[lg policy] Catalonia Calls Election in New Bid for Secession From Spain

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Aug 5 15:11:03 UTC 2015

Catalonia Calls Election in New Bid for Secession From Spain

4, 2015
Pro-independence graffiti in the town of Viladamat, in the Catalan
countryside. Credit Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

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BARCELONA, Spain — A year ago, secessionist movements were all the rage in
Europe — until they were not.

After a nerve-rattling campaign, Scots
narrowly voted in September to remain part of Britain. Two months later,
Catalonia’s drive for an independence referendum fizzled into a nonbinding
after being thwarted by Spanish courts.

But if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain breathed a sigh of relief that
the issue was behind him, he has reason again to worry.

Catalan politicians have managed to revive the independence issue. Setting
aside personal and political rivalries, they have formed a broad alliance
of candidates whose aim is to turn a regional parliamentary election
scheduled for September into a plebiscite on breaking away from Spain.

Should their alliance secure a majority in the Sept. 27 vote, the
secessionist leaders say they will proclaim independence within 18 months.
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   - As Catalonia Weighs Independence From Spain, Leader Seizes SpotlightSEPT.
   26, 2014

The election, which was formally called on Monday by the Catalan leader
Artur Mas, puts the thorny issue of Catalan independence back at the top of
the national political agenda, just ahead of general elections expected
before the end of the year.
Raül Romeva, leader of the pro-independence coalition Together for Yes. The
group aims to turn a regional parliamentary election scheduled for
September into a plebiscite on secession. Credit Samuel Aranda for The New
York Times

If nothing else, the quick return of the issue has demonstrated that while
an independence referendum may have been previously blocked by Madrid, the
grievances that animate Catalonia’s secessionist drive have yet to be

Those grievances have long included a mix of Catalonia’s distinctive
language and identity as well as complaints that the region, one of the
richest in the country, has been economically squeezed to subsidize poorer
parts of Spain.

The pro-independence coalition in Catalonia, which calls itself Together
for Yes, while not unanimous, is broad enough to present a credible threat.

While Mr. Mas is expected to remain Catalonia’s regional president should
the joint ticket win next month, Together’s list of candidates is
officially led by a consensus candidate, Raül Romeva, who recently returned
to Catalan politics from Brussels, after spending a decade as a Green
member of the European Parliament.

“We have reached a point of no return,” Mr. Romeva said in an interview.
“These are not normal but exceptional elections, whose goal is to find out
whether there is a majority in favor of independence or not.”

Mr. Rajoy, however, says his government and Spain’s courts will once again
strike down any Catalan decision that violates the Spanish Constitution. At
the same time, statements from him and his government have grown more

“Nobody is going to steal from Catalans their triple status as Catalans,
Spaniards and Europeans,” Mr. Rajoy told reporters on Tuesday. “Nobody will
break up Spain in any way.”

Spain’s justice minister, Rafael Catalá, warned last month that, if
Catalonia’s leadership violates the Constitution, Madrid was empowered to
effectively seize control of Catalonia’s administration and suspend its
regional autonomy.

Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Mas have been at loggerheads for three years. What
started as a financial dispute over the tax contributions Catalonia should
make to the rest of recession-hit Spain has turned into a full-fledged
secession battle.

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The Catalan leader has also been emboldened by street protests in favor of
independence — the next of which is scheduled for Sept. 11, Catalonia’s
National Day.

Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Mas have in some ways benefited from feuding about
Catalonia’s future, at a time when both men have been undermined by
corruption investigations relating to the financing of their respective

For Mr. Rajoy, it has allowed his governing Popular Party to present itself
as Spain’s flag-bearer while highlighting the ambivalence of other national
parties toward Catalonia, notably Podemos, an insurgent far-left party that
is competing in its first general election.

But Mr. Mas has struggled to define his plans for Catalonia, beyond his
vision of independence.

“Mas has spent more time defending the right to independence than
explaining what kind of independence and country he wants,” said Salvador
Garcia Ruiz, chief executive of Ara, a Catalan newspaper that has backed

While Mr. Mas talked on Monday about leading “an ancient nation that has
the right to decide its own future,” divisions remain even within the
pro-independence camp.

Teresa Forcades, a nun who recently took a leave of absence from her
convent in order to campaign for independence, said in an interview that
she opposed the joint list of candidates under the Together banner because
it would allow Mr. Mas to forge ahead with the kind of public spending cuts
that have been part of his conservative economic agenda.

“You cannot hide the wallet behind the flag and use this election as if it
was an independence referendum,” she said. “Nobody should forget Mr. Mas is
a neo-Liberal politician just like Mr. Rajoy, with the only difference that
he’s Catalan.”

Mr. Romeva, the coalition leader, acknowledged that asking Catalonia’s 7.5
million citizens to elect lawmakers based solely on their stance on
independence was problematic, especially at a time of high unemployment and
concerns over political corruption.

“All our attempts to do things in the correct and most democratic way have
been denied and on top of this with a belligerent attitude of bringing
things to court,” Mr. Romeva said. “Would we have wanted to do it like in
Scotland? For sure, but we have now at least on Sept. 27 the right to vote

Mr. Romeva said Catalonia first needed to gain control of its economy
before considering how best to improve it.

As part of their secessionist plans, Catalan officials have recently talked
about setting up an autonomous Catalan tax agency, based on the fiscal
model of countries like Sweden and Australia.

“These elections aren’t about presenting an economic program — they go
beyond that,” Mr. Romeva said. “A lot of the things that we want to do and
change in terms of social economy and policies first require gaining
resources that we don’t have today.”

But by calling a Catalan election a year ahead of schedule, Mr. Mas is
forcing Catalans to confront their future without first finding out whether
Mr. Rajoy can win another general election.

In elections in May
Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party lost control of Madrid’s city hall, as well as
Valencia and other regions that it had long dominated.

Some here clearly preferred that the Catalan leader had waited.

“It’s not that Catalonia has reached a point of no return, but rather that
we’ve reached a complete breakdown in communications, which Rajoy has done
nothing to improve, making it also easier for our own politicians to sell
the nonsense message that we’re somehow smarter than the rest of Spain,”
said Carlos Rivadulla, the deputy president of Businessmen of Catalonia, an
association of entrepreneurs who oppose Catalan independence.

“If the Popular Party doesn’t win the next election,” he added, “I’m sure
there will be room for a new dialogue and to change radically the

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