Catalan parliament declares "sovereign entity"

BARCELONA -- The parliament of the Spanish province of Catalonia on Wednesday passed with a two-third majority a declaration on Catalonia as a sovereign entity.

Although this statement has a symbolic meaning, is considered to be an introduction to a referendum on the Spanish region's self-determination.

The declaration adopted today was proposed by the ruling center-right alliance.

The draft stipulated that the Catalan parliament "agrees to declare the democratic sovereignty of the people of Catalonia as a political and legal entity" and to begin a process that would give the citizens a right to decide on the establishment of an independent state.

Although symbolic, the declaration represents a challenge to the central government in Madrid, which said it would go to courts to block any step in the direction of a Catalan independence.

The region is home to 7.5 million people out of Spain's total population of 46 million. The province enjoys a much higher level of autonomy and more powers than the other 16 Spanish provinces.

The volume of the Catalan economy is larger than the Portuguese and accounts for 20 percent of Spain's economy. The Catalans, however, believe that it is unfair that Madrid collects more taxes than it returns to the province.

Public opinion polls show that Catalans are not united on the issue of independence, and that a majority opposes such an outcome if it meant the territory would leave the European Union.