Barcelona embraces itself for one of the biggest demonstrations seen in recent years. A massive crowd is expected to call for the establishment of an independent country within the European Union on Catalonia’s national day, September 11th.
This rally will add to the pressure on the Spanish government to ask for a European bailout, following the footsteps of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
The national day of Catalonia, September 11th, commemorates the defeat of Catalonia in the War of Succession in 1714. After the last Spanish king died without a heir, various European forces intervened in setting a new royal dynasty. Catalonia chose the wrong side and was eventually defeated by the Spaniards. Barcelona fell after a long siege on this day in 1714.
In decentralized Spain, the region of Catalonia has a public holiday on this day, which is marked by various events. This year, 298 after that siege, Catalan independence is the limelight.
Catalonia enjoyed a significant degree of self governance and saw the Catalan language blooming. However, on the economic side, many Catalans feel they are over subsidizing over regions of Spain, paying more in taxes and receiving less, paying more in toll roads and not having the option to use toll-free roads, etc.
Tension has risen in recent years as the economic situation deteriorated everywhere. Privately funded non-binding local referendums were held since 2009 in support of an independent Catalan country within the EU. Being part of Europe, and the euro-zone, also had an impact on the sentiment – the same open borders and currency could be used, without being under the cosh of Madrid.
However, up to 2012, opinion polls showed no absolute majority for an independent state: many favored more autonomy, and in particular, the same tax model that another northern region has. The Basque Country collects its own taxes and only pays the central government money for specific services it receives. This model has been rejected by Madrid, and is another point of friction.
Rise in Tensions
With more economic suffering, came more austerity, including the unpopular hike in VAT. And with growing fears in Europe, Catalonia found itself shut out of money markets. Practically, the central government is the only Spanish body with market access. So, Catalonia found itself asking for an internal bailout worth 5 billion euros.
This is one of the things that pushed more Catalans to the arms of the pro-independence camp. Also the threat of an ex colonel to use the army against Catalan independence angered many. Today, opinion polls show that independence has over 50% support. The national day will provide a chance to make this call public and massive.
Contrary to the previous days, the main slogan will be “Catalonia, a new independent state in Europe”. More mainstream politicians from the ruling center right CiU party will support, as well as ex FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola.
Anecdotal evidence seen around Barcelona shows that the turnout will be massive. Many people who shun away from politics intend to participate.
Implications for Spain
An independent Catalonia would hurt Spain both politically and economically. Suggesting Catalans an improved economic model would also inflict heavy damage: Catalonia is a relatively rich region which has significant industry and tourism. Giving up on this income would serve as a huge blow to Spain’s delicate finances.
A massive turnout in the rally and world attention would not lead to any immediate steps for independence or a struggle against it. However, it would add to the mounting pressure on Spanish PM Rajoy to ask for a bailout from Europe, a step needed to get the money flowing from the ECB. However, this blood wedding with “the men in black” could require more austerity and would hurt the government.
There were reports that Rajoy might with to wait with a request until after October 21st, when his own home region of Galicia goes to the polls. Asking for aid would dampen his party’s chances.
With Spain still not out of the woods, local events have serious implications. This is even more important when part of the country calls for secession.
Further reading: Draghi Lends a Political Hand to Rajoy