Exclusive: Catalonia complains to Brussels about unfair treatment by Spain

Thu Jan 31, 2013 5:38am EST
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Debt-laden Catalonia has complained to Brussels that it is being unfairly treated by Spain's central government in the country's drive to cut its public deficit and avoid fiscal meltdown.

In a January 25 letter to European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn and seen by Reuters, Catalonia's economy chief Andreu Mas-Colell, says Madrid has not followed European guidance to share out cost-cutting efforts in line with cost burdens.

"Unfortunately these are not the principles that the Spanish government has followed in setting regional targets, thus contributing to unnecessary acrimony and contentiousness," the letter says.

The Commission is not likely to take any action on the letter because it leaves intra-country distribution of revenues and expenditures to national governments.

But politically, the direct appeal to Brussels is bound to irritate Madrid at a time when a surging separatist movement in the northeast region of Catalonia has already strained relations with Spain's central government.

Catalan President Artur Mas has vowed to hold a referendum on secession from Spain by 2014, saying Catalonia should be a separate state within the European Union and the euro monetary union. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says such a vote would be unconstitutional.

In the past week Mas and Rajoy's foreign minister have sparred publicly over Madrid's plan to curtail Catalonia's diplomatic representation in other countries.

A spokeswoman at the Spanish economy ministry said the ministry had no comment on the letter. Rehn spokesman Simon O'Connor also said he could not comment.

Catalonia argues its deficit goal of 1.5 percent of economic output is too tough at a time that it has had to ask Madrid for rescue funds - 5.4 billion euros last year and 9.1 billion euros this year - to meet debt payments and pay workers.   Continued...

Catalunya's President Artur Mas gestures during a speech at a session of the Catalunya's Parliament in Barcelona, January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Albert Gea