The European Institute – Catalonia and the Rise of Economic Separatism in Europe

Massive anti-austerity protests, twenty five percent unemployment and other economic woes are not the only torments of Spain today.  Prime Minister Rajoy also has to deal with an internal revolt in Catalonia, where there is a sharp uptick in separatist attitudes and demands for greater sovereignty, a phenomenon also seen elsewhere in Europe.

Catalonia, with an economy the size of Portugal, could be on the brink of breaking away from one of the oldest states in the world. How did it come to this?

Home to over seven million inhabitants in a region hugging the northeastern Mediterranean coast, Catalonia has long claimed a language, culture, and history different from Spain. During the Franco years, the Catalan language and even the national dance, the “sardana,” were banned.  Since Franco’s death in 1975, and the ensuing democratic transition, Catalonia has received limited self-rule in Spain’s federal system, particularly in areas such as education, health, and policing.

The region, up to now, has mainly focused not on outright independence, but on greater autonomy within the framework of the Spanish state. In 1979, almost ninety percent of Catalans approved the original Statute of Autonomy, which granted more powers of self-government but kept Catalonia as a regional entity within the newly democratic Spain. Separatist attitudes for a while polled relatively low, and the primary political party extolling independence, the Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC), has not been a major political force.

But this dynamic is changing and rapidly.  Pro-independence sentiment is on the ascent. Recent celebrations of Catalan National Day, “La Diada” – unusual in that it commemorates a defeat, in 1714 in the War of Spanish Succession– brought over a million protestors to the streets of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, in a noisy bid for greater autonomy from Madrid.  La Vanguardia, an influential Catalan newspaper, published a poll in September of this year that put the independence sentiment at over fifty-four percent, a significant increase from thirty-five percent in 2009.

Read @ The European Institute