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Spanish Eyes, English Words

A blended blog - Spanish life and culture meets English freelancer who often gets mistaken for Spanish senora. It's the eyes that do it, rather than the command of the language. Anything can and probably will happen here.

Why Esteban Gonzalez Pons' Letter to the Members of the European Parliament has probably helped the Catalan Independence cause - even though that was not his intention!
05 October 2014 @ 12:02

On Monday 29 September the Spanish Constitutional Court voted unanimously to suspend the vote for Catalan independence due to be held on November 9.  According to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the referendum is illegal and undemocratic, and a violation of the rights of all Spaniards. In an effort to justify the totally unjustifiable, Partido Popular Euro MP Esteban Gonzalez Pons has written a letter to his fellow Members of the European Parliament. Although the letter was not intended for Catalan eyes, it has nevertheless been made available to leading advocates for Catalan independence. You can find the full text of the letter here, in both Spanish and English.

The first point Pons makes is that the Catalan situation is very different from Scotland’s. Anyone with the slightest grasp of European political history knows this to be the case, although sections of the press will persist in discussing the two situations in tandem, as if there was a real similarity. Pons then states that the provisions for Catalonia made under the Spanish constitution granted it ‘the highest levels of self-government in its history, making possible a major time of prosperity, welfare and stability.’ And if you believe that, you probably still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

How can a country – and Catalonia is a country by every definition except the ones used by Madrid – have a high level of self-government when it does not have fiscal autonomy? One of the main reasons why the Catalans are seeking independence from Spain is because although they contribute around 19%  to Spain’s national GDP, only 9.5%  of Spain’s territorial investment budget will find its find its way back to Catalonia from Madrid in 2015. That’s even less than the paltry 9.6% allocated last year, and is a blatant infringement of the 2005 law which obliged the Spanish Government to allocate an annual territorial investment equivalent to Catalonia’s contribution to the GDP. This has never happened, and for all those years, Catalonia has received around half of its legal entitlement from Madrid.

For a country that tops every economic table – leading Spain in exports, industry and tourism – this is totally unacceptable.  To maintain a position at the top of the economic table, it’s necessary to invest in infrastructure, and without appropriate support from central government, that is just not possible. Remember Catalonia contributes 19% to Spain’s GDP – it also accounts for 25.9% of the country’s total exports, which is way ahead of Madrid, in second place with 11%. 

Those figures demolish Pons’ argument that without financial support from Spain, Catalonia could  not service its debt, pay it civil servants or provide basic public services. And one has to question Pons’ definition of financial support. Looking at these figures, and remembering that since 2005 at least, Catalonia has only received half the territorial investment it is entitled to by law, isn’t it Catalonia that is providing financial support to Spain?

For many years, Catalonia has been underfunded in direct disregard of the law, yet with a per capita GDP of 27.43 million Euro it still manages to stay ahead of Spain (23. 10 million) and the rest of the member states of the EU (25.20 million). These figures don’t suggest a nation that ‘will become a junk bond without the support of the rest of Spain.’

With fiscal autonomy, Catalonia will be able to service its debts, invest in infrastructure and provide adequate public services. Rajoy’s predecessor Jose Luis Zapatero refused to grant Catalonia the same fiscal autonomy enjoyed by the Basque Country and Navarre since the return of democracy following Franco’s death. Under this economic agreement, all tax revenues are retained by the region to administer appropriately. However, Madrid still receives social security contributions and an annual quota payment.  With Catalonia being home to around 16% of the population of Spain, that quota would be significant. Clearly Spain would suffer more economically from the split that Catalonia, since an independent Catalonia would be contributing its fair share to the national budget, rather than oversubscribing to it, for the first time in many years.

Pons other main argument is that the referendum is illegal and undemocratic, since the Spanish Constitution invests sovereignty in all Spanish people. ‘Therefore the decisions that affect all Spaniards must be taken by all Spaniards, and not only by a part of them.’ It should be remembered that the referendum is a query – not a full vote on independence. The point of the November 9 vote is to determine whether the majority of Catalan people are for or against independence. Surely that is the first step, and it’s one that should be taken by the people it affects. This is a decision on whether to press for independence, not a ‘leave or stay in Spain’ vote.

If the November 9 referendum goes ahead, and the vote is in the affirmative – which seems likely at the time of writing – then of course all Spaniards should vote on it. And Senor Pons and his Partido Popular colleagues could then campaign for a No vote, while the Catalans campaign for a Yes vote. Then there may be a chance that all the information relevant to this question is out in the public domain, to enable every Spaniard to make an informed choice.  At the moment, Madrid seems bent on perpetuating myths and untruths like those outlined in this shameful letter.

I say ‘every Spaniard’ deliberately to include rather than separate the Catalans, for most Catalans consider themselves Spanish as well as Catalan. They have little desire to totally separate from Spain or Europe.  They want to thrive and prosper alongside their Spanish and European neighbours, but they want to do so as an independent country in full control of its economy.  That is surely a reasonable desire, given the unfairness of the treatment handed down to Catalonia by Madrid.

By publishing this letter, Esteban Gonzalez Pons has made it crystal clear why independence is an increasingly strong option for Catalonia. The world’s media is starting to realise that maybe the Catalans have a point, and that they are being treated unfairly by the Spanish Central Government. This letter reinforces that, because Pons’ arguments don’t really stand up to independent scrutiny. In the cold light of day, it’s likely that he has helped the Catalan cause, rather than hindering it.





Like 0


RiojaRosie said:
05 October 2014 @ 14:18

Another well researched, well balanced, and extremely informative article Sandra, which should start a lively debate amongst our EOS readers.

eos_ian said:
10 October 2014 @ 17:53

HI Sandra, that's an interesting post.

But if you look at it from the other perspective, the community of Madrid receives even less than Catalonia and proportionally contributes more to the system, in fact 2,4 times what Catalonia contributes. When Catalonia generated 27,000 million euros it received 15,800 million in funding. Whereas Madrid generated 66,000 million euros and only received 11,474 million in funding. It may go against the agreement, but that is something that can be sorted without independence and when put into perspective with other communities they aren't doing that badly.

Honestly I am not really in favor of independence, I don't think it can bring any good to Catalonia or to Spain. They are both stronger together. People seem to forget that Catalonia is wealthy because it sells to the rest of Spain. Less than 20% of its production is exported outside of Spain or consumed within Catalonia. If Spain was to boycott Catalonia produced products it would very quickly be in trouble, companies would start fleeing, one reason why debt would be classed as junk. Spain would get wealthier as those sales would go to Spain based companies , so the surplus GDP wouldn't take long to be compensated.

It is a sad situation because a lot of people are starting to think "let them get on with it" - "Let them go" - and it will soon turn into a hate-hate situation which is no good for anyone.

They really need to find a way to move forward together.

simonharris said:
12 October 2014 @ 20:57

I don't have the exact figures, Ian, but if I remember rightly, according to 2009 figures, Catalonia pays over €60 billion in tax to central govt and gets around €45 billion back leaving a tax deficit of around €15 billion which is about 8% of the GDP ... figures have varied little since then and I can check them if you like.

Also ,comparing the Community of Madrid and Catalonia isn't really fair because Madrid has all the benefits of being the capital that aren't included in the figures. All the government employees, who are paid by the state, live, work, buy cars and houses, do their shopping etc etc with local businesses. So the fact that Madrid is the seat of government reflects enormously on its economy and this is a hidden tax surplus.

Regarding exports, Catalonia sells 47% of its products within Spain (including Catalonia) and 53% abroad. A lot of this trade isn't obviously Catalan in that they are components of things or the firms are multinationals.

Obvious Catalan products could well be boycotted initially but as the cava boycott of a few years ago showed, if the product is better and cheaper it doesn't last long. Spaniards got tired of paying three times as much for French champagne pretty quickly, didn't they?

On the question of hate, I must admit I've been pretty annoyed today 1. because of the silliness of the Dia de la Hispanidad here in Barcelona and 2. because of the insultingly undemocratic attitude of the Spanish government since the process began.

As the poor turnout of 38,000 in Barcelona today showed, the approximately 25% who would vote No (compared to 50% in favour and another 25% undecided) aren't actually that bothered. Apart from a tiny minority, most people would adapt quite easily to independence.

Furthermore, around 2 million Catalans have family in other parts of Spain and would be sure to visit them.

Ask yourself these questions. Do you HATE the Irish for being independent? Would you have HATEd the Scottish if they'd become independent? I don't think so.

Catalans and Spaniards will have much the same attitude to each other once all the histrionics have died down. In fact, allowing a vote would be a great chance to talk up Spain and try and persuade the Catalans to stay. Nothing's decided yet, you know?

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