What country is Catalonia most like?

In an interview with CNBC, Catalan president Artur Mas proudly claimed that an independent Catalonia would be similar to Denmark or Austria. The Local has done some number-crunching to see how it truly measures up to other European nations.

What country is Catalonia most like?
Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

For a while there Catalonia could not escape comparison with Scotland as both nations embarked on the path towards independence. But since Scots voted in a referendum last September returning the decision to stick with Great Britain, Catalan president Artur Mas has sought to align himself with other more established nations.

"Catalonia would be comparable to Austria or Denmark," the Catalan leader said.

"Denmark has more or less the same population as Catalonia and Austria exactly the same thing," he explained to CNN during an interview to mark the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. "And both of them are outstanding countries from the economic point of view. Catalonia would be at the same level," he insisted.


Catalonia has a population of around 7.5 million people which places it in squarely between Denmark (5.6 million) and Austria (8.5 million) in terms of headcount. But might it be better for accuracy's sake to liken Catalonia to Bulgaria (7.3 million) at least in terms of population. And with Bulgaria one of the newest states in the European Union, (it joined in 2007 with Romania) perhaps it could share some tips on the joining process. 


Catalonia takes up the northeastern corner of Spain, around 32,000km of it to be exact, making the 'country' roughly three-quarters the size of Denmark (43,000km2) and almost a third of the size of Austria (83,900km2). If we are talking basic square milage, Catalonia is actually much closer in size to Moldova (33,843km2) and Belgium (30,510km2). 


The GDP of Catalonia was €203.6 billion ($220 billion) in 2013, a third less than Denmark ($336 billion) and less than half that of Austria ($428 billion). Catalonia’s GDP is more on par with that of Portugal ($227 billion), but with Portugal falling into the abyss of its own economic crisis and having to go cap in hand to Europe for a bail-out, that might not be a comparison Mas wants to publicize.

GDP per person

Catalonia’s GDP per inhabitant was €27,298 ($30,000) far lower than that of Denmark ($43,080) and Austria ($44,402). It is actually closer to that of Slovenia ($29,000) and Portugal ($26,760). Oops, there is Portugal again. Yet  in terms of disposal income Catalonia, which according to Eurostat figures stands at €16,577 per household is somewhere on a par with the UK, (€16,438) and Sweden (€16,288).


The Catalans are generally an educated bunch, 31.7 percent of 25 to 64 year-olds have been to university. This would place the new nation of Catalonia in between France (29.8 percent) and the Netherlands (32.1 percent) and not too far behind Denmark (33.7 percent). Plus they are brought up bilingual – learning both Catalan and Castellano – and are increasingly learning English, putting them up there with Switzerland and Luxembourg in terms of language proficiency.

Geography and climate

Catalonia is nestled in the enviable situation between the Pyreness and the Mediterranean meaning it is possible to enjoy both great skiing and a beach holiday, though possibly not during the same vacation. So while Austria has its fair share of snow, and arguably some of the best skiing in the Alps, and Denmark has ample coastline, although not necessarily the summers to enjoy it, neither can boast both. However, perhaps in this aspect Catalonia should be looking to twin itself with Italy, Bulgaria or Croatia?


As a whole Catalonia had a 15.6 million foreign visitors in 2013 and Barcelona plays among the big boys when it comes to city breaks. In 2013 it attracted 8.4 million tourists, behind only London, Paris and Rome and it isn't even a captial city…yet. More popular by far as a weekend getaway than either Copenhagen or Vienna, and a top stag-do destination rivalled only by Praque or Krakow, Barcelona could be a world class capital city. 

Catalonia twinned with…Portugal?

It is tricky to find any one nation that is comparable to Catalonia so maybe Artur Mas should consider other criteria when searching for a stablemate. Portugal at the very least, has long experience of dealing with Spain as a noisy neighbour and might be able to offer some valuable advice.

Which country do you think an independent Catalonia would be most like? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter. 

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