Europe - Issue 93 - Magazine | Monocle

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Village voice


Tucked away in the Pyrénées, right at the top of the Spanish region of Catalonia, the small semi-autonomous region of Val d’Aran has a strong spirit of self-sufficiency, which has been cultivated over the course of many centuries. Yet as the Catalonian independence drive has been gathering pace in recent years, Val d’Aran’s leaders have feared that the new regime may not grant them as much freedom as the old one.

Indeed, so worried was Val d’Aran’s premier Carlos Barrera Sánchez that he felt moved to suggest that the valley would want to break away from any future independent Catalonian state. The widely reported – and a touch sensationalised – remarks prompted a swift response from Catalonia’s parliament. It made significant efforts to recognise Val d’Aran’s autonomy by granting the local government complete control over its political and financial affairs. “Catalonia is now made up of counties – and the Val d’Aran,” says Barrera Sánchez. “This new arrangement sends a very clear message that Catalonia respects the will of its unique territories.”

King James II of Aragon first granted the territory administrative and political autonomy in 1313. The little-known valley’s population of just under 10,000 even has its own Occitan language – Aranes – and was able to remain largely secluded from the outside world until the first tunnel was bored through the mountain rock in 1948.

A degree of autonomy has undoubtedly been good for Val d’Aran: since the construction of that tunnel 68 years ago it has gone from being one of Catalonia’s poorest regions to one of its richest. This recent victory for the village-dotted valley nation means it can confidently shape its own future without ever having to worry about any interference from politicians in Barcelona or Madrid. Viva la village, no less.

Petrol predicament

Portugal — FUEL

A feud over fuel has been revving up in Portugal. After the government increased duties in February, prices are now among the most expensive in Europe and truck drivers are heading to Spain for cheaper options. Haulage association Antram says industrial action is an option if the government doesn’t reduce its tax for commercial vehicles in line with Spanish duties. Drivers have even threatened a go-slow, which involves significantly reducing driving speed and results in blocked roads and the late delivery of goods.

Double the fun


It could soon be possible to be a French Norwegian or a Norwegian Brit. Norway is one of the few European countries that doesn’t allow dual citizenship but a majority of MPs has asked the government to review its legislation. The state currently allows dual citizenship only in select cases – for example, children born to a Norwegian citizen and the citizen of another country – but most people are forced to choose. As non-EU members, Norwegians living elsewhere within the union have to give up their citizenship if they want to vote in their new home. For them, change can’t come fast enough.

Election watch

Turkish turning point?

Date: 22 May
Type: Parliamentary
Candidates: Pre-election polling suggests that the governing Democratic Rally party has a handy lead over the left-leaning Progressive Party of Working People.
Issues: The possibility of reunification. Since the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus elected moderate Mustafa Akinci president last year, both sides have sounded hopeful.
Monocle comment: As usual this election will be for only 56 of the 80 seats available. The others are supposed to be elected by the Turkish community but have been left vacant since partition in 1974. If Turkey decides it values the prospect of EU accession, it might be the last time.

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