Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Thu November 12 2015

Catalonian Independence: Exploring Spain's Regionalism

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | November 12, 2015

Catalonian Independence: Exploring Spain's Regionalism

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For those who admire it from afar, Spain is a land of Moorish-style castles, two-hour siestas, four-hour dinners, nightlife-rich cities and sunny coastline. But there is a lot more to the definition of this country. Or, rather, the definition of Spain is very different depending on where in the country you visit. 

Spanish people usually identify themselves as citizens of a particular province or region instead of as “Spaniards.” Most people are familiar with the independence movement in the Basque region of Northeastern Spain. This area has a great deal of autonomy, but so do the other parts of the country. In fact, Spain is divided into a number of provinces that are officially called  “autonomous communities.” These communities are a modern invention that came about in the late 1970s after Franco left power. However, many of these modern borders are drawn along the same lines as Spain’s ancient kingdoms. There is a lot of history behind the regional loyalties.

A new country for Barcelona?

Now, Catalonia is making a major move towards independence. The provincial government has voted to secede from Spain and create its own country. This means that some of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations could potentially be part of a brand new nation. Barcelona, the Catalan capital, is very popular with tourists, and many Europeans flock to the beaches along Costa Brava during the summertime. 

Catalonia, which has struggled economically in recent years (but is still one of Spain’s wealthiest areas), instituted a tourist tax in 2012 to take advantage of all the people who visit Barcelona and the beach. This tariff is a kind of VAT that is levied on hotels, guesthouses and other tourist facilities (who, in turn, pass it on to guests). There has also been talk about creating a local currency that can be used in Barcelona or in wider Catalonia instead of the Euro. This would, in theory, help keep tourism dollars from moving elsewhere in the country. 

Could tourism make independence economically feasible?

Tourism is a major source of income for Catalonia. It has been since 1992, when Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympics. The sunny city sees more than seven million visitors per year. Things have gotten so busy during the high season that some locals have started complaining.

But this city of whimsical architecture, raucous nightlife, crowded beaches and pedestrian boulevards isn’t about to start limiting the number of visitors. Whether the current movement leads to actual independence or (more likely) greater autonomy, tourism is going to continue to play a major role in the economy of Catalonia. 

Will it actually happen?

Both informal surveys and formal polls have shown that Catalonia’s citizens are evenly divided between pro-secession and pro-Spain camps. Cooler heads are of the opinion that moving away from Spain would also mean moving away from the EU, which would not make sense economically. These people, and many pundits elsewhere in the world, think that the ultimate goal should be more economic independence from Spain (in the form of less taxes and regulation). They see this as a common-sense alternative to total secession.       

For now, Barcelona remains part of Spain. It would take a lot for the region to actually secede, but the whole affair does underline the strong regional loyalties in Spain, which many tourists are unaware of when they visit.   

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