Catalan region renews call for independence
12.09.12 @ 18:02
Barcelona - One and a half million people gathered in Barcelona on Tuesday (11 September) demanding independence from Spain. It was the biggest self-rule rally ever in Catalonia.
Under the slogan "Catalonia, a new state in Europe," people from across the region, from all social classes and of all ages met in central Barcelona swaying Catalan flags and a few EU flags on the Catalan national day - La Diada.
The current economic climate, with deep cuts in public spending and soaring unemployment, has increased the Catalan sentiment for sovereignty, especially over their own economic affairs but also for independence from Spain.
Catalonia is one of Spain's richest regions.
"Yesterday's clamour was very clear and natural: that of a nation that wants to progress and calls for a state to continue to exist," said the president of Catalonia, Artur Mas, in a press conference on Wednesday morning.
He said the most important challenge for Catalonia at the moment is financial sovereignty, but added: "If we do not reach a financial agreement [with Madrid] then the road to Catalan independence is open."
Barcelona is currently negotiating a fiscal pact with Madrid seeking a similar level of financial autonomy as the Basque region in Northern Spain, which would give the Catalan government the right to collect its own taxes.
Mas' comment on independence is a strong warning to Madrid considering that his political coalition of Convergència i Unio – a centre-right and nationalist alliance – traditionally favours Catalonia as a nation within Spain while fighting for financial autonomy.
Catalans have long complained that while the Catalan region is one of the biggest contributors to the Spanish budget, they get much less back in funding for services and public works.
The deficit lies at around at €15 billion, according to the Catalan government. The Catalan president will meet with Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy next week to discuss the issue.
The fight with the Spanish government over financial autonomy will be a tough one though.
Last month, Catalonia asked for a €5 billion loan from Spain's rescue fund for financially troubled regions and Rajoy's government has implied that such a loan will come only with increased central control.
The European Commission has refused to comment on the increased call for independence from a European region.
It said such questions are an internal matter for each member state and that "the commission is not able to speculate on any potential consequences this may have on EU law."