Photo credit: Iakov Filimonov, Shutterstock
After declaring independence from Spain last week, Catalonia’s former leader Carles Puigdemont is seeking temporary refuge in Brussels. He risks 30 years in prison for misusing public money after holding an illegal referendum for Catalonia’s independence on October 1st and for inciting protests against the central government. Two other political activists are already under investigation and eight members of Catalonia’s regional government are held in custody, including the Deputy Vice President Oriol Junqueras, the Interior Minister, and the Foreign Affairs Minister.
Mr. Puigdemont spoke on October 31 at the Press Club in Brussels. Despite all the media hype, he reiterated that he is not seeking asylum but will return to Spain when he receives guarantees of a fair trial. At the press conference, Mr Puigdemont stated that the reason he launched the referendum and the process of independence was due to the “politicisation of the Spanish judiciary, its lack of impartiality, its pursuit of ideas – not crimes, and to explain to the world the serious democratic deficiencies of the Spanish state.” However, this reasoning doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny.
Catalonia is one of the richest and most industrialised regions of Spain. It accounts for 19 per cent of Spain’s GDP, 20.7 per cent of foreign investment, and 26.5 per cent of Spain’s exports, with only 16% of the population. According to the Office for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), if Catalonia were to become independent, it would be the 34th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $316 billion (exceeding Spain’s neighbour, Portugal). However, the region is slightly underfunded compared to the national average. According to figures from 2014, the central government allocated only 9.5 per cent of its budget to Catalonia, a 7% drop from just a decade before.
If it goes through, Catalonians may save some money in taxes and be able to allocate their revenue to local projects. However, they would also lose their current access to the Spanish and EU markets, which would have devastating economic effects on the region. Add this to the repayment of a significant debt, and it’s clear that this desire for independence could blow up in Catalonia’s face.
Last week, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, imposed direct rule on Catalonia and declared local elections will be held on December 21. At the press conference in Brussels, Mr Puigdemont stated that he and other members of the dismantled government would respect the result of the snap election, saying: “problems are solved by voting and not by imprisoning politicians and citizens.” However, Spain’s state prosecutor has requested a European warrant for dismissed Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and four of his former ministers. Whether Mr Puigdemont will be eligible to participate in the upcoming elections is still uncertain. That will be for the judges to decide. This saga is far from over.