All eyes on Catalan election
Catalans will cast their vote for a new regional assembly on Sunday (25 November) in an election that could have considerable consequences for Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
Catalan separatist parties wishing to split from Spain are set to win most of the seats in the Catalan Parliament and current Catalan President Artur Mas is expected to continue on his post. His centre-right alliance party Convergència i Unió (CiU) will most likely regain majority ahead of the left-wing independentist Esquerra party, but short of the absolute majority they had hoped for.
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The election campaign has been ugly with Mas accusing the conservative Partido Popular government in Madrid of standing behind a personal smear campaign and of scaremongering to dissuade Catalans from voting for CiU.
Madrid, on the other hand, has said the Catalan government is unjustly blaming Madrid for Catalonia's economic woes.
A recent convert to independence, Mas called for early elections last September after Barcelona and Madrid failed to reach agreement on a new fiscal pact. The Catalan government wanted the right to collect and decide on the region’s own taxes instead of passing them on to Madrid, as it currently does.
Spanish President Mariano Rajoy opposed the move. This prompted Mas to state that the Catalans would be better off creating “a state of their own”. If the new Catalan Parliament, as expected, has pro-separatist parliamentarians making up two thirds of its ranks, this will pave the way for a referendum on the independence of Catalonia – despite strong resistance from Madrid.
One of Spain’s 17 regions, Catalonia is responsible for a fifth of the Spanish economy, which in turn is the 4th largest economy in the eurozone. European capitals will therefore also take note of the Catalan election results as Rajoy is trying to avoid a bailout from Europe despite a severe recession in Spain.
Catalans have long complained that despite the Catalan region being 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 €15 billion, according to the Catalan government. The north eastern region is also a heavily indebted region.
They also complain that the rest of Spain does not respect their different Catalan identity and language. Catalans were outraged two years ago when the Spanish Constitutional Court eliminated some aspects of their autonomy in an updated regional statute despite it being approved by the Spanish Parliament four years before.
The worsening economic situation and the high unemployment numbers in Spain has only amplified the separatist feeling in Catalonia. This came to a climax on Catalan national day on 11 September this year when more than one million of Catalonia’s 7.5 million citizens took to the streets of Barcelona to call for independence.
Meanwhile, an eventual referendum on Catalonian independence would raise many awkward questions in Brussels - not least whether the would-be independent region would have to re-apply for EU membership.