Following weeks of silence on the simmering Catalan sovereignty issue, Mariano Rajoy chose the platform of a joint press conference in Astana with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to call on Catalonia’s premier, Artur Mas, to “reflect” on the drive for independence and to offer “a gesture of magnanimity” to mend bridges between the northeastern region and Madrid.
In a clearly prepared speech, the prime minister launched his first public response to the human chain formed by hundreds of thousands of Catalans in favor of the right to hold a status vote on September 11 and called on Mas to shelve his plans for a referendum in favor a negotiated agreement. “I would ask that decisions taken are carefully considered. I believe that many mistaken steps have been made but there is still time for gestures of magnanimity. I do not desire that Catalonia find itself outside of Europe, excluded from the large international bodies or isolated. I desire a Spanish Catalonia and a Catalan Spain.”
Rajoy’s position has been strengthened by the international community’s tepid response to Catalonia’s secessionist stance and repeated warnings from Brussels that any unilateral separation of a region from a member state will result in exclusion from the European Union. Speaking from the Belgian capital Monday, where he was officially discussing economic matters with EU commissioners, Mas retorted that “magnanimity would be allowing the Catalan people to vote [in a referendum].” The Catalan premier also poured scorn on the notion of his region being cast from the Union: “I guarantee that Brussels will not expel seven-and-a-half million Europeans. Catalonia is a territory that is within the EU. It complies with all the rules; its citizenry has rights as citizens of Europe that have existed for more than 25 years and that cannot be altered because the people desire a different political status. Furthermore, since 1986 Catalonia has been a net contributor to the EU while Spain has always been the recipient of funds.”
I guarantee that Brussels will not expel seven-and-a-half million Europeans"
On several occasions Mas took the opportunity to reiterate his administration’s surety that Europe has never been presented with a case similar to that of Catalonia and that there is no fixed continental doctrine to govern the issue. Mas on Monday met with European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Olli Rehn, Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor and Vice President of Institutional Affairs Maros Sefcovic. Over the past three years the regional premier has courted some 20 European commissioners but none has adopted a different line to that of EU Vice President Manuel Almunia or Michel Barnier, commissioner responsible for internal markets and services, who both stressed that an independent Catalonia would lose its EU status.
Mas did point out that Lithuania and Latvia had expressed support for the initiative, but both later softened their statements. However, the Catalan leader struck a defiant chord on Monday: “The relationship between Catalonia and Spain has reached a point at which it cannot continue without a referendum. The era of agreements [over the regional financing model] cannot be repeated under the current circumstances and more so after the Constitutional Court ruling [in May, quashing its sovereignty declaration], which was a hammer blow to those relations. There is a before and an after attached to that sentence, and in view of the constant denial of a new financial pact and the lack of respect over [the region’s] linguistic model on the part of government. This is not an issue of money. If negatives are the only response, it will be very difficult to resolve this without a vote.”