“España es diferente.” Spain is different indeed.

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Today’s international post will focus on two big stories, from the Spanish perspective.

First of all, Catalunya’s legislature, the Generalitat, approved a “Declaration of Sovereignty” today. The measure was made the number one issue in Catalunya’s September elections, in which the nationalist-centrist party CiU won the majority of seats, but not enough to form a government alone. As such they sought and agreed to a deal with the second largest party, the leftist republican party of Catalunya (ERC), to from a government. This was in a sense a huge upset, because CiU had been expected to win the election handily given that sovereignty the key issue.

Both CiU and ERC, with the support of the Catalan green party, voted in favor of the declaration. In opposition were the Spanish Socialist Workers party (PSOE, a centre-left party a whose name is actually more bark than bite) and the People’s Party (the centre-right party governing Spain).  This represented an even bigger upset, as both the PSOE and PP have been the dominant parties in Spain’s politics starting in 1982, shortly after the end of the Franco era. Although they were expected to lose this battle, this declaration has surely sent a blow to Spain’s rigidly bipartisan system.

The issue of Catalan sovereignty has become salient as a result of the economic crisis, which has severely battered the Spanish state. Five years of austerity have done nothing to improve itsailing economy, which depended largely on the housing industry before that bubble’s burst in 2008. Prior to the housing and financial crisis, Spain’s government spending and borrowing was actually under control. The issue of sovereignty comes into play because Catalunya gives far more in taxes to the Spanish federal government than the federal government gives back, yet they have been forced to cut spending at the behest of the federal government. (Much like California, which has similarly faced budget crises).

For now anyway, the declaration is just that. Their is no independent Catalunya, at least not yet. The Generalitat has simply decided “to initiate the process of self-determination.” 

In other news today, Israel’s right wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu did not win reelection as handily as was expected. Which was, given the forecast before the election, cause enough for jubilation itself (at least for some). In any event, what it means is that Netanyahu’s Likud Party may have to form a coalition with other parties closer toward the center and center-left. As reporters for Madrid’s newspaper El País quippied, Netanyahu    “[may have] won, but he did not convince,” unabashedly referencing the famous utterance by Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno in response to one of Franco’s generals, José Millán Astray.

Spain is different indeed. And Catalunya even more so.

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