Focus

Catalans stage symbolic independence vote

14.12.09 @ 09:22

  1. By Andrew Willis

Inhabitants of the Spanish region of Catalonia turned out to vote in a symbolic referendum on independence on Sunday (13 December), a headache for Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero just two weeks before his country takes over the EU's rotating presidency.

  • Separatist movements exist in several regions of Spain (Photo: European Commission)

But a lower turnout than organisers had hoped for indicated the minority status of those seeking independence in the rich north eastern region - home to seven million people and whose capital is Barcelona.

The unofficial referendum was held in towns and municipalities containing roughly 15 percent of the region's population, with citizens who did turn out voting strongly in favour of independence.

Organisers hope the event could lead to a region-wide and official vote in the future, although this is unlikely any time soon say observers.

Spain is one of only a handful of EU member states not to have recognised the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo over a year ago.

Sunday's Catalan vote highlights Madrid's sensitivities on the subject, with the government preparing for a difficult juggling act between national and EU positions on independence issues.

Spanish officials are preparing to chair the majority of EU meetings in the first half of next year, under the EU's rotating six-month presidency.

The Basque and Galician regions in northwest Spain also have vocal independence movements, with the Basque paramilitary group ETA responsible for hundreds of deaths over the past few decades.

International observers from other world regions with independence or secessionist movements also attended Sunday's vote – including officials from Wales and the Belgian region of Flanders.

Relations with Madrid

With the region accounting for roughly 25 percent of Spain's GDP, Catalans are keen to keep the provisions contained within a statute on relations with the Spanish state approved in 2006.

The document gives the region more local decision making powers and what many believe is a fairer share of the taxes collected in the southern European country.

But Spain's centre-right opposition party is contesting the statute in the constitutional court, leading many Catalans to fear the key provisions could soon be overturned.

After the three-year legal tussle, an expected decision against the statute has already provoked a dozen Catalan newspapers to publish a joint editorial in defence of the region's "dignity."

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