The results of Sunday's referendum in Spain's northeasternmost region, Catalonia, were foreordained: residents voted overwhelmingly for more autonomy, including more say over judicial affairs and a bigger slice of tax revenues. The real challenge had been to get the government in Madrid to agree to a referendum to begin with. It is a tribute to Prime Minister Jos?uis Rodr?ez Zapatero that he prevailed over the military, the conservative Popular Party and even members of his own Socialist government.

Arguments over local autonomy in its highly distinctive regions have vexed Spain at least since the days of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Mr. Zapatero deserves credit for finally recognizing that a successful union, federation or confederation allows all its component groups to use and develop their languages, traditions, quirks and habits.

One rule that seems fairly universal is that wherever regional sentiments are suppressed or squelched, they will spread and strengthen. In Catalonia, they survived 40 years of Francisco Franco's repression. The constitution adopted after Franco's death returned much of Catalonia's heritage to the region, but what the Catalans demanded, and now have, was a greater recognition of them as a nation.

Though that word was shifted from the main text of the new Statute of Autonomy to the preface, where it has no legal force, it means a great deal to the Catalans. More troubling is the new authority given to one of Spain's richest regions to keep more of its tax revenues, instead of sharing them with more needy areas of the country.

That trade-off could be more easily justified if the deal gave Mr. Zapatero leverage to draw a lasting peace out of the cease-fire proclaimed by more dangerous separatists, the terrorist group ETA, in the Basque country.