Produced by Vanessa Kortekaas. Graphics by Russell Birkett. Written by Michael Stothard.
The Catalonia region of Spain is set to vote on October 1 on whether to become an independent state. With a population of about seven million people and generating a fifth of Spain's GDP, Catalonia is a vital part of the country. The Spanish economy minister Luis De Guindos has warned that if Catalonia did eventually gain independence, their economy could shrink as much as 30%.
He also warned that a Catalan exit from Spain would lead to an automatic exit for the region from the EU and eurozone, making 75% of its production subject to export tariffs. The Catalans say that as one of the richest regions in Spain with an economy of a similar size to Finland and Portugal, they would be fine on their own.
Catalonia has been part of the Spanish state for centuries, but many Catalans regard themselves as a separate nation. Support for independence peaked up 49% in 2013 according to polls. That number has fallen in the past few years as the economy improved. Polls now show that the majority of Catalans want a referendum, but only a minority actually want independence.
The Catalan regional parliament recently approved a law to give the referendum a legal basis, saying there will be no minimum turnout requirement to make the result binding. But the central government backed by Spain's Constitutional Court says the attempt to hold a referendum is illegal and any officials seeking to organise the poll are liable to be prosecuted. Armed Spanish police working on court orders have already stormed several Catalan government offices and arrested more than a dozen people. The courts have also imposed fines on election officials, seized millions of ballot papers, and the state has increased its control over Catalan finances. While the outcome of the vote is irrelevant according to Spanish law, the Catalan parliament have promised to declare independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote, potentially leading to a grave constitutional crisis.