Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Saturday, 19 march 2016 | FINANCIAL TIMES


Catalonia can secede without Madrid’s backing, says new leader

New president Carles Puigdemont insists road map to independence has parliamentary legitimacy

Catalonia can achieve independence from Spain without a deal with Madrid, the region’s new president has said, in remarks likely to fuel concern in the Spanish capital about the long-running secession conflict.

Carles Puigdemont, who was elected Catalan president two months ago, said his government was hoping to achieve independence as part of a broader deal with the Spanish government. But he insisted that a unilateral breakaway was also possible. “If Madrid does not want an accord and the majority of Catalans want an independent state, how can you avoid that?,” he told the Financial Times and four other European newspapers in an interview.

The Catalan push for independence — which includes a plan to create a separate tax authority, social security service and other state institutions — has run into fierce opposition from the central government in Madrid. It has also met several legal setbacks, with Spain’s constitutional court striking down a raft of secessionist laws and declarations made by the Catalan parliament.

But Mr Puigdemont insisted that his government’s secession plan was both legal and legitimate. “In a mature democracy what is legal is decided by parliament … Our process is legitimised by parliament and by the ballot box,” he said.

The Catalan campaign for a breakaway independent state has gained urgency in recent years, fuelled by political frustration with Madrid and demands for greater financial autonomy. Pro-independence parties won an absolute majority of seats in the Catalan parliament last year, giving them the political strength to approve an 18-month “road map” towards statehood. Still, critics argue that the pro-secession parties failed to secure a proper democratic mandate for their push, pointing out that they fell short of winning 50 per cent of the popular vote.

After months of haggling between the region’s disparate secessionist parties, the regional parliament in Barcelona elected Mr Puigdemont as president in January. The former mayor of Girona emerged as a compromise candidate in a last-minute deal between far left and centrist independence supporters to avoid a repeat election.

Spain itself has been without a proper government since December, when an inconclusive general election delivered a deeply fragmented parliament. Party leaders have struggled to form a coalition and most observers now expect a repeat election at the national level in June.

Mr Puigdemont said he, too, was troubled by the political deadlock in Madrid, dismissing speculation that the power vacuum could present opportunities for the Catalan independence movement: “We have no desire to take advantage of Spain’s political instability. On the contrary, we want to see a solid Spanish government soon.”

Catalonia’s pro-independence parties won 17 seats in Spain’s 350-seat parliament but have remained on the sidelines of coalition talks. According to Mr Puigdemont, there could be scope for an agreement with other political forces all the same. “It is obvious that there can be a solid government in Spain that can count on the support of the majority [pro-independence] forces in Catalonia. That would be a government that is committed to holding a [Catalan independence] referendum,” he said.
Spain’s mainstream parties are broadly united in their opposition to Catalan independence, making a government alliance along the lines proposed by Mr Puigdemont highly unlikely. Neither has the independence movement garnered much support outside Spain, with political leaders from Berlin to Brussels making clear they have no interest in a break-up of the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.

Mr Puigdemont insisted, however, that such attitudes could change swiftly, and pointed to the recent Brexit negotiations as an example of the bloc’s political flexibility. “What does [the discussion around] Brexit show? It shows that the EU has a healthy capacity to adapt and solve conflicts on the basis of realpolitik. I think it also shows what will be the attitude of the EU to unforeseen situations [like a new Catalan state]. It adapts,” he said.

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

We aim to be recognized as a trustworthy source of information and ideas about Catalonia from a Catalan point of view.
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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia