Leading Catalan parties agree self-rule referendum for 2014

Investiture debate for CiU leader Artur Mas to be held this week Region defies Madrid in approving new tax on bank deposits

The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the center-right nationalist CiU group on Tuesday were close to a deal that will allow the CiU to form a stable government led by current premier Artur Mas, ERC sources said.

The CiU was the most voted party in regional elections held last month but failed to win the absolute majority it was seeking. ERC came second in the poll.

The speaker of the Catalan assembly, Núria de Gispert, said Tuesday that the investiture debate on the incoming government will be held as planned on Thursday and Friday, suggesting that CiU and ERC have managed to reach a pact.

In a meeting held Tuesday, the CiU and the ERC agreed to hold a referendum on self-rule for the region in 2014. Both sides had run their electoral campaign on an independence agenda. “The meeting went well,” an ERC source said. “We made a lot of progress. It will be a stable and strong government and it will guarantee clauses on the referendum as well as political, economic and social changes.”

Mas met with De Gispert for half-an-hour as part of the speaker’s round of meetings with elected political parties on the celebration of the investiture debate. Mas left the assembly building without confirming if the CiU had reached agreement with the ERC. He limited himself to saying that it was within the power of the speaker to call the debate.

The head of the CiU in the parliament, Oriol Pujol, earlier Tuesday had said that he believed it possible to reach an agreement with the ERC later in the day. De Gispert also said she was confident the debate could be held this week.

The ERC’s leader, Oriol Junqueras, conveyed to De Gispert the ERC’s willingness to vote in favor of Mas as premier at the investiture debate and to reach an agreement that ensures the government’s stability.

“I want to continue to be very discreet because our obligation is to ensure that the negotiating process is successful, and right now [a deal] has yet to be sealed,” Junqueras said.

“Our disposition is to continue talking and working for there to be a strong and stable government, which at the same time guarantees the economic and social commitments that ERC made during the campaign,” he added.

The leader of the Catalan Socialist Party, Pepe Navarro, told De Gispert that his party would not vote for Mas at the debate. Navarro said the debate should be held as Mas had the explicit support of the ERC and saw no need to delay it until a pact of governability had been sealed between the ERC and the CiU.

Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, the head of the Catalan Popular Party, also said she would not vote for Mas because of the separatist stance of the CiU and the ERC.

Earlier Tuesday, the Catalan administration approved a tax on bank accounts from which it hopes to take in 500 million euros a year. The establishment of the bank deposit tax was one of the demands of the ERC in exchange for supporting the center-right nationalist CiU group to allow it to form a stable government.

Government spokesman Francesc Homs had said the approval of the tax did not mean that the CiU has sealed a deal with ERC to allow it to govern.

In legislation accompanying the state budget, the central government also included a national tax on bank deposits, but with a zero rate. The aim of this was to prevent the regions from having their own such tax, as was the case of Extremadura, the Canary Islands and Andalusia.

Homs said that the decision to impose the tax was to “ring-fence” the region’s “fiscal space.” Catalonia understands that the central government has yet to formally approve the creation of a zero-rate bank deposit tax, the spokesman said.

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