A Catalonian split from Spain could be even worse than Brexit

Catalonia Catalan Independance Rally FlagsAlex Caparros/Getty ImagesPeople gather for a ‘Junts pel Si’ (Together for the Yes) coalition rally on September 24, 2015 in Girona, Spain.
  • Catalonia plans to have a referendum on seceding from Spain later this year.
  • Most discusssion of a potential “Catalexit” has focused on the political and cultural consequences.
  • Dutch bank ING looks at the potential economic impacts of the region cutting ties with Spain.
  • Impacts on the economy could “proportionally exceed” those of Brexit as the region would automatically drop out of the EU.

LONDON — If the Spanish region of Catalonia breaks away from Spain in a so-called “Catalexit”, it would plunge the region into a long period of uncertainty and could end up having negative effects that “proportionally exceed” those of Brexit according to Dutch bank ING.

Catalonia aims to hold a referendum at the beginning of October to decide whether or not the region — which includes the city of Barcelona — should declare independence from Spain. The region has engaged in a long battle to preserve its cultural identity.

Whether or not that referendum takes place remains up in the air, but if it does, the consequences could be huge.

“As with Brexit, we believe that any Catalexit would plunge the region into a long period of uncertainty and would most probably be negative for the private sector,” ING economist Geoffrey Minne writes in the note titled “Catalonia: the cost of being single.”

The movement for Catalan independence is largely a political one, with campaigners arguing that for Catalonia to prosper and maintain its traditions for the future they must be separate from Spain. However, the economics of a “Catalexit” must be examined too, ING argues.

A fall in consumption among Catalan households is the most obvious and immediate likely impact of Catalonian secession, ING says.

“The starting point when analysing the effect of Catalexit on consumer behaviour is the uncertainty it generates. A recent poll conducted by Metroscopia showed that 62% of respondents in Catalonia said they were “worried” about the future of their region, compared to 31% who said they were ‘excited’,” the note argues.

“There is only one step between worries and precautionary saving and if about two-thirds of all consumers decide to moderate consumption then this would dent private demand. If worries turn into panic then there could also be a run on the banks and capital controls.”

Consumer uncertainty would be followed by uncertainty around business investments in the region, Minne suggests, saying: “For business investment, uncertainty might even be more important than for consumers as any perception of political instability could affect foreign investment far more than local investment.”

Declaring independence from Spain would automatically mean that Catalonia would have to leave the European Union, which would inevitably cause issues around its membership of the European Single Market.

“Most foreign companies, as well as Catalan ones, fear falling out of the European single market,” Minne writes. “A consequence would be that investment could be delayed or redirected outside the region.”

“Probably the most impacted companies are those exporting to the EU. The EU accounted for 65% of exports and 70% of foreign investment in Catalonia over the last three years,” Minne continues, citing the chart below:

Minne argues in conclusion that “the economic cost for Catalonia could proportionally exceed that of Brexit for the UK.”

“All in all, building up the Catalan Republic turns out to be an expensive project and the bulk of the costs that could be cut depend on the goodwill of European governments (the Spanish one included).

“It remains difficult to evaluate the consequences of such an unprecedented event, but in the long run we can imagine that the economic cost for Catalonia could proportionally exceed that of Brexit for the UK.”

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