The Harvard Crimson – A Fractured Europe

Over the past few days, alarming protests have taken place throughout the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia. These protests, which began as an effort to condemn the austerity measures of Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy, have swiftly developed into a full-fledged independence movement—perhaps the most legitimate independence movement that Western Europe has seen in decades. The Catalan crisis is more than an isolated case, however. Instead, it points to key economic and cultural weaknesses in the most basic elements of the European political system.

The key problem in Catalonia is economic. A wealthy region, Catalonia produces about a fifthof Spain’s GDP and contains about 16 percent of Spain’s population. Due to Catalonia’s wealth, it contributes more in taxes to Spain’s central government than it receives back.

This inequality in tax policy has recently angered regional citizens because Catalonia has beenhit especially hard by the current financial crisis. Though it remains the most productive and wealthy of Spain’s seventeen regions, it also has incurred the most debt, and Catalonian Premier Artur Mas was forced to beg Madrid for a bailout. Catalonia then demanded that Spain give the region more control over its tax dollars, claiming that the most productive region of the country should not give more in taxes than it receives back only to be forced to beg for a bailout.

When the Spanish government refused this demand, Mas declared that independence could be put on the table should Madrid refuse to acquiesce. He further set a date for new elections, in which parties seeking independence (or at least much greater autonomy) are expected to make large gains. Protests originally intended to counter austerity turned into pro-independence rallies, and now, more than fifty percent of Catalans claim to support secession.

Read more @ The Harvard Crimson