Bewilderment over independent taxation
This week, an event organised by ARA about the Generalitat's underfinancing and, therefore, on the insufficiency of public resources to provide the services it is responsible for giving its citizens, showed the country's need for in-depth political debates, but also the weight of the past on a future that today is uncertain and a present that is still dominated by a collective feeling of frustration. This bewilderment not only affects sovereigntists but also unionist Catalans concerned about the economic and social outcome of the pandemic.
That four of the last five Catalan ministers of Economy consider underfunding to be unquestionable and agree on the practical impossibility of reforming the system in the current centralist Spain one is a reminder of the need for a political strategy for the future, the broader the better, with ambitious goals shared by the largest possible amount of people.
In the debate, with the presence of Antoni Castells, Andreu Mas-Colell, Oriol Junqueras and the current head of the portfolio, Jaume Giró, there was agreement and disagreement, but four of the best minds in the country shared the conclusion that underfunding is holding back the capacities of the Catalan economy. In other words, the State's anti-economic decision-making in Catalonia is putting the brakes on an engine that, in spite of everything, is working.
At present, I believe that to assume that underfunding will be permanent would be like accepting that Catalonia is condemned to lose weight and move towards irrelevance. Obviously not the entire Catalan economy depends on public finances, but businessmen know very well how fiscal decisions and investments in education, vocational training and research affect the formation of a quality labour market, competitive in terms of training and knowledge instead of low wages.
Sovereigntism has often been accused of being oversentimental – which may well be – but it is not so easy. Economic rationality is also a weighty argument that feeds the reasons for disengagement. A majority of citizens do not want to accept the condemnation to mediocrity that comes with the fact that decisions on infrastructures or resources are taken with priorities that different to theirs.
Taking stock of the Transition
The event on financing showed one of our weaknesses: the difficulty of making a political balance of the Transition based on facts which the protagonists back. Former Catalan president Jordi Pujol's final intervention was a case in point: he defended that Ramon Trias Fargas and Macià Alavedra had tried to negotiate an independent taxation system for Catalonia, but admitted that this was done without jeopardising the overall negotiation, nor their constructive attitude towards the new Spain. "If you rebel like the Basques, this will go to hell", and the response was cooperation.
One of the underlying questions of Catalan politics today is what role it should play in Spanish politics. The state of autonomies advanced because Catalonia took the lead; decades later a large majority of the country decided to disengage from Spain mentally and materially. Today, the situation must be rethought realistically, grounded in unquestionable majorities. It is no coincidence that in the Basque Country not even the PP dares to question the benefits of an independent taxation system.
Pujol called for improvements in financing because it is a "substantive" issue. We must listen to him because of his political baggage, but how many questions remain for Jordi Pujol to answer! His is an immense historical legacy that will have to be sifted over time for having allowed the family to confuse the country with the farmhouse.
Jordi Pujol assured that the agreement for Catalonia was impossible with the argument (Suárez, Gutiérrez Mellado, Garrigues Walker) that "it would unbalance everything".
Now the imbalance will have to be faced. Forty years later, the same people who threatened involution continue to control or inspire some institutions that are in the permanent vanguard of reaction.
Political Spain is adept at letting problems fester, and they do not magically solve themselves. Catalonia has cooperated and then tried to leave unilaterally. Today she needs a new strategy that involves conditioning majorities outside and building them inside around indisputable issues to improve the lives of her citizens