Spain facing independence row over Catalonia

12/10/12

Jordi Martorell and Emilia de Alonso

For 27-year-old student Jordi Martorell, it's a matter of identity. He was born in Catalonia's capital Barcelona.

"People may classify me as Spanish but I will always try and explain why being Catalan is different to being Spanish," he said.

"Culturally, we're open-minded, socially there is effort to work and we have our own language spoken by millions."

More significantly though, Catalonia is Spain's richest region.

It's said to pay 15 billion (£12bn) more euros a year in taxes to central government.

"We pay so much money and get very little funding back," he added.

"For example, a lot of top hospitals are built with Catalan tax money, everyone around Spain uses them, but the receipts come to us."

'Bad relationship'

There's nothing new about Catalonia's strong cultural identity, but the failing economy has hardened attitudes.

Millions marched for independence last month
Image caption More a million people marched for independence last month

Like all 17 of Spain's regions, they are self-governed and have overspent. There's a lot of pain there with spending cuts.

A lot of Catalans feel it's humiliating they've now had to ask the central government for a financial bailout of five billion euros considering their tax contributions.

"We want a fresh start. We could get rid of a bad relationship [with Spain]. It's like you love your brother but don't want to do business with him," said Jordi.

Last month, up to 1.5m Catalans marched in Barcelona demanding a split and for control over their own taxes.

Catalonia Facts

    • Capital: Barcelona
    • Population: 7.5m
    • Language: Catalan and Spanish
    • It represents one-fifth of the Spanish economy

Alfons Lopez Tena runs the Catalan for Solidarity Independence Party.

He says despite a snap election next month, the region's current President Artur Mas of the ruling Convergence and Union Party needs to do more.

"He's not being clear on the terms with Spain's prime minister. We want respect, democracy and full independence. It's time to devolve power to the people."

'Sticking together'

But a referendum is banned under Spain's constitution. Also the country is so heavily in debt, Spain's government really can't afford to lose income from the people who pay taxes there.

"We can make it alone. We have the same economic strength as countries like Denmark."

Independence flags in Barcelona
Image caption Independence flags fly from many homes in Barcelona

Polls show that about 50% of Catalans want self-determination with others undecided or against.

Student Emilia de Alonso, 24, is not waving an independence flag.

"I am angry too about the tax situation but separating from Spain is not the answer. We need to forget the decades old history and focus on the future."

A break away wouldn't just affect Spain. It would affect countries like the UK whose economy relies heavily on trading with a stable Europe.

"We will be better off sticking together and being unified," says Emilia.

"We are all Spanish in the end. Well, for the moment."