Rajoy planning to wait out battle over Catalan independence

Government sources say the PM has decided to avoid confrontation until absolutely necessary

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has reached a firm decision over what to do about Catalonia's quest for independence: nothing.

According to a wide range of government sources, Rajoy is staying true to form and avoiding confrontation until he feels it is absolutely necessary.

In this case, that means biding his time until Catalan premier Artur Mas makes a legally significant move, such as actually calling a referendum, or trying to pass a regional law allowing one to be held. That is when the central government will appeal in the Constitutional Court.

Until that happens, presumably in 2014, Rajoy will maintain an outwardly neutral attitude while privately working with Catalan business leaders and politicians who oppose the sovereignty drive, in a bid to increase pressure on the ruling CiU coalition into dropping the whole idea.

Besides being an expression of his own low-key style, Rajoy's stand on the Catalan issue is the result of careful analysis of past mistakes in similar situations. His mentor and predecessor in the Popular Party (PP), José María Aznar, ran to the Constitutional Court as soon as a sovereignty plan began taking shape in the Basque assembly in 2003, and the court shot him down.

His successor, the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, instead waited until then-Basque leader Juan José Ibarretxe's plan reached Congress, where it was promptly defused by the joint votes of the Socialists and the conservative PP. Rajoy figures it is best to wait until the Catalan plan reaches the same stage, where it can be similarly voted down.

He also believes, sources say, that CiU's deal with ERC is unstable, and that Mas is in a weak position that will only get weaker in time through internal opposition to the sovereignty drive from business and political sectors. This means that time is on the PM's side.

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