The Catalan struggle for independence have taken the spotlight in recent weeks media, but what is Catalonia and what are they discontent with?

By Sing Lee and Kristoffer Olesen

Catalonia is a self-governing autonomous nation according to the Spanish Constitution and the Catalan Statute of Autonomy. The original statute is from 1979, after the end of Francisco Franco’s regime, but a new one was approved by referendum in 2006.

The status of Catalonia has been heavily disputed within Spain. The independence movement have historically been strong there, as Madrid only truly ruled the region after the War of Spanish Succession in the early 18th century.

In 2010 the Constitutional Court of Spain declared several articles of the new Statute of Autonomy non-valid. This became fuel to the fire of the already expansive independence movement and triggered the heavily-covered demonstrations of the past decade.


The Spanish bill

Apart from the lack of historical ties with Madrid, the main reason for the Catalan desire for independence is economical. The gap of what Catalans pays in taxes and what they get back from Madrid exceeds €10 billion per year. That’s 4% of their total GDP.


Catalans are known as skilled industrialists and merchants. Their nation is one of the richest regions in the Iberian Peninsula. Being net contributors to the Spanish economy, yet feeling disconnected with Madrid, many Catalans think those money could be better spent at home.


Particularly the disconnect to – and lack of interaction with – Madrid is disappointing for the people of Catalonia, according to Amadeu Altafaj, the Permanent Representative of the Catalan Government to the EU.


“What is happening now [the referendum] is mainly the result of an increasing frustration amongst Catalan citizens with the lack of political response from Madrid. Many Catalans feel like we’re being neglected and not heard,” he says.


Many Catalans have expressed a desire for similar fiscal autonomy as that enjoyed by the Basque region. This would give them more control over taxation and could potentially have been a peaceful resolution to the turmoil, but it has so far been denied by Madrid.


Catalonia in numbers

How does Catalonia look in numbers? We have compiled some information that might put the Catalonian state into perspective for many Europeans:


  • Catalonia is geographically as big as Belgium


  • The size of the Catalan population rivals that of Switzerland


  • Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, has as man inhabitants as Vienna, the capital of Austria.


  • The GDP of Catalonia is comparable to that of Finland


  • The number of Catalan speakers are equal to that of Swedish speakers