According to the BBC, Spain’s government is set to remove autonomy from the region after Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, failed to meet Madrid’s deadline for clarifying whether he had declared independence.
Earlier this month, RTS, Switzerland’s state broadcaster said neutral Switzerland was ready to help facilitate discussions between Spain’s government and Catalonia.
In addition to being neutral, Switzerland’s federal structure, which brings together numerous regions with different languages and cantonal governments to create one nation, could provide some insights.
Switzerland has 26 cantons, or administrative regions, and four national languages. The cantons are held together by a federal constitution that provides a high degree of cantonal autonomy.
The Swiss constitution recognizes the cantons’ languages and provides for communication between federal government and the cantons in the official language of choice.
In Spain, central government communication with Spain’s regions must be conducted in Spanish, known specifically as Castilian1. Catalan is an official language, but only within the region.
In Switzerland, taxes are calculated and paid into three buckets: federal, cantonal and communal. Cantonal and communal tax rates are set locally and the tax spent there. Local cantonal and communal taxes are most of the tax take. This gives Switzerland’s cantons a high degree of financial independence.
There is a tax equalization mechanism of inter-cantonal payments, that transfers revenue from cantons with high tax revenue to those with less, a kind of over-the-top adjustment, however the transfer amounts are relatively modest.
In Spain, tax is paid into a central pot and the Spanish government decides where it is spent. Some taxes, such as those on transport and gambling, flow directly into regional coffers, however the lion’s share goes to the central government in Madrid.
According to the BBC, in 2014, Catalonia paid €9.9bn more into the central pot than it received in spending, a sum equivalent of 5% of its GDP. Transfers in Switzerland in 2017 were relatively modest. Zurich, the canton with the highest GDP, made an inter-cantonal payment of CHF 444 million, less than 1% of its GDP.
The two countries, however, have very different histories.
1 Article 3 of the Spanish constitution says that Castilian is the official state language. The Spanish wording is: El castellano es la lengua española oficial del Estado. Todos los españoles tienen el deber de conocerla y el derecho a usarla.