What are the main policy differences between Spain (as exemplified by current government in power) and Catalonia (assuming it obtained its independence/sovereignity right now, and regional government became as-is the government of a new country, in terms of political parties in power)?

Are there meaningful differences in policy planks on economy? governance? foreign policy views?

Any answers should hopefully be based on published material from Catalonian current political leadership (speeches, policy papers, etc...)

3 Answers 3


There are no "political differences" (v.g. right vs left, or in favor of more press freedom or less), in fact both the Catalonian new government and the opposition have both left and right wing parties. They want to stay in the EU, remain a democracy, etc. etc. In fact one of the "weapons" that the Madrid government holds is that it can block the admission of an independent Catalonia in the EU forever.

The only political difference is the independence issue itself, which is mostly (IMHO) an economic issue.

  • For one part, Catalonians see themselves as a different group, mostly due to a different language.

  • For the other, there has been a long (3 centuries) story of almost continuous cultural imposition of Spanish, with the Catalonian being banned from schools and formal uses. Most of it currently reversed, but it is still a hot issue (with some people in Catalonia claiming that only Catalonian should be official language -to force everybody to learn it- and other people claiming for co-oficially with Spanish -the status quo-)

  • Include "politics as usual": some politician in Catalonia makes some childish claims against Spain to get a handful more of votes in Catalonia, other politician in Madrid answers in the same tone get a handful of votes himself in Madrid.

  • All of this serves as background to the economical issue: Catalonia GDP per capita is higher than Spain mean GDP per capita, so there is a perceived additional "damage" done to Catalonia as it pays more taxes per capita. Add to it the couple of usual prejudices ("government people live from our work", "people from the South are lazy because they get government aid that we pay for", etc.), mix in some corruption (both actual and perceived) and you have a nice "corpus" for some Catalonians to demand independence.

  • Additionally, getting the public something to distract with is always useful for any ruler in dire straits. In the last years a lot of the above mentioned corruption has been made public and is being prosecuted. And some cases have surfaced too near one of the most important parties in Catalonia, which -suddenly- has passed from agreeing to be part of Spain -even if asking for more self-government- to embrace completely the independentist cause.

TL;DR Other than a claim of being taxed too much and receiving too little from Spain, there is not much difference in the model of state. In that sense, it is not that different from claims from some Flemish people in Belgium, some North Italians in Italy or some people in Texas.

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    The era of Walloon arrogance was a century ago, now it's Flanders that's richer (and separatist).
    – Relaxed
    Nov 10, 2015 at 8:55
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    Good answer. However, (1) I would prefer some sort of sourcing of the details and (2) I'd recommend removing Texas from your list of examples of "not that different". I don't know much about Wallons or Catalonia; but in Texas case, the policy differences are significant and the main reason for disunionist sentiment has very little to do with direct "taxes regionally paid//owed" economics.
    – user4012
    Nov 10, 2015 at 15:18
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    @user4012 while the policy differences of those people in Texas might be different, the positions those people hold are in no means unique to those in Texas. To me the example fits.
    – user5155
    Nov 10, 2015 at 17:30
  • The Wallons are actually pro-Belgium, it's Flanders which is wishing to separate.
    – Bregalad
    Nov 10, 2015 at 18:11
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    @gerrit - if you can list them, i'd appreciate an answer
    – user4012
    May 23, 2016 at 17:39

The central government in Madrid regularly takes laws declared in Catalan parliament to court, arguing those laws can only be enacted nationally. In itself, such is just a conflict of sovereignty. However, there would be no conflict if the government in Madrid already had a law with the same effect, so this conflict of sovereignty implies that Madrid and Barcelona seek different policies. I've looked at some examples, and the laws I've seen reports on all seem to be laws that would normally be described as progressive/left-wing/socialist (In the USA it would be called “liberal”). Some examples below.

Legality of bullfighting

From BBC News: Catalan bullfights: Spanish top court overturns ban:

Spain's constitutional court has overturned a ban on bullfighting in Catalonia, declaring it unconstitutional.


The Spanish constitutional court's ruling is like a red rag to a bull for those who already support independence for Catalonia because many will disagree with a decision that has taken years to arrive.

This is not unique to Catalonia, a similar conflict exists with the Balearic Islands.

Sovereignty/policy/trust on inspection in detention centre

The regional Catalan ombudsperson wanted to inspect a migrant detention centre to investigate complaints of mistreatment and torture. This was prohibited by the central government:

Moreover, the recent prohibition of the Spanish Government’s Delegate in Catalonia to the Catalan Ombudsman to visit the facilities of the centre has increased even more the feeling of distrust with regard to this type of institutions

Catalan law aimed to help the poor, Spain aims to get cancelled

A Catalan law prohibits energy companies to cut off electricity and gas to poor families under particular circumstances. Part of this law has been suspended while the central government in Madrid has taken it to the constitutional court, to ensure that that all Spanish are equal before the justice:

(...) some measures oriented toward stopping evictions or at least examining each situation before proceeding to this, have been suspended.

[Catalan president] Puigdemont: Spain’s executive leaves the most vulnerable “in the open”

Barcelona wants to host more refugees, blocked by Spain

Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, who spoke on behalf of the European cities, criticised Spain’s obstacles to Barcelona hosting refugees coming from Greece, Turkey and Italy. “We are deeply ashamed that today thousands of kids, and elderly and sick people die on Europe’s borders”, she lamented. “It is not proper of cities which aim to be from the first world and an example of human rights”, she added.

Catalan fracking ban taken to constitutional court

In particular, the TC gave leave to proceed with article 167.1 of the Parliament Law which established the prohibition of exploring, investigating and extracting hydrocarbons deposits through this technique in which rock is fractured by a pressurised liquid. According to the Court, it is the Spanish State which has the competences to allow or forbid this technique and the magistrates referred to the sentences which banned ‘fracking’ in other Autonomous Communities in Spain and which have ultimately been suspended.

...and more...

And there are many more examples (emphasis mine):

There are now 30 laws being challenged in the Constitutional Court, most of them because Madrid considers that Catalonia is acting beyond its recognised powers

(Apologies that the reports are mostly from the same source. It's the only English language source I could find; the little bit of Catalan news I get is mostly from a Dutch magazine not publicly available online)

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    @roetnig The federal government did not introduce such laws. The regional government did. If there were no policy differences, the federal government would apply those laws federally.
    – gerrit
    Sep 25, 2017 at 14:45
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    @roetnig The autonomous government attempts to implement certain policies. The national government states those policies are not within the competence of the autonomous government. The national government does not implement those policies, even though it is within its competence. Evidently, the policies that the autonomous government desires to implement differ from the policies that the national government actually implements.
    – gerrit
    Sep 25, 2017 at 19:31
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    @roetnig Indeed, they cannot. And if they would try to locally enact what the region or nation won't, than one could accurate state that there are pollicy differences, which is exactly what the question is about (BTW, I'm surprised the timezone is not a autonomous responsibility, is it up to Madrid to decide the Canary Isles are in a different timezone? That's surprising).
    – gerrit
    Sep 25, 2017 at 21:31
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    @roetnig Yes, if a city in the US refuses to cooperate with some Trump anti-immigration policy then there is a policy difference between than city and the federal government. I am not convinced by your point about timezones but that is beyond the scope of this question. When there are no policy differences, differences in competences are irrelevant. The differences in competences only arise because the Catalan government wishes to introduce policies that the one in Madrid does not.
    – gerrit
    Sep 26, 2017 at 9:20
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    @roetnig There is no contradiction. They cannot rule on certain subjects but they can still have different desired policies in areas they cannot rule on. Key here is that they desire additional competencies, and within those additional competencies they desire, their desired policies differ from existing national policies.
    – gerrit
    Sep 26, 2017 at 11:22

The answer from SJuan76 is very well pointed, but not 100% accurate. The economic prevalence of Catalonia was true for decades, and encouraged first by dictator Franco and later by the nationalist parties threats that got all kind of economic privileges from the national Spanish democratic governments in order to maintain themselves (both sides, the Catalan nationalist regional governments and the central national government) in power.

A kind of quid pro quo and everybody happy (everybody means the politicians...): "I overlook elsewhere and I pretend not seeing your corruption in Catalonia if you support me to get majority and rule in the national central government, and you also look elsewhere regarding my own dirty clothes and corruption and other Spanish regions".

But in the last decade the Catalan economy has been falling slowly but steadily while other regional economies rose and grew strongly, namely the economy of the Madrid metropolis and its surrounding region. Today the economy of Madrid (one province) is by far stronger than Catalan economy (four provinces).

Besides, Madrid continues going up and Catalonia down. And this "folly towards the independence race" -Financial Times's words of today November 12th, 2015, not mine- is very seriously damaging the regional economy and notably the foreign investment in Barcelona and Catalonia. Many foreign multinationals are discreetly warning that if this goes further they will move sites and investments to Madrid or other Spanish regions; not just foreign companies, a few thousand Catalan companies have moved out of Catalonia only in the last two years. Moreover two of the biggest Spanish banks (CaixaBank and Banco de Sabadell) are Catalan (not only because of their sites and origin, but they are as well proudly Catalan and it's in their "blood", culture and statutory foundation), anyhow they have most of their business in the rest of Spain and have changed their statutes and announced that they are preparing to move their sites from Barcelona province to Madrid. That means something.

But the main point that you overlooked is the real reason of this crazy race to nowhere. The nationalist politicians and the elite lobby very deeply associated to them, who have ruled Catalania's regional government and economy for the last thirty years are today very seriously in trouble (probably they could finish in jail) and being investigated by several judges because of continuous fraud to the law and taxes fraud. Everyone who wanted to make business or just establish their Spanish subsidiary in Catalonia had to pay a toll of minimum 3% to the nationalist party in the regional government and the ruler (Jordi Pujol) and all his partners (including today's last regional president and leader of this "folly", Arturo Mas). This includes all businesses associated to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

You can ask to the last publicized company who paid such ransom just to open a factory in Catalonia and get J.Pujol to inaugurate it (and probably other future privileges still sub iudice): the pharmaceutical Ciba-Geigy.

The numbers that the Justice is discovering that the nationalist leaders (and the nationalist party, that was officially involved technically in the reception of these illegal commissions as well) defrauded to all Catalans and Spaniards and evaded to fiscal paradises are reaching today (November 12th, 2015) 6,500 millions euros.

And these numbers being publicized by the Press are growing steeply each day, because we know today only what was evaded to half of the Andorra banks and from just a few of all the other tax-evading paradises that they used. Other banks in those paradises have still to send the official statements of the money evaded during these 30 years. And besides, all of this is shown to be quite hard and long to prove and know, because they have moved the money from bank to bank, from country to country, and most of the economy and social Catalan ruling elite is seriously involved in these commissions and evasions businesses, and therefore not very favourable to denounce it.

Curiously they are those promoting and supporting this independence, for the most part.

Another point. These last years the Spanish citizenship has awaken and wants to change the actual political statu quo, all over Spain, including Madrid, Catalonia, regional governments, national government, town halls, etc., and in all political sensitivities. Don't forget that the "Occupy Wall Street" movement "was born in Spain" with the 15-M movement, root of today's new rising radical party "Podemos" (We can), with similar demands (at least in the origins) to the Greek Syriza. At the same time, another new party, "Ciudadanos" (Citizens), is growing crazily in the expectations in just one year, from zero -they didn't exist before- to the second position both in the national Parliament and in the last ejections to, a few days ago, to the Catalan Parliament.

The traditional parties, from left to right, in every region, are losing elections and people's support in favor of these newly born parties day by day. The hard economical crisis, affecting especially the middle and low classes, the corruption discovered day after day in all regions and all ruling parties, and the fact that almost nobody goes to jail, gets fined, returns the money, or simply just resigns. Nobody... In Spain you can steal, lie openly, and promise the moon, and people will still vote you... Until now!!!.

And the traditional parties don't know how to react to regain power and fight back these new young clean parties that have the endeavour to regenerate the politics in Spain and who don't use anymore the usual labels of left, right, and they speak with a new speech and and a totally new discourse.

To this every political party chooses to react in a different way to try to keep in power. Catalan nationalists chose to become more and more radicals, trying to hide their corruption and economic failure behind the independence flag. Simply.

To conclude, this crazy race forward to the vacuum outside of Europe (citing the Financial Times) has a main hidden reason: to avoid going to jail. If Catalonia becomes another country, Spanish rules will not apply (and European ones as well), and they can make new rules to just keep in power no matter what (by the way, avoiding having to pay back what they stole or having to go to jail).

They have "extremed" and exacerbated the situation within the region during these last years, so that they managed to have now a situation of total confrontation of Catalan citizens in two opposing sides in Catalonia: half of the Catalans are for the independence (49%), half for staying in Spain (like in the last 500 years) and comply with the Constitution and the Spanish and European rules (51% of the votes in the last regional elections few weeks ago).

If because of an allegedly idealism (that hides escaping corruption behind idealistic flags), you decide to break every rule to achieve your goals (they just broke yesterday the own laws of their own Catalan Parliament, because it didn't fit their interests), what kind of legitimacy can they have when they rule their own country? Who will trust them? They have technically the simple majority in the new Catalan Parliament, even though most of electors vied against them (49% vs. 51% of votes). Blame the stupid D'Hont electoral laws applied in Spain, that nobody changes because it favours the biggest parties, no matter if they get less total votes, however it gets the traditional parties more Parliament seats with less votes. (By the way, both new parties, Podemos and Ciudadanos, have promised to change this unfair electoral law if they win the next Spanish elections, by the end of this year, December 20th.)

Big companies and investment trusts won't trust them, for sure. They are already voting and reacting...

Beyond that, take your own conclusions. Regards.

P.S.: I am not Catalan nor from Madrid. I am from another Spanish region.

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    A couple of comments. There are a few points in your answer where you're talking about another user's answer. If you want to comment on his answer, then you should do so in the comments section after you've earned some reputation. Secondly, your answer is really long, and it looks like it can be greatly reduced if you only stuck to the crucial parts of the question, and avoided side-analysis. Shorter answers are better because they're easy to consume. Nov 12, 2015 at 19:16
  • You are right, @SamIam. I wanted to reference a previous answer, but I wanted to provide mine too. Second, if I cannot comment until I earn more reputation, this becomes the never-ending story, really odd system. Third, I admit that I write too much, way too long, but a) I want to be as thorough as possible in a matter where foreign people are very often misconfused about our local reality, b) I can't help it, sorry!, it's stronger than me, and c) I am taking part right now at the NaNoWriMo and I am now mislead by the habit of having to write as much as possible each day. :-) Nov 13, 2015 at 8:37
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    you can still edit your answer you know. Nov 13, 2015 at 14:12
  • The privileges to catalonian industry started in the XIX century, when textile products from England (better quality and cheaper in origin) were imposed with a heavy tax that made them four times more expensive than lower quality textile products from Catalonia.
    – roetnig
    Sep 18, 2017 at 13:06
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    No obsession with Madrid (change that with Sevilla, Galicia, etc., the idea is the same), but you make a point of considering that the tariffs were some exceptional measure specifically to protect Catalonia because it was Catalonia (privileges) while reality is that at the moment every industrialized/ing country used tariffs to protect industry, and also as the main source of taxes. And of course, tariffs helped producers but hurt consumers, but that applied across all the country (even consumers in Catalonia were hurt), making it more of a class issue than a regional one.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 18, 2017 at 14:12

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