Catalans’ call for elections turns screw on Spanish government
The leader of Catalonia’s regional government is expected to call for early regional elections after his move for greater tax auton-omy was rejected by Madrid.
Artur Mas’s conservative Convergence and Union (CiU) party would be likely to win an absolute majority in elections, strengthening his mandate to press on towards independence and delivering a blow to Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who has called for national unity to counter the debt crisis.
Speaking in Catalan live on television after a meeting with Mr Rajoy yesterday, Mr Mas said he was disappointed by the talks.
“The prime minister told me there is no room to negotiate a fiscal pact with Catalonia and that his answer will be ‘no’ in the coming weeks and months,” he said. “If the negative answer to the fiscal pact is so obvious, then we will have to take decisions in the next days,” he said.
When asked about the possibility of calling early elections, he said: “All options are open.”
The matter could be decided next week, when the regional parliament holds its annual debate on the state of Catalonia, he said.
Mr Mas was, up until last week, an advocate of autonomy but not of independence, but now has fallen into line with public opinion. He says he will work toward a referendum such as the one Scotland will hold in 2014 on breaking with the UK.
Spain’s deep economic crisis has fanned an independence movement in Catalonia, which has its own language and produces a fifth of Spain’s economic output.
With an economy about the size of Portugal’s, Catalonia houses global firms including toll road, telecoms and airport operator Abertis and healthcare group Grifols.
Children are schooled in Catalan and Spanish is treated as a foreign language in the home region of Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and Antoni Gaudi.
Such expressions of regional identity were suppressed during Franco’s rule from 1939-1975, and the regions only won significant autonomy under the 1978 constitution that marked the country’s return to democracy.
An early election would be a fresh problem for Mr Rajoy, who is dealing with a recession, high unemployment, high borrowing costs and a looming international rescue with tough conditions.
“Prime minister Rajoy has expressed his opposition to the proposal of an economic agreement for Catalonia because it would not be constitutional,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement after the meeting with Mr Mas.
The Catalans lay claim to some €16 billion they say they raise in taxes every year but go to other regions and the central government.
Mr Mas has enacted harsh spending cuts in Catalonia to bring down the region’s large budget deficit.
He has managed to deflect anger over the cuts by blaming the central government for not instituting a fairer tax system.
In addition, while public investment by the national government has dropped by almost 25 per cent across the country since 2011, it has fallen by nearly 45 per cent in Catalonia.
Some polls indicate that more than half of Catalans want a separate state, and hundreds of thousands marched in Barcelona last week as resentment over austerity and taxes grows.
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