Problem solving

The potential economic cost of the Catalonia issue has been discussed exhaustively since the illegal independence referendum on October 1st. The more constructive task now is trying to work out whether there is a solution to the economic aspect of the Catalonia saga - a task to which the Spanish government has finally turned its attention. Apparently, it is now prepared to discuss granting Catalonia a greater degree of fiscal autonomy. Yet a fiscal solution, even if proposed by Madrid and accepted in Barcelona, would still only address one aspect of a problem that goes much deeper than economics.

Economics is a substantial part of the Catalonia crisis, of course - or at least it's said to be by separatists. It is a long-held grievance amongst secessionists in Catalonia that the region pays more in taxes to the central government than it receives back in public funding, and it is this complaint that the Spanish government is apparently now willing to address.

According to the UK's Guardian newspaper, a senior source in Rajoy's administration has said that “if the Catalans ask for a fiscal pact, we are ready to discuss this”. The minister indicated that a situation like that in Navarre and the Basque Country could be negotiated for Catalonia, whereby it collects its own taxes and decides on how much it wants to contribute to national defence and foreign policy.

But if Catalonia - a region that already enjoys a high level of autonomy - is handed yet more independence from Madrid, then why should the same not be granted to every Spanish region (even though most them are not asking for it)? And how can Madrid ramp up Catalonia's levels of self-governance without effectively awarding it full independence? These are formidable questions, but an even more complex one is whether a fiscal solution alone is enough to resolve the Catalonia crisis. The political divides that the issue has uncovered and inflamed suggest that such measures would not go to the heart of the matter.

That there is a deeper problem at the centre of the Catalonia issue was also suggested by speakers at this week's España 40-40, a series of debates discussing the history and future of Spanish democracy organised by El País newspaper.

Manuel Valls, a Barcelona-born former French prime minister, suggested that Spaniards have yet to ask themselves what it means to be Spanish, in part because displays of patriotism are still associated with the Franco regime: “The Spain narrative is missing... A new patriotism needs to be consolidated in Spain.”

It is difficult, especially for non-Spaniards, to imagine how a nationally-unifying “Spain narrative” might read, but perhaps something like one is needed before fiscal solutions to the Catalonia problem have a chance of bearing fruit.