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Mas sets out on his trek

The Catalan premier includes several prominent secessionists in his regional government

The regional government just formed by the Catalan premier Artur Mas is a faithful reflection of his CiU formation’s greater parliamentary weakness in the legislature now beginning, and thus, of the premier’s need to surround himself with a compact nucleus enabling him to undertake the radical secessionist challenge to which he is obliged by the agreement with ERC. Unlike his line of two years ago, Mas no longer speaks of a “government of the best,” but of a strong government for a “unique moment” destined to “change the course of history in a thousand-year-old country.” Persisting in a mistaken analysis of reality, Mas believes that he must lead this radical change, although this involves a high risk of collision. Once more he resorts to excessive metaphors: he proclaims his “iron will” to undertake, “firm in objectives and calm in style,” the calling of a referendum on the future of Catalonia, to which end he calls for dialogue, though not troubling to conceal the threat of resorting to a strategy of faits accomplis if he thinks it necessary.

The makeup of the government, with fewer independents and with prominent figures from the hard core of secessionism, reflects the need to keep the agreement with ERC in working order, and to bandage the wounds of Unió part of his bloc, which recovers its former 25-percent proportion. Though there are some token gestures toward greater sensitivity in social policy, the head of the health department is still Boi Ruiz, who stands for privatization policies.

The government rests on two main pillars. In the political ambit, Francesc Homs, who now joins the government with the same functions he already had as secretary and spokesman, but reinforced with the foreign affairs portfolio. The right-hand man of Mas and ideologue of CiU’s turn toward secessionism, Homs is to be in charge of organizing the referendum on independence and of rallying international support for the cause, which would appear to augur tensions with the government of Spain.

In the economic area, the government’s main pillar is Andreu Mas-Colell, who at least guarantees solidity in a very delicate conjuncture. With the financial markets totally closed, the regional government depends for its financing on the central government’s transferring resources to it from the regional bailout fund. Mas-Colell has so far implemented a political program of strict orthodoxy in austerity policies, but the drop in fiscal revenue portends an even more difficult legislature than the previous one. The resources of the regional bailout fund are conditional upon compliance with deficit-reduction objectives, which Catalonia has said it will be unable to satisfy. The law that regulates this fund allows the central government to take over the finances of regions that fail to comply.

In this context, it would be a mistake were the central government to use financial policy to torpedo the Catalan government’s secessionist program. The regional government must be able to function with normality, and its (presumable) loyalty to the institutional structure spelled out in the Constitution must be answered by reciprocal fair play on the part of the central government.

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