BARCELONA – Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Tuesday that the government was to make a significant investment in the railway infrastructure of the northeastern region of Catalonia.
Rajoy said at a meeting with businessmen and politicians in Barcelona that his government’s investment of four billion euros ($4.34 billion) in the Catalan regional rail service Rodalies would be realistic, viable and verifiable at all stages.
“We will coordinate the plan with the different administrations,” Rajoy said. “We are aware of the need to make a special effort.”
Rajoy’s announcement came in a bid to improve relations between the Spanish capital and Catalonia, which have been marked by tensions in recent years over the region’s burgeoning separatist movement that stands at odds with the country’s central government.
Rodalies serves as Catalonia’s main commuter rail system and is administered by the regional government, which is headed by the coalition Junts Pel Si (“Together for Yes”) that seeks to hold a referendum on the region’s independence from Spain.
Catalan nationalism has long been an important political force that started as an effort by 19th-century intellectuals to restore self-government and obtain recognition for the Catalan language.
Following four decades of brutal repression by the regime of military dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, Catalan nationalism re-emerged from clandestinity in the late 1970s.
It has since become a growing movement with vast support among the population of the region, which has the highest GDP in Spain and is the country’s most industrialized and wealthy territory.
After Franco’s death, the new democratic Constitution divided the Spanish territory into 17 semi-autonomous regions (plus two semi-autonomous cities, the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla).
This administrative division was meant to stifle re-emerging nationalism in the Basque Country and Catalonia, which have historically had a higher degree of cultural differentiation with regards to the rest of the country.
Each of the regions retains certain devolved powers, such as educational competences and varying degrees of financial autonomy.
Catalonia, for example, also has its own regional police force, civil code, and a distinct linguistic regime in which the Catalan language is co-equal to Spanish for all official purposes.