The region of Catalonia announced on Tuesday it was calling a snap election over its drive for greater independence, deepening Spain’s crisis as its government struggles to avoid a full-blown bailout.
Catalonia’s president Artur Mas demanded “self-determination” for the region, raising pressure on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who has urged that the country stay united as it fights to secure its public finances.
“The time has come to exercise the right to self-determination,” Mas told the regional parliament, after Rajoy last week rejected his proposals for greater powers of taxing and spending.
“We do not have to justify who we are. We want the same instruments that other nations have to preserve our common identity,” he said.
Mas called an early vote for November 25, a de facto referendum on his demands for greater independence for the big north-eastern region, which is fiercely proud of its distinct language and culture and is the country’s richest region.
“The parliament that emerges will have a historic responsibility,” he said.
He reiterated his call for Catalans to have more control over their economy, which accounts for a fifth of Spain’s overall output.
“If Catalonia were a state, we would be among the 50 biggest exporting countries in the world,” he said.
Last month, Catalonia was forced to reach out for 5bn Euros from a central government fund to help it pay its 40bn Euro debt. The region complains that it gets far less from Madrid than it pays in taxes.
“The sharing of sacrifices between the state and the regions is very unfair,” Mas said. “The result is that the biggest cuts have to be made in health and education, which are the main responsibilities of the regions.”
Hundreds of thousands of people staged a pro-autonomy demonstration in the streets of Barcelona two weeks ago. Polls show growing support for independence in Catalonia, but Spain’s constitution bars a straight referendum on it.
“I think this debate, at this time, is creating tremendous instability” Deputy PM Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said on Cadena Ser radio.
“With all these actions a new crisis is being added to the crisis.”
The central government blames the 17 autonomous regions, which control key health and education budgets, for much of the overspending that has pushed the country’s public deficit far above its targets.
The country’s most populous region Andalusia this week became the fourth to announce it was considering seeking emergency bailout funds from the central government.
That would bring to 15bn Euros the total amount sought by two other big regions, Catalonia and Valencia, plus the smaller southern region of Murcia, from the fund which has 18bn Euros overall.