The government’s drive to rein in regional overspending as part of its austerity measures has prompted a flare-up in independence fervor in Catalonia, the wealthy northeastern region that generates one-fifth of Spain’s economic output.
Just as the euro zone crisis has strained relations between wealthier nations of the north and heavily indebted countries to the south, Spain’s crisis has aggravated tensions between the central government and its self-governing regions.
Catalonia needs a 5 billion euros bailout from the central state to meet debt payments this year, but Catalans are convinced they bear an unfairly large share of the country’s tax burden.
More than half say they want independence from Spain, the highest level ever.
Artur Mas, the conservative president of Catalonia, announced on Tuesday he would hold early elections in November after Rajoy rejected his call for more tax autonomy. Mas’s Convergence and Union, or CiU, party is likely to win an absolute majority in the regional parliament, which he can use to battle Rajoy over spending cuts.
On Wednesday Mas took things further, saying Catalonia should also hold a referendum on independence, which the central government says would be unconstitutional.
Although an independent Catalonia is a remote possibility, the political instability sends a worrying message to investors. Rajoy’s People’s Party has threatened to take control of the budgets of regions that fail to meet deficit reduction targets despite Catalonia already having made tough austerity measures.
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