Politics of Catalonia

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Catalonia is a Spanish autonomous community with a high-level of self-government. Politics of Catalonia are primarily related to the autonomous Government of Catalonia (Generalitat de Catalunya) institutional system, including the Parliament of Catalonia, the President and the Executive Council.

Catalan politics also influences Spanish politics as a whole due to the presence of Catalan nationalist parties in the Spanish Parliament, whose political support is often required by any given winner of the Spanish general elections to form majorities. Convergence and Union has been described as being "long the region's dominant political party".[1] Catalan politics is also noted, to a lesser extent, for the influence exerted by the Socialists' Party of Catalonia on its sister major party, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE).

19th and 20th centuries

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Catalonia was one of the main centres of Spanish industrialisation. During these years, the struggle between the Barcelonan conservative industrial bourgeoisie and the working class dominated Catalan politics, as it did elsewhere in Europe during the industrialisation process. In Catalonia this situation was nuanced by the fact that immigrants from the rest of the Spain were an increasing portion of the workers, since the local workforce was not enough to cover the demands of a rising economy.

Catalan nationalist and federalist movements arose in the nineteenth century, and when the Second Republic was declared in 1931, Catalonia became an autonomous region. Following the fall of the Second Republic after the Spanish Civil War of 1936–39, the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco annulled Catalonia's autonomy statute and prohibited any public usage, official promotion or recognition of the Catalan language. Its private everyday use was never officially proscribed by law but diminished because of the political situation, mostly in the major urban nuclei. During the last decade of Franco's rule, there was a resurgence of nationalist sentiment in Catalonia and other 'historic' regions of Spain such as the Basque country.

"Dual vote" and current affairs

Following Franco's death in 1975 and the restoration of democracy by 1978, Catalonia regained its autonomous status and became one of the autonomous communities within Spain. The Catalan conservative nationalist leader Jordi Pujol came to power in the first regional elections in 1980 and his two-party coalition, Convergence and Unity (CiU), won successive regional elections by absolute majority for 19 years and ruled the autonomous government for 23 consecutive years.

CiU's hegemony was in spite of the major cities (including Barcelona's) having been controlled by its main rival party, PSC. It was also in spite of what has been defined as the "dual vote". This refers to the fact that elections results in Catalonia consistently vary depending on the elections type. Thus, elections for the Catalan regional Parliament have been historically won by the conservative nationalist CiU (this trend keeps in place, even though CiU lost the absolute majority in recent times). However, the social democrat non-nationalist PSC-PSOE has been, and continues to be, the winner of elections for the Spanish Parliament. This has been explained because of the abstention to the regional elections of those voters less concerned with identity questions, and the correspondent high turn out amongst more locally motivated nationalist voters. In addition to this, studies have shown that a number of voters consciously swing their votes from CiU to PSOE, depending on the type of election[2]

Following the 1996 national elections in Spain, Pujol surprised many by lending CiU's support in the Cortes Generales to the minority government of the People's Party (Partido Popular, PP). After having served more than 15 years ruling the autonomous community of Catalonia led by Jordi Pujol, CiU had become eroded while the Socialists' Party of Catalonia (PSC-PSOE), a sister-party of Spain's main social democrat party (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, PSOE), began to enjoy electoral popularity also in the Catalan elections context. This trend culminated in the 2003 elections which saw CiU ousted from the government for the first time in 20 years by means of a tripartite left-wing coalition.

When it comes to the nationalist question, one of the 'fault-lines' in contemporary Catalan politics arises from the fact that Barcelona, with its strong metropolitan economy, continues to attract migrants from all over the world. This contemporary layer of immigration is prone to speak Spanish over Catalan and adds to second and third generation Catalans whose families arrived from other parts of Spain during the 20th century in order to cover the needs of industrial workers which the Catalan economy demanded to prosper; from the latter, some have become proficient in Catalan, others have not.

On the other side, Catalan remains the predominant language in middle-class and upper-class urban areas, as well as in the region's rural and small cities population. All in all, Spanish remains the language spoken by a significant portion of Catalans, particularly in working-class areas. For Catalan nationalists this is perceived, in the worst case, as a threat, in the best case, as a challenge to be confronted, because Catalan nationalism is centered on language rather than ethnicity.

In any case, Catalan has undoubtedly experienced a spectacular revival since the death of Franco, it has become the language of the autonomous government and enjoys a prominence and widespread use. But the dominant presence in some areas of Spanish-speakers keeps blocking the Catalan nationalist desire of making Catalan language use universal.

Terra Lliure

Terra Lliure ("Free Land" or "Free Fatherland"), which was defined as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, was founded in 1978 as the armed organisation of the Catalan Movement of National Liberation (MCAN), a wide movement seeking independence and socialism for Catalonia and the whole Catalan speaking domain, including Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Northern Catalonia (in Southern France), what is also known as the Catalan Countries.

It began an armed campaign, consisting of hundreds of bombings which was brought to an end by harsh police operations in 1992. 4 of its members were killed in action and it accidentally caused an innocent victim in one of its bombings. Organisations such as the Movement in Defense of the Fatherland (MDT) provided political support, with mass demonstrations and representatives in some town councils, but during the 1990s the political wing too lost support, resulting in several years of political weakness, which gave way to a revival towards the end of the century.

Despite its similarities, the activities of Terra Lliure and the MCAN have not reached the strength and notoriety of ETA and the basque pro-independence movement.

During the 21st century

At the 2003 regional elections (for which Pujol did not run) CiU could not renew its absolute majority and PSC's Pasqual Maragall became President of the Generalitat by means of a left-wing tripartite coalition. Maragall's socialists kept being the main opposition party, but actually lost seats: the bigger winners were the independentist Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), and the ecosocialists. Since CiU did not win an absolute majority, the combined forces of all three left parties allowed the change in government. While PSC maintained the post of President of the Generalitat (Maragall), ERC nominated the First Minister (Conseller Primer)Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira and, later on, Josep Bargalló.

This first tripartite rule became an uneasy coalition due to tensions between the PSC and ERC and internal tensions between PSC and PSOE as well. The evidence of such an uneasy relationship was the controversial forging of the amendment to the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia.

The 2006 regional election saw Convergència i Unió (CiU) increasing its numbers, while both the PSC and ERC lost seats, but still was not enough of an increase for CiU to block the formation of a second left-wing tripartite coalition (PSC+ERC+ICV), again led by PSC's, this time being José Montilla the President of the Generalitat. Also this election saw a newly created party Ciutadans - Partido de la Ciudadanía entering the regional Parliament.

The new century has also seen a revival of the Esquerra Independentista (pro-independence left), which has again regained some of its strength after the end of Terra Lliure in 1995. Its Popular Unity Candidancies Candidatures d'Unitat Popular have done well in the municipal elections of 2007, gaining over 20 town council members.

The amendment to the Statute and current political issues

Unlike the autonomous communities of Navarre and the Basque Country, Catalonia lacks its own tax system; thus the economic financing of the regional administration depends almost entirely on funds raised by national-government taxation and budgeted to Catalonia. This became a mainstream issue at the time of amending the Catalan Statute of Autonomy. From an economic perspective, the regional government aims to achieve a high degree of fiscal autonomy (based on the argument that the region pays in more to the national Spanish coffers than it receives, thus overlooking the "solidarity between regions" enshrined by the Spanish Constitution of 1978).

There was a significant political controversy as a result of the Catalan parliament's proposed draft of a replacement Autonomy Statute which sought to define Catalonia as a 'nation'.[3] Article 2 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution states that the constitution "is based in the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation (Nación)" while also referring to the "right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions (nacionalidades y regiones)". These nationalities and regions are left unnamed in the Constitution. The controversy centered on whether referring to any Autonomous Community of Spain as a "nation" may go against Article 2 and whether the Catalan claim to be a nación rather than a nacionalidad had separatist overtones subversive of the "indissoluble unity" of Spain. There was also a high degree of controversy about the control of all taxes, and a parallel judicial system. In the end, and after much controversy, a watered-down version was passed, although the political debate lingers on.

The independence issue

Main article: Catalan independence
Independentism support Catalonia, according to ICPS

It would be difficult to understand the current politics of Catalonia without the issue of independence or self-determination. The law does not recognize a "right of self-determination" in spite of a politically relevant pro independence movement in Catalonia. According to the governmental Sociology Studies Center (CIS) CIS official poll in 2001 there were 33.9% of Catalans in favor of an independent Catalonia, 48.1% against, 13.3 undecided and 2.8% did not answer. If the individual was Catalan speaker and was less than 44 years of age then 75% was in favor of independence. CIS has not repeated this poll to date.

Conversely, factors such as public indifference at the time of voting the amendment of the Statute of Autonomy (see "dual vote" section above) starkly contrasted with the harsh political controversy behind its amendment. Besides, the advent in the 2006 regional elections of a new party whose main ideology is countering Catalan nationalism, Ciutadans - Partido de la Ciudadanía, all make the independence issue a far from univocal question.

In 2007, a poll indicated that, when asked about the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, 59.5% of respondents thought that Catalonia should be an autonomous community within Spain (the current situation), 17.5% considered that Catalonia should be a state within a federal state and only 13.5% believed that Catalonia should be an independent state separate from Spain. The rest of respondents gave other answers, although only a small minority, 5.5%, stated that Catalonia should be a region within Spain, which would mean less self-government.[4]

Another official poll by Centre d'Estudis d'Opinió (CEO) in 2012 determined that 51% of Catalans would vote for an independent Catalonia if there was a referendum, 21.1% would vote against and another 21.1% would not vote. [5]


Summary of votes and seats

The latest parliamentary elections took place in September 2015.

Summary of the 27 September 2015 Catalan Parliament election results
Party Vote Seats
Votes % ±pp Won +/−
Together for Yes (JxSí) 1,620,973 39.54 Increase3.11 62 Increase4
Citizens-Party of the Citizenry (C's) 734,910 17.93 Increase10.36 25 Increase16
Socialists' Party of Catalonia (PSC-PSOE) 522,209 12.74 Decrease1.69 16 Decrease4
Catalonia Yes we Can (CSQP) 366,494 8.94 Decrease0.96 11 Decrease2
People's Party of Catalonia (PPC) 348,444 8.50 Decrease4.48 11 Decrease8
Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) 336,375 8.20 Increase4.72 10 Increase7
Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC) 102,870 2.51 Decrease5.47 0 Decrease13
Animalist Party Against Mistreatment of Animals (PACMA) 29,785 0.73 Increase0.16 0 ±0
Zero Cuts-The Greens (Recortes Cero-Els Verds) 14,390 0.35 Increase0.28 0 ±0
Let's Win Catalonia (Ganemos) 1,158 0.03 New 0 ±0
Pirates of Catalonia-To Decide Everything (Pirata.cat/XDT) 326 0.01 Decrease0.49 0 ±0
Blank ballots 21,941 0.53 Decrease0.91
Total 4,099,875 100.00 135 ±0
Valid votes 4,099,875 99.61 Increase0.51
Invalid votes 15,932 0.39 Decrease0.51
Votes cast / turnout 4,115,807 77.44 Increase9.68
Abstentions 1,199,106 22.56 Decrease9.68
Registered voters 5,314,913
Source: Generalitat of Catalunya
Vote share
Blank ballots
Parliamentary seats


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