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Catalonia's Government Votes For Independence From Spain

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Catalonia, in northern Spain, has its own language, its own culture, and today, its Parliament voted for independence. Spain's central government in Madrid says the vote is illegal and will be challenged in the courts. Let's go to Madrid now and to reporter Lauren Frayer. Lauren, give us some details. What did Catalonia's Parliament vote for this morning?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Well, Linda, it's approved an 18-month road map to disconnect from Spain. It's calling for the creation of an independent republic of Catalonia by 2017. And perhaps most crucially, it's calling for disobedience before Spain's constitutional court. It says that court has been delegitimized. That court is Spain's highest court and it's Spain's main tool against Catalan cessation. The Spanish constitution says Spain's unity is indivisible and thus one region can't break away. But this declaration says that from now on Catalonia won't be legally bound by any Spanish institutions. Instead, it'll only answer answer to the Catalan Parliament's rules and laws.

WERTHEIMER: So how will they go about this? How will they form a new country in Europe?

FRAYER: Right, because people in Barcelona, for example, the Catalan capital, currently pay taxes to the Spanish government. Well, on this 18-month road map, the first order of business - within 30 days in fact - is passage of new laws to create a Catalan tax authority, also a local Catalan Social Security system. Once those new systems are set up, Catalan public sector workers for example would immediately start paying tax to this new entity rather than to the Spanish government. Now, the trick will be to convince big multinational companies, say, with offices in the Catalan capital, Barcelona, to stop paying their taxes to Madrid and start sending it to the Catalan government instead. I mean, theoretically, Spain could sue those companies for tax evasion.

WERTHEIMER: What's been the comment from the central government in Madrid?

FRAYER: Well, basically, the Spanish government says this declaration by Catalonia won't change a thing. It's symbolic but illegal and impossible to carry out - so the Spanish government says. Spain's prime minister is filing an immediate appeal to the constitutional court. He'll hold an emergency cabinet meeting tomorrow. The court could rule that this Catalan declaration is illegal as early as later this week. And after that, we could see Madrid take action, possibly cut off funding to Catalonia, possibly take over the local Catalan police force, send in national police loyal to Madrid, possibly even try to remove Catalan lawmakers from office for violating the Spanish constitution.

WERTHEIMER: Why is this happening now, Lauren? Catalonia has long-sought more autonomy, but what brought it to a head right now?

FRAYER: Well, remember last year when Scotland held its independence referendum? Well, Catalonia held one, too, exactly one year ago today. They voted overwhelmingly for independence, but turnout was low because Madrid called the vote illegal and vowed even ahead of time to not recognize its results. Catalan lawmakers say they have no other democratic way to show their preferences now. Catalonia is Spain's economic powerhouse. It makes up a fifth of Spanish GDP, and we're coming off a big economic recession here in which Catalan's started to resent how much tax money they pay to Madrid to subsidize poorer regions of Spain. Not only is it the economic powerhouse, Catalonia is a main tourist hub for the country with that regional capital, Barcelona. And by the way, this is a controversial thing even inside Catalonia. The declaration was approved today, 72 votes to 63, so that's far from unanimous. And right after the vote, there were shouts in the Catalan chamber of independence but then some unionist lawmakers shouted viva Espana, long live Spain.

WERTHEIMER: Reporter Lauren Frayer in Madrid, thank you very much.

FRAYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.