Mas warns in the FT about a "growing divorce" with Spain if Catalonia is not respected and its needs not attended

The Financial Times has published an interview with the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas. The Financial Times stressed Mas’ request for a new deal between Spain and Catalonia, which would reduce Catalonia’s contributions to the rest of Spain by half. The FT explained that between 8% and 9% of the annual Catalan GDP, which represents between €17 billion and €18 billion per year, goes to the rest of Spain to pay for solidarity funds for poorer regions. The newspaper also praised the “pioneering” austerity measures implemented by the Catalan Government.


January 17, 2012 09:35 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, discussed Catalonia’s austerity measures and the need for a “new deal” with Spain in an interview with the Financial Times issued online on Monday and published on paper on Tuesday. The Catalan President, who is the leader of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU), warned the Financial Times about “a growing divorce [between Catalonia and Spain] because in a continuous, repeated way, Catalans have the sensation –and they’re right– that we are not respected on identity or language issues and not helped on economic and social issues”. “If Spain helps us, Catalan society is not against belonging to Spain, although there’s a part, yes, that’s clearly pro-independence”, Mas clarified. “But if the Spanish state denies us respect and assistance, the feeling that Catalonia needs its own state will carry on growing”, he added. The Catalan President insisted on the “fiscal deficit” Catalonia suffers from: “Catalonia cannot carry on supporting the fiscal drainage that we have at the moment, which is roughly equal to 8% or 9% of the gross domestic product every year”. This means that each year, between €17 billion and €18 billion leaves Catalonia and never comes back, as it is used to pay for investments made and services provided in poorer regions of Spain. The Catalan Government and CiU aim to negotiate a "new deal" with the new Spanish Government chaired by the new Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Mas explained that their aim is to put a “fiscal pact [...] on Mr Rajoy’s table in 2012 or early 2013” through which Catalonia would raise all its taxes and would see the money transfers to poorer regions halved, explained Mas. Catalonia would continue to contribute to inter-regional solidarity, but not to a level that the Catalan Government is obliged to drastically cut public spending and rationalise services in order to cut the public deficit. The public deficit is projected to be 2.66% for 2011 and 1.3% for 2012, while the so-called fiscal deficit represents between 8% and 9%. If the “fiscal pact” proposal is not taken into consideration by the Spanish Government, Mas insisted that the “divorce” between Catalonia and Spain would grow even further. Mas stressed that the new fiscal agreement with Spain has broad support in Catalonia.

During the interview with the Financial Times Spain correspondent Victor Mallet, the Catalan President drew some parallels with Scotland. According to Artur Mas, both in Catalonia and Scotland “there are similar demands for independence or greater devolution of powers”, reported the FT. Furthermore Mas added that both Scotland and Catalonia lost their independence at a similar period in history, in the early 18th century, just five years apart. However, Scotland has a smaller weight within the UK’s economy than Catalonia, which is the richest region in Spain after Madrid, explained the FT. The Catalan President said that Catalonia’s GDP is roughly equal to €200 billion, and thus the Catalan economy is similar in size to that of Portugal or Finland.

Catalonia wants to become “the Holland of the south

 “We want to be the Holland of the south, and we can be the Holland of the south”, affirmed the President of the Catalan Government. “Holland is a very open society, with an industrial base, and it has made a big effort in innovation and science”, he explained.

 “The status quo doesn’t work”

 “The [current] status quo doesn’t work” as there is a “growing divorce” between Catalonia and Spain. Mas explained that Catalans are divided on the independence issue. The division between those supporting independence and those opposing it makes the split with Spain less likely in the short term. However, Mas insisted that a large majority of Catalans consider the current situation unworkable and want greater autonomy for Catalonia, greater devolution of powers, particularly fiscally. “Our project in the short term is fiscal sovereignty” explained the Catalan President. “In the longer term, we’ll see…” he added. Therefore, a large majority of Catalans (more than 75% according to the latest opinion polls) support a new fiscal agreement between Catalonia and Spain, giving Catalonia more powers and money. “We want more Catalonia and more Europe”, Mas concluded.

The FT considers Catalonia’s austerity measures to be “pioneering”

Finally, the interview quickly reviews the austerity measures Artur Mas’ Government has been implementing in Catalonia, “all pioneering moves for a Spanish region”, according to the Financial Times. Mas underlined that the Catalan Government was the first to adopt severe austerity measures, when he took office a year ago.Victor Mallet stressed that Catalonia will cut public employee salaries by 5%, which will be added to the 5% cuts that were already implemented across Spain in 2010. Furthermore, the Catalan Government will introduce a drug prescription fee and will “sell as many of its assets as it can”, said the FT. The economic newspaper concludes with austerity under way, Catalans now want their new deal”.