Catalan demands anger voters in other Spanish regions

2017-12-15 15:11
Protesters wave Spanish and Catalan Senyera flags during a pro-unity demonstration in Barcelona. (Pierre-Philippe4 Marcou, AFP, file)

Protesters wave Spanish and Catalan Senyera flags during a pro-unity demonstration in Barcelona. (Pierre-Philippe4 Marcou, AFP, file)

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Madrid - A long-running conflict between Madrid and Barcelona over Catalonia's independence drive is annoying voters in the rest of Spain who feel their concerns are being neglected.

"I am sick of hearing about Catalonia. And what about the rest of Spain, we don't have problems, we don't have crisis, we don't have anything?" complained Cristina Garcia, a nurse in the rain-soaked north-western region of Galicia.

She said she feels "insulted" whenever Catalans, including relatives who moved to the wealthy north-eastern region, use the popular separatist slogan "Spain robs us".

READ: Under attack over Catalonia, Spain's judiciary fights back

The phrase refers to the perception that Catalonia's prosperity is being squandered on other Spanish regions.

Support for independence in Catalonia - which votes in tight regional elections on Thursday that will determine the course of Spain's secession crisis - has soared since 2010, fuelled by the feeling that its demands are being ignored by Madrid.

Lower household income

This feeling angers many in poorer regions like Galicia that needs new roads and other infrastructure and where public health care is strained, especially in rural areas.

Spain's wealth is concentrated in a handful of regions. The country's 10 richest cities are found in Catalonia, the northern Basque Country and the central Madrid region, according to figures from national statistics institute INE.

Household income in towns with less than 5 000 residents, is 25% lower than the national average, according to 2015 tax returns.

But Catalans stress that they provide more money to the central government in Madrid than they receive back in investments.

This "fiscal deficit" stood at just under €10bn ($11.8bn) in 2014, the last year treasury ministry figures are available.

"They don't know our situation. We have much lower salaries, healthcare is more expensive," said Garcia.

"Some autonomous communities feel abandoned, and rightly so," said Eloisa del Pino, a political scientist with the Spanish National Research Council, citing the large swathes of Spain suffering from population ageing and the flight to big cities.

Among the worst-off regions is Extremadura in southwestern Spain, which has the country's lowest per capita income.

"The disregard on the part of the central government when it comes to infrastructure is affecting us a great deal in Extremadura," said Jose Gonzalez, who is in charge of transportation in the regional government.

Independence vote

In November, tens of thousands of protesters from Extremadura descended on Madrid to demand a "decent train" services for the region.

The train linking Madrid to Badajoz, Extremadura's most populous city, takes five hours.

By comparison the trip from the Spanish capital to Barcelona, the capital of Barcelona which is further away, takes three hours maximum by high-speed rail.

"You have to give Extremadura what it is entitled to, like to Catalonia," said Gonzalez.

Catalonia's nationalist leaders, who are used to negotiating investments with Madrid since Spain returned to democracy, began backing independence in 2012 after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government refused to discuss giving the region more tax and spend powers.

The strategy led to the Catalan parliament to declare independence on October 27.

Rajoy responded by dismissing the Catalan government, dissolving the Catalan parliament and calling early elections in the region.

Polls show separatist parties and parties that want Catalonia to remain a part of Spain are virtually tied.

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