Spain cannot continue to ignore Catalan independence

The Madrid government's refusal to negotiate is boosting the Catalonian independence vote, says Ramon Tremosa i Balcells.

By Jon Benton

Jon Benton is Political Engagement Manager at The Parliament Magazine

24 Feb 2015

Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, from Barcelona, identifies himself as a Catalan MEP in the European parliament. A graduate and former lecturer in economics at the University of Barcelona, he joined parliament in 2009 as a member of the ALDE group and has focused his energies in the economic and monetary affairs committee.

Tremosa has been a leading voice for Catalan issues in parliament, repeatedly calling for greater recognition of its language and culture at the EU level.

In Spain, he has been a similarly vocal supporter of the Catalonian independence movement and a staunch critic of the Spanish government's approach to the affair. In this magazine, he has previously called for the "EU to support the Catalan fight for self-determination", claiming that it "would demonstrate the European way of dealing with political and territorial conflicts".

"By ignoring referendum results, the Spanish government is not recognising that it is boosting the independence vote".

Tremosa explains that in 2012 the issue of Catalan independence was "on the table but the Spanish government did not recognise any problem", arguing that Madrid's refusal to allow a proper referendum has limited the options available to Catalan campaigners. Last November, there was an unofficial referendum on Catalan independence held in the region, with 80 per cent of voters supporting independence.

Tremosa views the Scottish referendum as a model for the Catalan independence movement, and has in the past expressed admiration for the British government's recognition and handling of the issue. However, he feels that Catalonia cannot follow the same path as a referendum on independence would not be recognised by the Spanish government, such as the one that occurred in November last year. Therefore, pro-independence campaigners have to increase public support through other means.

He says, "We cannot do the same as in Scotland, therefore we have to engage in different elections", adding, "By ignoring referendum results, the Spanish government is not recognising that it is boosting the independence vote".

Tremosa is also confident that with regional elections in May and a snap election in September, pro-independence parties will be able to further increase support for an official referendum or the granting of more powers to the Catalan government.

According to pro-independence supporters, Catalonia contributes more to the national budget than it receives from the Spanish government, and should it become independent, it would be able to invest more wisely in its economy. A recently published Spanish budget ministry report corroborates this view, suggesting that the region would regain its A+ former credit rating if it were to split from Spain, and therefore would attract greater investment.

"Negotiating another haircut would open up a Pandora's box"

Investment such as the European commission's €315bn strategic investment fund, intended to support economic growth through financing major infrastructure projects.

Tremosa welcomes the stimulus package, saying, "We need this investment as the share of investment in the EU is down", highlighting that "investment has a multiplying effect on GDP".

Though he suggests caution is needed in the implementation of the investment fund, saying, "We cannot continue to invest in some countries without being realistic". 

The Catalan MEP describes Castellón airport in Spain as an example of wasted investment. The recently built complex has been called by some critics a 'ghost airport that nobody wanted'. It received its first flight earlier this year after opening more than four years ago.

To prevent situations like this from happening again, he argues that "cost-benefit criteria" are needed in order to ensure EU investments are made only in high-value, cost effective projects.

Though, for this approach to work, Tremosa also warns that poorer countries in the south such as Greece "must get accustomed to lower standards of living as investment is not as fruitful".

However, the recently elected Greek government under Alexis Tsipras has challenged this notion, instead calling for an end to austerity. The ongoing economic wrangling between Greece and the troika of European commission, European central bank and IMF auditors has created further financial uncertainty across the eurozone, with Greek authorities pushing for a debt cut.

"We cannot continue to invest in some countries without being realistic"

But Tremosa says that "negotiating another haircut would open up a Pandora's box", warning that a precedent could be set for other eurozone countries who face similar crises.

That being said, Tremosa has welcomed the democratic spirit of the elections but insists that the Greeks cannot ignore their fiscal obligations to the EU. "Tsipras has a democratic mandate from the Greek electorate. However, the mandate finishes where the other 27 democratic mandates of the EU begin […] You can't ignore taxpayers in other countries", says Tremosa.

But given the Greek government's decision to refuse the latest troika deal, Tremosa says, "If Greece doesn't want another troika agreement, then it can approach the financial markets". 

Furthermore, he claims "the rhetoric of the new government has not explained all the tools it has available to its citizens", implying that the Tsipras government has not considered all of its economic options, or been entirely truthful with the Greek electorate.

Ramon Tremosa i Balcells is a Catalan MEP and a member of the European parliament's ALDE group


Read the most recent articles written by Jon Benton - MEPs condemn plans for European football super league