themselves the power to tax and to organise economic life on their territory. In practice, national politicians are also opposed to doing away with national armies, or with national security and foreign policy in favour of similar, EU-wide institutions, the latter of which have very limited prerogatives, as a consequence.
Unlike Scotland, Catalonia contributes a full one-fifth of the national GDP, being the second richest province among the 17 Spanish provinces after Madrid. The Catalonian politicians’ drive to get a better fiscal deal from Madrid could, if rebuked by the Rajoy government, rekindle desires for full independence. This is mirrored in Scotland, where the First Minister is preparing his countrymen for a referendum on independence planned to take place in 2014. National leaders in both Spain and Britain will therefore need all the political talent they can muster in order to keep their countries whole and their economies from dipping into recession. (sources: Le Monde, Financial Times, The Guardian)Florian Pantazi