Rajoy fronts up to Catalan independence ahead of Mas meeting

PM evokes the Constitution against region’s separatist drive

While he ponders the merits of a second European bailout, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has another weighty matter in hand on Thursday when he meets Catalan regional premier Artur Mas amid popular clamor for independence for the northeastern region.

Speaking in Congress, Rajoy left no doubt about his stance when he said separation was a matter for the Constitution in which there is no path for secession. “The answer is in the Constitution and in the law,” the conservative Popular Party (PP) leader said. “I have sworn to uphold the Constitution and to see that it is upheld, and, believe me, I will uphold it if necessary.”

Echoing calls by King Juan Carlos to Catalan nationalists on Wednesday to stop “chasing rainbows” during a time of crisis, Rajoy urged the Catalan government not to generate unnecessary instability. “You can’t create political instability with mistaken decisions,” he said.

Rajoy said he was willing to discuss alternative ways of funding the regions, but rejected Catalan demands for a fiscal pact, an arrangement currently enjoyed by Navarre and the Basque Country, which raise their own revenues and divvy these out with Madrid. Catalonia has long insisted its current revenue-sharing arrangement with Madrid is unfair. That resentment has been exacerbated by Catalonia, Spain’s richest region, now having to go cap in hand to Madrid for a loan.

In defiance, Catalonia took its first step on Wednesday toward setting up its own tax office in the form of an inter-regional agreement. “This is not an act against anyone,” Mas said. However, there are concerns among the Catalan business community about the potential impact of independence, while Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo on Wednesday said a separate Catalonia would be excluded from Europe “indefinitely.”

The opposition Socialist Party has offered Rajoy its backing in his anti-independence stance.

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