Catalonians go to the polls on 25 November to vote for a new regional parliament but the key issue is greater autonomy from the central Spanish government.
The larger than expected independence day march in Barcelona on 11 September, together with the breakdown in negotiations between the region and the central government over a loan to help Catalonia service its public debt, is largely responsible for the decision by the region’s president, Artur Mas, to call an election two year’s ahead of schedule.
Catalonia accounts for about 20 per cent of all Spanish production but claims that it receives little in return from the central government. The employment rate is at about 20 per cent and although it is the richest region it is also the one with the largest public debt.
In support of Mas, who says that he will seek a referendum on greater independence if he is reelected, the Catalonian parliament has also voted overwhelming in favour of a referendum after the elections. However under the terms of the Spanish constitution a regional referendum can only be called with the consent of the central government and should be voted on by all Spaniards.
All 135 seats in parliament are up for election. The new parliament then votes for the president of the region, but there seems little doubt that Mas will be returned to power.
The elections will have repercussions outside the region, with some Spanish hard-line nationalists already calling for military intervention to block more autonomy for Catalonia. Spain’s vice prime minister has also said that the central government will resist any attempts at self-government, taking Catalonia to the constitutional court if necessary. Suggestions by Spain’s minister for education that the central government will give money to private schools in Catalonia that teach in Spanish have also increased tensions. At present the school system guarantees equal status to the two languages, Catalan and Spanish.